The character of Aquaman has been mocked mercilessly over the years for his ability to communicate with fish, so it’s no surprise that within the first fifteen minutes of this film James Wan attempts to depict this in the coolest way possible. It’s a valiant effort for sure, but it feels unlikely that children around the world will start wishing for this particular super-power anytime soon.
That being said, by casting paragon of masculinity Jason Momoa, Warner Bros. has already gone some way to overhauling the character’s public image. With his bulging muscles and head-to-toe body ink, he cuts an imposing figure as he admirably throws himself into the role. It would be fair to say that Momoa’s acting chops are far from proven, but he has the necessary energy to succeed here.
Arthur Curry a.k.a Aquaman is the son of a lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean queen who is reluctantly drawn into an ocean conflict that threatens to leave the world in ruins. At its core, the plot is fairly simple; villainous King Orm (Patrick Wilson) needs to unite the seven underwater kingdoms in order to launch an assault on the surface world, while Aquaman requires an ancient trident to stop him. Unfortunately, the execution is meandering and the resulting two-and-a-half hour runtime really drags towards the end.
Without a doubt, the heaviest anchor weighing this film down is the script which is jam-packed with melodramatic cliches and heavy-handed expository monologues. It acts as an effective roadblock preventing any of the characters from connecting on an emotional level despite the best efforts of the cast.
Indeed, everyone here is trying their hardest to elevate this material and some very nearly succeed. Patrick Wilson’s scenery-chewing performance as Ocean Master is entertaining on some level, but his character is far too undeveloped to be worthy of any real praise. Amber Heard is endearing at times, particularly during the fish out of water (sorry) scenes on the surface world, but the dialogue she is tasked with delivering is some of the worst in the entire film.
These shortcomings are a genuine shame because there is a lot that Aquaman gets right. The computer-generated environments in this film are stunning to such an extent that if Aquaman doesn’t sweep the visual effects categories at this year’s Oscars, it will be a true injustice. The design of Atlantis and its inhabitants is something to marvel at, while the cinematography is for the most part superb. There are certain shots in this movie that I would quite happily blow up to canvas size and hang in my home.
Certainly, there are some fantastic moments too. An action sequence which takes place across the rooftops of Sicily about midway through is by far the best the film has to offer. The movie subsequently takes a brief Lovecraftian detour which is also an absolute treat. Unfortunately, these promising setpieces don’t form a greater whole. In fact, it was shortly after this killer one-two punch that the film’s climactic final act began to feel like a slog.
The score is provided by Rupert Gregson-Williams and features some very strong tracks. Admittedly, it occasionally devolves into generic orchestral cacophony but these moments are in the minority of cases. It’s a shame that the film hinders his good work by mixing in a truly bizarre soundtrack that includes a cover of Toto’s “Africa” by none other than Pitbull. Needless to say, it’s a song that deserves to be sent straight to hell where it will no doubt be played on loop.
Director James Wan is relatively new to the realm of mega-budget blockbusters, having specialised in low-budget horror fare before making his action debut with 2015’s Furious 7. Overall, he succeeds at capturing the fantastical sweeping vistas of Atlantis, but falls short during the more subdued moments. The romantic scenes between Momoa and Heard feel awkward at best and none of the “emotional” moments hit in quite the way they were intended to.
Aquaman is a strange case. It’s a film that feels progressive in some ways, with its groundbreaking effects and powerful female co-lead who plays a far greater role than mere love interest. However, the script feels tremendously dated throughout which might be a result of this movie’s stagnant production cycle, having begun life almost a decade ago. Ultimately, I respect Aquaman for its ambition but I cannot in good conscience recommend it.