By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas December 26th
I’ll give the first big screen adaptation of Aquaman credit for two reasons. One, this is far from the colossal disaster that was last year’s Justice League movie, a film so bad that it continues to get worse the more I think about. And two, Jason Momoa has single handedly transformed this once made fun of character into an absolute badass king worthy of a movie grand and epic in scope. Sadly, that’s about where it ends for Aquaman, which, in a year of truly incredible superhero stories, feels like a noticeable outlier.
Arthur Curry (Momoa) was born of two worlds. His mother, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), ruled over the seven seas, but fled her world and fell in love with a human, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Together, they gave life to Arthur, a surface dweller with ties to the Atlantean throne. When Mera (Amber Heard) seeks Arthur out, warning him of his brother King Orm’s (Patrick Wilson) villainous ways, Arthur must step up and become the Aquaman to reclaim the throne and protect the seven seas.
It’s a story told in the grandest scale, exploring the fantastical elements of this underwater kingdom in bright, colourful, visually astonishing ways. Battle sequences are big, bold and livened up by legions of sea creature warriors that you haven’t seen anywhere else on film. It’s a world of its own, one that’s reminiscent of Black Panther’s Wakanda and Thor’s Asgard, but with a pinch of The Little Mermaid thrown in there for good measure. Aquaman may not have been the wild ride I hoped it to be, but being in this world opened up the doors for plenty of fun.
From giant crabs to sharks with laser beams to an octopus that plays the drums, barely a minute will pass before a new visual treat delights the eyes. Director James Wan gives it his all, crafting a film that feels truly special. When it gets goofy, it gets brilliant, but sadly, this goofiness is few and far between, and instead, what we get is a dull, straight-faced narrative that’s all too familiar and way too cheesy for its own good. The visuals from Thor and Black Panther aren’t the only thing this film steals. If you reverse the roles of Black Panther and Killmonger, and remove all the interesting themes, you basically have Aquaman.
Fun costumes and practical (if not slightly cheap) sets aren’t enough to save this major misfire of a superhero movie. It’s part origin story, part Justice League sequel, but lacks an interesting hook. Orm is an underdeveloped villain who gets the main spotlight, while Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an interesting one who feels shoehorned in for the sake of setting up a sequel. The costume department doesn’t hold back with the silliness of his comic book costume, bringing it to life in the most authentic of ways, but he rolls with it and makes it work. His character does feel very over the top at times, but I could feel the potential brewing.
The real lifesaver of the film is Momoa in the titular role. He is, perhaps, one of the most charismatic actors working today, bringing so much life and energy to an otherwise meandering screenplay. Some of the dialogue he has to deal with is abhorrent, but he gives it his all and tries to make it work. It doesn’t, but credit is due for trying. Some of the more puzzling music choices and character beats, including a moment with flowers and one involving teenage Aquaman’s revelation about his mum, are so over the top that they earn unintentional laughter, while on the other end of the spectrum, most of the genuine jokes fall flat.
However, the worst crime of all in Aquaman is that, despite fun characters and delightful visuals, the film ultimately winds up being dreadfully boring. Some of the action delights, especially an early one shot with Kidman’s character, but the film clocks in at 143 minutes and you can feel it. I didn’t expect to love this movie, but I didn’t think I’d be as bored as I ended up being. Aquaman isn’t the worst DC movie yet, and the fact that its fairly straightforward and not overtly muddled with is promising for their future, but there are other superhero movies this year that deserve your attention instead.
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