Superhero Double Bill: “Captain Marvel” and “Aquaman”

Recently two big-budget superhero films hit theaters; Captain Marvel and Aquaman. Aquaman got a surprisingly positive reaction from the fans, while Captain Marvel was, and still is, being bombarded by bad reviews from a bunch of people who can’t get over the fact that Brie Larson wants more diversity in the industry. However, there have also been negative reviews concerning the film that have some genuinely good points. I want to preface this post saying that I am far from knowledgable enough on what Brie has said to let it influence my opinion on the film, and even then, I think that you should be able to separate art from the artist.

In this post, I will compare these two blockbusters with each other, but before I do that, let me quickly give you my short opinion on them.

Captain Marvel

First things first; I like what the film is going for, and I like the core concept it has, though I was not the biggest fan of the film itself. The way that sexism was portrayed lacked a lot of nuance, which makes the film come across as rather insincere and more as if they are parodying the problem. It portrayed the most clichéd situations, which made those scenes look like they were made by someone who has once heard of sexism but has never experienced it.

One of the main problems of the film, however, was the protagonist itself. Brie Larson’s performance was very flat and one-note, but I’m guessing that this is more due to the writing than due to Brie herself. Brie’s disappointing performance came as a surprise, as really like her previous leading roles, such as in Short Term 12, for instance. Her character was an uninteresting blank sleight, and Brie’s performance had equally as much depth. We know very little about her, and there was little to no reason to care for her as well. She does not show any vulnerability, both emotionally and physically. Everything we know about her, are the things that we are merely told. We are rarely actually shown those things, except for maybe in short flashes; we’re told that she’s funny, but she’s never actually funny in the film.

The screenplay as a whole really wasn’t the film’s strongest suit. The jokes were quite bad, with only a few that made me chuckle, which was mostly during the moments that Brie shares with Samuel L. Jackson, who, by the way, was quite good. The two of them had great chemistry and the scenes where they’re together, are the moments the film shines. However, most of the time I was laughing at the dialogue rather than at the intended jokes. The way exposition was delivered was extremely sloppy, and once again, often lacked subtlety. Due to our lack of knowledge of the protagonist and her indestructible nature, there’s no tension when she was fighting, making the fight scene more dull than they already were. These scenes were often shot with very little light, rapid-paced editing, and a shaking camera, which made it hard to figure out who was fighting who.

In fact, I was quite disappointed with how Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck handled the film. I’m a big fan of their previous films, but for some reason, they messed up here. The film does not have a visual flair and they told the story in a very messy manner. Usually, they manage to make emotional films with a well-rounded protagonist, but this one has neither. I felt oddly emotionally disconnected from the story and this was due to my lack of caring for Carol.

The special effects, however, were absolutely fantastic and I quite liked the score as well. The way they were able to make Fury look younger was eerily really convincing. I also thought that the production design was well-done, but all in all, this is just a dull, and bland film, with quite a lot of dumb moments. It’s not terrible by any means, and it’s certainly a step in the right direction for female representation in film, and more specifically superhero films, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good film.

Aquaman

I don’t even know how to describe this film. It’s so weird and awesome, yet terrible at the same time. The story is ridiculous, the dialogue is hilarious, the films balls to the walls insane and stupid, and possibly the most dumb-fun I’ve had in a while.

The romance was laughably bad. The stages in which they fall in love are so cliché, cheesy, and predictable. I was in stitches every time they attempted to develop it. Add to that two bad performances and you have yourself a bunch of enjoyable scenes. Amber Heard was particularly bad as it often felt like she was just reading her lines off cue cards hidden around the set. Well, it’s not to say that she was the only one who didn’t deliver a great performance; everyone delivered a pretty bad performance. Even Willem Dafoe was bad, but it did make for an entertaining and hilarious experience.

The film’s worst aspect was without a doubt the screenplay. There’s unnecessary narration, cheesy dialogue, and lackluster motivations for the villain, who was underwritten, very one-note, and cliched. There were also plenty of scenes that weren’t necessary. While they could be entertaining for all the wrong reasons, they just didn’t belong in the film as they did not have an impact on the plot or characters whatsoever.

