Directed by James Wan. Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren.
The Plot: Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the half-breed offspring of a lost Atlantean Queen (Nicole Kidman) and a human lighthouse keeper, has shunned his position as the natural heir to the throne of Atlantis. On land and among humans, he is known as Aquaman and uses his underwater powers to help others. In Atlantis, his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is amassing power and building alliances with the likes of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren). Concerned with human interference with the oceans and a possible encroachment on his territory, Orm intends to strike first and launch an all-out war on land. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) seeks help from Arthur, to restore the rightful balance of power. He now must become the man he was meant to be…
The Verdict: First introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and then brought centre stage as a team player in Justice League, Arthur Curry AKA Aquaman has some real potential. Brash and occasionally funny, with something of a rockstar persona, the prospect of his own origin film is tantalising. The added bonus of James Wan as a director, a man who knows how to make a well-engineered film in Hollywood, promised a heroic and spectacular pre-Christmas treat. Unfortunately, the gap between expectations and reality here is as wide as the distance between the mighty Atlanteans and the land-lubbers they strangely fear.
The reality is that the story, by Wan and three other writers, isn’t that involving. You can pretty much tell where it’s going early on. Warring brothers, conflict over the control of an otherworldly kingdom, inter-world wars… A certain rival studio already covered all this in and in a more original way too. DC’s take aims less for Shakespeare and more for simple butting of heads, fiery exchanged words and the warm, glowy feel of a mother’s love for her sons (that again?). Not that the story really matters that much. It’s drowned in a mass of headache-inducing CGI gloop right from the beginning. Think Tron Legacy underwater, but without the stylish sheen of that film.
Aquaman is an effects-heavy film, but there’s a point at which the visuals become overpowering and just too much to take onboard. Amid the Atlantean warriors on sharks, there’s even an octopus playing drums in a gladiatorial arena. The audience is barely given the chance to bask in the amusing underwater oddness of it all. The pace is relentless, moving from one scene to another with little character development – a disappointing decision from the usually more patient Wan. The plot just moves mechanically from Point A to Point B and so on, so it starts to resemble a videogame. Environmental exploration? Check. Flirtations with local princess? Check. Quest to find a MacGuffin that could stop the inter-world war? Check. End-of-level baddie? Check. Wan has the game controller and he’s the one having most of the fun, not the audience.
As a team player, Aquaman was fine in short bursts. Here in a standalone film he comes across as a good bit smug and virtually invincible. It’s hard to care about a superhero whose only weakness appears to be infrequent bouts of exhaustion. Momoa is a commanding physical presence throughout but is underserved by a weak script that struggles to round out his character. The film does work occasionally – when it’s on dry land and involves the flying sparks between Aquaman and Mera. Most of the film takes places underwater though and becomes overwrought. In a year in which that aforementioned rival studio gave us a ground-breaking film about diversity in the superhero genre and then boldly wiped out half the population of Earth with a click of its fingers, Aquaman looks tired and unimaginative. Down to Davy Jones’ locker for a spell, Aquaman.