Aquaman a true sea snore
Not the knockout Wonder Woman was or the disaster that was Justice League, James Wan’s Aquaman is a rather plodding by-the-numbers affair that goes far out of its way to provide the sort of under-the-sea spectacle never before seen on screen. On that count, it succeeds, as the world of Atlantis and the six other ocean realms is quite spectacular. As an example of modern digital production design, the movie is a complete success.
Too bad that can’t be said for the rest of the film. As written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, the screenplay is nothing more than a series of action sequences held together by the barest of origin stories. To be sure, this bare-bones description could apply to any number of superhero epics, but what distinguishes Wan’s film from the others are the sheer number of slam-bang sequences that go quickly from exciting to tedious. One disaster trips on the heels of the next cataclysm that runs up against another catastrophe until the movie becomes a headache-inducing blur.
A far-too-quick and awkwardly rendered prologue recounts the origin of the titular hero. The union of lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna, the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman), produces Arthur, a boy destined to be king of the undersea world. However, a brewing civil war beneath the sea calls Atlanna away, and her son is left to figure out on his own just why he’s drawn to the ocean and can communicate with its creatures.
Scenes of Arthur’s upbringing and training by Atlanna’s loyal servant Vulko (Willem Dafoe) are interspersed in flashbacks within the story of Atlantean political turmoil. King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is intent on waging war on the surface world because of their disregard for the ocean (the film’s ecological message is one of its strong suits) but is worried that his rumored half-brother may return to claim the throne. His betrothed through an arranged marriage, Mera (Amber Heard), makes sure that’s just what happens, and once the adult Arthur (Jason Momoa) shows up, their sibling rivalry results in an impressive showdown.
The bloated script features a quest that leads to a trek before resulting in a journey that … you get the idea. The sheer number of challenges Arthur has to face becomes a tedious ordeal, a seemingly never-ending parade of extended challenges that only succeeds in delaying the inevitable. Before we get to the halfway mark, the movie has become something of a bore.
Momoa was one of the highlights of Justice League, his comical arrogance a welcome relief to all the bombast. Here he has trouble carrying the film, his performance consisting of one awkward moment after another. To be sure, he’s more than capable of executing the physical demands of the role, but his attempts at humor fall flat, the chemistry between him and Heard is forced, and we’re left with a sense that the actor has come growing to do before he can fully inhabit this heroic role.
In the end, Aquaman is a floundering, overproduced movie that, in focusing on spectacle, never finds its heart. A sequel is being prepared, what with the film already making nearly $200 million overseas. Here’s hoping that the follow-up, like so many second entries in franchises of this sort, can find its footing and find a better balance between spectacle and its characters.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.