AquamanReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/20/18 11:56:03
Face it, there was probably no way that anyone was going to ever make a truly great movie out of the adventures of Aquaman, the DC superhero who is best known for ruling the oceans and communicating with fish and the like—hell, the whole extended subplot on “Entourage” about the making of a big-budget movie based on the character was predicated largely on the very absurdity of such a thing ever existing. That said, even if there was little chance of such a film achieving the giddy pop perfection of the original “Superman” or the current “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” or the gravitas of the Christopher Nolan Batman films or “Black Panther,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that it could not still provide audiences with a couple of hours of fun and excitement in spite of (or perhaps even because of) the inherent silliness of the whole concept. Unfortunately, those qualities are virtually non-existent in “Aquaman,” a long, dreary and wildly overstuffed slog that takes its few actual virtues and buries them under an avalanche of weak writing, gaudy special effects and a number of good actors embodying some of the silliest characters of their extensive careers.Although Aquaman (Jason Momoa), also known as Arthur Curry, made his screen debut last year in the superhero mashup “Justice League,” this film provides him with his official origin story. One day, an ordinary lighthouse keeper (Temura Morrison) discovers a beautiful woman (Nicole Kidman) washed up on the rocks below. It turns out that she happens to be Atlanna, queen of the fabled undersea kingdom of Atlantis who has fled the throne for various reasons. The two fall in love and have Arthur before visitors from the beneath the ocean attack and force Atlanna to return with them. Arthur is raised in Maine by his father and while refusing to visit the kingdom and take his place on the throne, he does patrol the oceans and use his abilities to defeat pirates and such before heading home to pound beers at the local bar.
One day, Arthur is visited by Mera (Amber Heard), the daughter of Nereus (Dolph Lundgren. . . yes, Dolph Lundgren), the ruler of another kingdom, who comes bearing bad news. It seems that the vile King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who has taken over Atlantis since Atlanna vanished, is planning to unite all the other kingdoms to join him in declaring war on the surface world. With Nereus already on board with the plan, the only way to stop Orm’s plan is if Arthur goes to Atlantis for the first time in his life and assume his birthright. Having never been there before and assuming that the people of Atlantis might be slightly cool to a half-human as their ruler, Arthur initially refuses Mera’s plea but when Orm creates a tidal wave that nearly kills his father (while presumably killing scores of others that are never mentioned), he inevitably changes his mind. This kicks off a quest for a magical trident that only the true king can wield that takes Arthur and Mera to places like Sicily and the Sahara Desert before returning underwater to deal with Orm once and for all. Oh yeah, while all this is going on, Arthur is also being pursued by a new super-villain named Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen) who has some deeply personal reasons for wanting to kill our hero and is willing to hook up with Orm in order to achieve them.
In essence, “Aquaman” tells a story that is jerry-rigged with key plot elements previously seen in two of the best recent superhero movies—the idea of a superhero attempting to adapt to a new and unfamiliar world that was explored brilliantly in “Wonder Woman” and the notion of a king returning to the empire from which he had been isolated and estranged from that formed the heart of “Black Panther”—with a not-exactly-subtle dollop of the legend of King Arthur tossed in for good measure. The problem with “Aquaman” is not so much that it lacks originality save for the novelty of its undersea location as it is the fact that it does so little with the material. The quest at its center is not especially interesting, the villains are bores and while the film probably needed to be a bit of the goofy side due to the material—it is hard to imagine the film employing the same bleak approach utilized by such recent DC-inspired movies as “Batman Vs Superman” and “Justice League.” The screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall gives our hero plenty of opportunities to show off his stuff, in addition to his heroic talents, but never quite manages to make him into an interesting character. Instead, he is just hurriedly jerked around from one elaborate action scene to the next, none of which are staged with the kind of flair that director James Wan has demonstrated in the past in films ranging from “Death Sentence” (a terrible movie with a fight sequence set in a multi-level parking garage practically worth the price of admission) to the cheerfully over-the-top “Furious 7.” The latter managed to create scenes that were both technically astounding and enormously entertaining to watch so it isn’t that he doesn’t know how to work on a canvas this size. The problem, frankly, is that the undersea world, at least as depicted here, just is not especially interesting from a cinematic standpoint and none of the bizarre visual fillips that are tossed in (including underwater lasers, trained sharks and the like) are able to fully distract from the hollowness at its center.
One aspect of the film that does work, at least to some extent, is the performance by Jason Momoa as Aquaman. Physically, he is perfect for the part, of course, but he also brings a certain humor to the proceedings that suggests that he knows just how silly this all is and which actually fits nicely with the weirdness going on around him. Alas, he is the only one of the main cast who is able to hit that sweet spot and the result is that the rest of the film is populated by actors wearing ridiculous costumes and spouting equally silly line, no doubt while thinking about their paychecks. Both Wilson and Heard are flat-out dreadful here—the former stands around looking foolish while struggling to bring any sort of conviction to lines like “Call me Ocean Master!” while the latter is such a non-entity here that you become convinced that she was cast only because the role requires someone to spend most of their screen time walking around in a low-cut outfit while dripping wet. As for Kidman and Willem Dafoe, who turns up sporting a top-knot as Arthur’s undersea advisor, I cannot begin to explain what they are doing here but I hope that someone can one day turn up a recording of their agents explain to them why doing this movie would be a good idea.I must confess that the entire notion of a mega-budget movie presenting the adventures of Aquaman is so bizarre that I actually found myself holding out hope for a while that it would somehow pull itself together into a satisfying entertainment or, barring that, go so completely bonkers that it might work on that level. Unfortunately, it winds up missing on both counts—it is far too silly to be taken seriously and far too plodding to work as some kind of oddball oddity. It never sinks to the depths (sorry) of a complete misfire like “Suicide Squad” or “Batman vs. Superman” but it just never clicks and at nearly 2 1/2 hours, it just becomes exhausting after a while. There is always the possibility, I suppose, that a good “Aquaman” movie could actually be made someday but based on the evidence supplied here, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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