DC's "Aquaman" Makes Like A Blowfish

While writer-director James Wan has proven himself one of the sharpest minds in horror, his two detours outside the genre (little-seen 2007 thriller “Death Sentence” and 2015 blockbuster “Furious 7”) have been stilted at best, suggesting a real discomfort out of his wheelhouse. The Malaysian-born Australian’s first foray into comic book movies, “Aquaman,” is no different. The DC Comics picture plays like the worst of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s collaborations: loud, overlong, and senseless, relying on visual effects to plaster over bad dialogue and wild narrative leaps.

Its infrequent shots of fun aren’t worth the headache.

Structured as a rigidly familiar origin story, Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s script tracks the title character’s journey from earthbound outcast to saltwater warrior reckoning with his ancestry. Born to unassuming lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and oceanic princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), Arthur aka Aquaman grows up without his mother. When he was young she returned to the sea out of necessity to keep her family safe, never to be heard from again.

Although Arthur comes to terms with his powers at a young age – with the help of his mother’s right-hand Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) – he’s ultimately rejected by his homeland for being half-human.

Years later, now a part of the Justice League, our protagonist reluctantly agrees to follow Atlantan queen Mera (Amber Heard) into the deep to find the Trident of Atlan, that he may reclaim his rightful place as king over his younger brother (and Mera’s beau) Orm (Patrick Wilson). The malevolent Orm plans to wage war against the surface over its polluting ways, putting all of Earth’s citizens in mortal danger. Mera’s father Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) is less obsessed with the plan, but in lockstep with Orm all the same, making Arthur humanity’s lone chance at preventing mass casualties.

None of the film’s performances are particularly impressive, but Wilson’s is as wooden as a plank, facile and hokey. It is diametrically opposed to his terrific turn in James Wan’s “The Conjuring 2,” a stark difference that appropriately contrasts Wan, horror master, and Wan, hired gun.

To say the movie goes a little heavy on computer-generated imagery is the understatement of the century. Nearly all of its 143 minutes hang on CGI that ranges from solid to sketchy. The underwater sequences are especially dubious, the characters’ hair their only convincing feature. Lucky that Jason Momoa’s hair is one of his greatest selling points; his corny “Dave Grohl with yellow contacts” approach to Aquaman begins to wear by the one-hour mark.

Although certainly pluckier and more colorful, none of this is much of an improvement over awful predecessors “Batman V Superman” and “Justice League.” And it’s a far cry from the DC Extended Universe’s high point “Wonder Woman.”

Arguably the most intriguing character in “Aquaman,” Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen), is hardly the layered foe he might have been, cast aside for long stretches of the picture to end up a mid-credit stinger. DC competitor Marvel Studios has unleashed a few duds now, but they’ve upped the ante on introducing interesting wrinkles into their movies – like complicated villains. Black Manta could have been, should have been, and isn’t.

Collectively Warner Bros. and DC still seem to not grasp the staleness, the veritable tape delay of their, stuck in a time when visual flair went much further than it does now. A sizzle reel is not a movie, even if it’s feature length.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: December 21, 2018
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: James Wan
Screenwriters: Will Beall, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Starring: Jason Momoa, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Ludi Lin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)