The saving grace of Aquaman is James Wan and the film’s technical aspects. With any other director, the film would’ve been equally as good as its script, though Wan elevates the film to something enjoyable. He directed the action scenes in a fun manner, and I liked the way he linked different action set pieces together. There were also quite a lot of really cool shots, making use of creative compositions and beautiful colors. His use of slow motion was absolutely hilarious and often unnecessary, at times creating Baywatch-like scenes. The sound design was surprisingly good, and so was some of the editing. Additionally, the CGI models were really well done, but green screens could be quite noticeable in close-ups and medium shots

Also, have I mentioned that this film’s truly is dumb as rocks? I mean, there’s a scene where the characters eat roses in a montage. The film is dumb as rocks, and it owns it. It’s self-aware and that’s what makes it enjoyable. Mind you, not good. It’s far from a good film. It’s dumb fun, and nothing more than that. It’s the ridiculousness that makes it possibly the best DCEU film until now, though that’s not necessarily a great achievement.

Comparison

From my short little reviews, you might have deduced that I do not think that these two films are all that great. Both are big blockbuster superhero films and thus feature similar aspects, so I do, however, think that it’s interesting to compare the two with each other and see which aspects of filmmaking they did better than the other.

As established previously, both films had a bad script, though in Aquaman this was saved by Wan’s creative approach, which is something that Captain Marvel lacked. It’s as if they didn’t want to do anything daring, and played it safe, because of the cultural importance the film has. They wanted to make it as accessible as possible, but this resulted in a pretty bland film. James Wan used vibrant colors, interesting compositions, and other inventive camera techniques, to create some very cool shots, while in Captain Marvel, none of that can be found. Anne Boden and Ryan Fleck didn’t manage to give the film any personality; it feels very artificial and forced, hence why I felt emotionally disconnected from the story as a whole. They didn’t use any creative techniques to evoke certain emotions, or even attempt to create visually interesting shots. In films like Half Nelson, they used 16mm film to capture the grittiness of the situation, which added to the emotional value of the movie. It creates a certain mood by the visuals alone. In Mississippi Grind, they played with colors, via which they produced a ton of good-looking shots that carried emotional power. None of that was the case in Captain Marvel. They approached their film in a very safe manner with an extreme absence of creativity, which didn’t do the movie any favors.

The way Boden and Fleck decided to shoot their action sequences was especially bad since it was quite impossible to tell what was going on for most of them, unlike with how they were handled in Aquaman. In Captain Marvel‘s action scenes, the lighting was dark, the editing was rapid, and the shots were pretty much all filmed from close up, or with a shaking camera. It was hard to make out what was happening, especially in the final fight scene, that was already badly choreographed in the first place. Besides for the first action set piece, all creativity was seemingly thrown out of the window and we’re left with dull fighting choreography and set pieces. In Aquaman, however, the action sequences were the film’s highlight. Wan let the camera flow through the action set pieces displaying them in all their glory. He connected different fight sequences to each other, creating a nice flow to the entire scene. He often let the camera move around the characters in unusual, smooth movements rather than to cut to another angle. He was constantly reframing shots via the movements of the camera, hence why editing wasn’t necessary. It gives the scenes a very energetic feeling. The action scenes were all well-choreographed, fun, and easy to follow. Furthermore, they were brightly lit so you could see what was actually going on. However, the bright lighting also has its downsides, as it could also come across as artificial.

In the grand scheme of things, the special effects in Captain Marvel were superior to those of Aquaman. On the one hand, Aquaman had sequences filled with very impressive CGI, though on the other hand, it was often very noticeable that the actors were in front of a green screen.  This was also the case in Captain Marvel, but as that film’s far less special effects-heavy, it didn’t bother me as much. Both films also utilized de-aging special effects on certain actors, and I also think that Captain Marvel did it best. In Aquaman, while still impressive, it could look rather unnatural, while that’s not true in Captain Marvel. The effects on Samuel L. Jackson’s face were unnoticeable, and if I wouldn’t have known that it was CGI, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. It is a bit more perceptible on Clark Gregg, which was probably so because he didn’t play as big a role as Jackson did. Still, the effects blended, in with reality seamlessly, which is an incredible achievement.

