“I’m from the surface. No one’s gonna take me seriously.”
There’s no denying Aquaman’s dedication to the character’s unique brand – it’s an homage to countless blockbusters, a garish CGI spectacle, so completely corny all at once – or that it fearlessly leaps off the high dive into the pool below. Credit where credit is due, I will admit that the movie oozes with confidence in its outlandish vision. Yet while the creativity of its imagination runs wild, Aquaman is missing the execution to make this superhero epic anything worth being taken seriously. Turns out the quote above accurately summarizes my feelings towards the DCEU’s latest farm-raised and flopping fish in a barrel.
Surprisingly, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa) opens the film by quoting Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. “Put two ships in the open sea, without wind or tide, and, at last, they will come together.” It doesn’t make a lick of sense, especially considering that Arthur is an enormous working-class bar fly with a meathead mentality. It’s easy to believe his brawls, but quoting classic literature is a bit of a stretch. Aquaman is an origin story for the character, which means around 20-30 minutes get drowned out by expository dialogue and flat, familiar setups. Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) is Queen of Atlantis, falls for the lighthouse earthling Tom (Temuera Morrison), their half-breed son Arthur is born. They live by land as long as they can, finally culminating in Atlanna’s sacrificial departure, and Arthur is raised as an outsider, occasionally visited by Atlantis’ very own Vulko (Willem Dafoe) to master the art of wielding a trident and commanding the sea.
Like many an “As Seen On TV” gadget, Aquaman adds more and more to this pay by installment bundle without increasing the quality of the overall product, promising more but delivering less in the movie’s starkly different and competing narrative halves. On land he’s hunted by David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a marauder who holds Arthur responsible for his father’s death. Below the surface, Aquaman must challenge his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) for his rightful place on the throne. Orm threatens war on the human race, baits Kane into doing his bidding free of charge, and Kane engineers the powerful suit for his alter-ego Manta. Like oil and water, these two plots are fine on their own, but when mixed together they’re incapable of finding a homogeneous consistency.
Don’t forget about Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur’s love interest and a princess to one of the sea’s other seven kingdoms. They go on adventures looking for an all-powerful trident, Arthur acts immature and insolent, Mera does her best to baby this supposed born-to-be-king. In these moments and throughout its entirety, Aquaman and its 80’s inspired tone rip from classic films with little regard for the true titans of cinema. When Manta says, “I need a bigger helmet,” it’s clearly tied to Jaws. When Arthur tells Mera, “There’s a bogey on your 6,” the line comes straight from Top Gun. Multiple scenes aspire to the great heights of Raiders of the Lost Ark, another borrows beats from The Fifth Element, and the picture even pulls from the famous “I can’t pull up” moment during Independence Day. Aquaman comes across as a National Treasure reboot with a superhero as the lead, led by a flat-footed actor in Jason Momoa who is unquestionably physically intimidating yet somehow less emotionally convincing than Nicolas Cage on his worst day. Momoa’s the right man for the role, but the movie doesn’t build on his charismatic strengths either.
Aquaman admirably promotes diversity and emphasizes the dire need for more colorful, playful set pieces in the DCEU, and a few of the action sequences – most notable of which is James Wan’s thrilling underwater submarine slugfest – manage to feel fresh and occasionally even electric. Having said that though, this swashbuckling epic always lacks for tension (as well as a recognizable and iconic score) and its origin story too closely mirrors that of Wonder Woman, except here it’s with a borderline addictive dependency on CGI, less meaningful character development, and a script forever lost in a squall of competing tides. Aquaman isn’t an altogether bad movie; it’s just a juvenile and sorely misguided one.
“Something something trident.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5