This will probably be one of my reviews that will have fanboys and girls grabbing their tridents and hopping on their sea horses to come at me. I’ll have to say it sooner or later in this review, but “Aquaman” is dead in the water. “Aquaman” reminds me of those atrocious George Lucas “Star Wars” prequels Or James Cameron’s “Avatar”. It’s a movie with tons of problems, but it also has images that made me catch my breath, and that looked gorgeous. You could screenshot so many moments and print them on a poster, they were that visually breathtaking.
As much as I didn’t enjoy the film, I have to give praise and credit to none other than director James Wan, who has made a name for himself as a horror master, as the director of “Saw”, “The Conjuring 1 & 2”, “Insidious 1 & 2” and making his attempt at the action genre with “Death Sentence” and most recently Paul Walker’s last film “Furious 7”. Wan goes big or goes home with his biggest film to date as the director of “Aquaman”.
We first met Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry, aka: “Aquaman” in the DC extended universe movies “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) and “Justice League” (2017). Now he takes center stage and gets his own film in an origins story of the free spirit “half-breed”, who knows he has special powers but isn’t interested in claiming his rightful place as the ruler of the seas. But who are we kidding? This is a superhero movie so you know the stakes are going to get so high, that he doesn’t really have a choice and becomes a reluctant, anti-hero superhero! Boy there’s a new one (rolls eyes).
Momoa, best known for HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” is of half Hawaiian / half German / Irish and Native American. To many women he is the perfect specimen. Both Momoa and his character Arthur is a giant, ripped, heavily tattooed hulk of a man, lots of interesting man-jewelry and a wardrobe of either being shirtless or having casual and stylish outfits that make him look like a surf instructor on Oahu. Then there is Arthur’s flowing 1980’s rockstar hair. Momoa is constantly seeing getting wet as he whips his head around to get those damp and tangled locks out of his face. It plays as a L’Oréal commercial every 10 minutes. I’m sure a lot of women including the ones in my screening (who were enjoying it a lot), feel it’s “Because he’s worth it”.
Arthur is a wild and rebellious half human/half Atlantean that loves happy hour and has been hidden away after his parents (Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman) consummate a forbidden relationship and attempt to raise him to inevitably embrace his preordained destiny. When his mother is taken away, Arthur’s rebellious nature kicks in, but first he must be trained and shaped like Daniel-San by Willem Dafoe’s Vulko, who is Arthur’s Mr Miyagi, and sharpens the young lad into a warrior. All of this unfolds in storybook detail and feels a bit clunky, but that is such the case with most origin films. When Amber Heard’s Mera reappears after having a brief appearance in “Justice League”, to enlist Arthur’s help in defeating his half brother, Orm (as played by James Wan regular Patrick Wilson), who is attempting to take over the surface world and Make Atlantis Great Again.
Because they can’t think of anything new to bring to the game, they copy that other studio. What was their name? Something Marvel? By re-creating a whole “Thor” and “Loki” sibling dynamic. King Orm of Atlantis, hungers for an all-out war with the Surface World and is putting together an alliance with the leaders of the six other underwater kingdoms. Why can’t these guys just get along and have some beers and a Krusty Krab burger?
Patrick Wilson who is always a reliable screen presence, seems to have stepped straight out of John Boorman’s “Excalibur”. He chews the scenery when he needs to and delivers lines like “I am The Ocean Master”. Wilson tries hard to be the next Loki, but he doesn’t have that dark camp charm of Tom Hiddleston.
Yahya Abdul Mateen II is unfortunately lost in the shuffle as the underdeveloped villain character of Black Manta. It feels like they don’t know if he should be in the movie, as they randomly pop him up every now and then and have him disappear for long stretches at a time. In his few scenes he receives a perfectly functional superweapon from King Orm and then gets his own Tony Stark montage as he transforms it into something infinitely more advanced.
One of the industry’s best, Willem Dafoe looks like he got lost on his way to a “Life Aquatic” reunion. Then again what’s better than seeing Dafoe riding a HammerHead Shark? My favorite of the cast was the underused Nicole Kidman. It was great to see her cut loose and get in on the action in between doing her award-garnering projects. Her fight scene (clearly not her) was crazy good. In a surprisingly good turn, Amber Heard plays Mera, the young queen of the sea who is betrothed to Orm but saves Arthur’s life in the nick of time. Even though Mera thinks Arthur is a dopey brute who doesn’t understand what’s at stake and pleading to never be attracted to Arthur, ahem…yea right?! Mera is really cool. She’s smart, brave, fierce and beautiful. Mera’s dad is King Nereus, who’s played by Dolph Lundgren, and let’s clap for Dolph Lundgren having roles in two big movies this Christmas. The other being “Creed II”.
Let’s face it. As hunky as he looks Jason Momoa is not the most expressive of actors. He does have the physicality and the willingness to make himself look silly and has the natural charisma of other local boy Dwayne Johnson. Like Patrick Wilson, Momoa is asked to deliver some of the year’s worst dialogue from the year’s worst screenplay. The characters are poorly developed, the dialogue is stilted, and although we know Momoa can do one-liners brilliantly, as proven in his comic interludes that were one of the high points of “Justice League”, but here they’re just cheesy. The script has trouble with comedy, asking unfunny actors like Momoa and Heard to act silly, and adding a blossoming romance between the two feels too programmed. On a side note: DC needs to fire their visual effects supervisor and hire one who doesn’t use Crayons.
There are some terrifically kinetic moments in “Aquaman,” and Wan has filled the screen with lots of detail, and often stuffs the entire frame with a lot of activity. Trying to look cool and serious “Aquaman” features gigantic battles between innocent crab people and bad guys riding armored sharks. At one point, an octopus plays the drums (this is where I checked out), while Aquaman fights for the throne of Atlantis in an underwater gladiator arena called “The Ring of Fire”. The arena which looks like an underwater football stadium, is packed to the rafters with Atlanteans. Eventually the battle moves outside of the arena, which I couldn’t help but feel bad for those Atlanteans, who paid good money for their seats.
I’ll hand it to James Wan. As he displayed in “Furious 7”, the action sequences are no slouch, as it is strong, visceral and kinetic. While the action is impressive, “Aquaman” commits one of the worst musical crimes by playing that awful Pitbull song that uses Toto’s “Africa”. Thankfully it wasn’t in the end credits like I predicted but they did play it over a montage of Arthur and Mera flying to a desert where the film takes a “Indiana Jones” and “National Treasure” turn in it’s story. However this leads to an interlude of Momoa and Heard flirting, set to Roy Orbison’s “She’s a Mystery to Me”, that feels like a scene from a romantic comedy accidentally spliced into a superhero film. This then leads to the film’s best sequence. A big fight and chase scene through and on the rooftops of Italy. This scene was made for the big screen.
The first ever big screen adaptation of the underwater superhero who has been treated as a punchline. Who can forget “James Cameron’s Aquaman” in HBO’s “Entourage”? Sadly I’d rather have seen that film (look it up on YouTube). At two and a half hours it outstayed its welcome, so much so that I fell asleep in it’s grand finale giant fish war that’s like the largest pot of Gumbo ever cooked. Still when “Aquaman” wants to be fun, it can be fun. That is great as it’s a relief after all the recent DCEU superhero gloom. But this is no “Wonder Woman”, as it’s the best of the DCEU. You want a real underwater adventure stay home and watch “Finding Nemo”, “Finding Dory” or catch up on some “Spongebob” episodes.
GRADE: ★★ (2) OUT OF ★★★★★ (5)