Overall, Captain Marvel also has the better cast of the two. Outside of Brie and the actress that portrayed the younger version of Carol, I thought that they all did a pretty good job, especially Samuel L. Jackson, whereof you wouldn’t be able to tell that he was a 70-year-old portraying someone in his forties. Ben Mendelsohn’s performance was a bit stupid, but still fun to see, and his character’s quite different from the ones he usually portrays. On the contrary, in Aquaman, all of the cast members were pretty bad. Amber Heard looked like she was reading off cue cards, Momoa was just being his cool self, and Patrick Wilson overacted.  In both films, the lead performers weren’t all that great, but Momoa was at least more charismatic than Brie’s emotionless performance.

Furthermore, Captain Marvel‘s plot also makes a bit more sense than that of Aquaman. The latter mixes together a whole bunch of stories together, resulting in an incoherent mess that’s all over the place. Still, this incoherent story was quite entertaining as we’re brought to a lot of different locations, with interesting set pieces that could be utilized for cool action sequences. While Captain Marvel’s story isn’t all that great, especially in the way that it’s told, it’s a bit more coherent than that of Aquaman. It’s also much more grounded and safe, rather than the balls to the walls, insane clusterfuck that Aquaman was trying to convey.

Both films had their fair share of dumb moments, but since Captain Marvel wasn’t consistently stupid,  it never managed to reach the same level of denseness that Aquaman did. However, Aquaman knew that it was being ridiculous, and it made fun of itself along the way. Aquaman owned it and played along with it, while Captain Marvel was more self-serious, which made it less enjoyable. Aquaman, on the other hand, went all-out with the craziest things, generating a fun, though quite dumb, film.

The two films utilized music interestingly, though not necessarily well. Aquaman’s score was quite inconsistent in style, and the existing song choices were… unique. Pitbull’s cover of Africa by Toto, for instance, was laughably bad and completely unnecessary, but it sort of works within the film itself, due to the fact that the film does not take itself too seriously. Still, there’s no denying that his cover does not do the original song justice. Captain Marvel has a great musical score, but it also suffered from some odd existing song choices. Some just felt completely out of place within the tone of the film, especially the song that they used during the final fight sequence and a sudden appearance of Nirvana along the way.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s clear that both films are flawed. Aquaman did some things better than Captain Marvel, but it also goes the other way around. I’d say that on a structural level, Captain Marvel is the better film, though Aquaman’s the most enjoyable of the two. Aquaman had the creativity and charismatic lead that Captain Marvel deeply needed, but Captain Marvel had the great supporting cast and original score that Aquaman lacked. Additionally, the former is certainly the more important film out of the two, as it carries more cultural significance, while the other is just mindless entertainment.

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4 thoughts on “Superhero Double Bill: “Captain Marvel” and “Aquaman”

  1. Great way of doing something different in terms of film reviews!

    I’ve only seen Captain Marvel – which I enjoyed and was good as a Phase One-type of film. I didn’t see the trailer or any of the controversy surrounding the film prior to viewing, so I kind of went in to the cinema with an open mind. I liked that experience, and felt that it was a good way of watching Captain Marvel.

    I’ve not seen Aquaman, but I’ll watch it when it becomes available on DVD, etc. I was a bit put off with the fact that it appears a lot of the plot is already included in the trailer…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!

      I was really hoping to enjoy “Captain Marvel”, but ultimately felt let down. I’m a big fan of Ryan Fleck, Anne Boden, and Brie Larson, though they all managed to underperform. I’m not aware of everything that Brie has said, just that she would want more diversity in the industry and I’m all for that. The controversy didn’t affect my viewing experience. Based on my expectations of everyone involved, I was just hoping for more.

      And as for the Aquaman trailers… I don’t think that you should be afraid that the trailer spoiled too much. I haven’t seen the trailer myself, but I doubt that it’s able to encapsulate the giant mess the story was haha. It’s dumb, but it’s fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fun post. Really enjoyed it. They are pretty different in so many ways. As you said, both have flaws yet I had a lot of fun with each of them. I think Aquaman is the bigger surprise to me considering there are so many ways that movie could have failed.

    Liked by 1 person

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