To anyone who has ever had the displeasure of watching Jason Momoa's feeble attempts at acting, it won't be particularly surprising that the hunky, impossibly handsome actor fails to convince as a hunky, impossibly handsome superhero.
Aquaman isn't quite a true dud, courtesy of cotton candy visuals that are least a lot of fun to watch, and I have a hard time calling it a disappointment given I went in to the experience with what could be best described as modest expectations. Yet, there's also no denying that Aquaman and it's seemingly 6,000 minute running time never quite earns the loyalty that it requires to keep us watching it. Director James Wan, most known for his successful efforts in indie horror like The Conjuring and Insidious, shoots this film more like an underwater Furious film complete with Momoa's Justice League swagger replaced by a Dwayne Johnson's relentlessly smirking, faux humility shtick that never sells and isn't worth buying.
There's something to be said, I suppose, for Wan's balls to the walls filmmaking here. Aquaman is kind of like the Poseidon Adventure of superheroes as both tragedy and comedy rain down in equal doses and you can't quite figure out if you've stumbled into Days of Our Lives outtakes or something even more nonsensical and melodramatic.
Pretty much every aspect of Aquaman is over the top yet wholly inadequate, relentlessly enthusiastic like watching Jon Cryer's Duckie swoon over Molly Ringwald while knowing all the time she was gonna' choose Jake.
Ain't nobody choosin' Aquaman.
Aquaman tries to squeeze an awful lot in here, basically rolling out an origin story that isn't particularly original and repeatedly reminds us that Momoa's Arthur Curry is sub-moronic ways that might be entertainingly cheesy if Momoa could sell us more than government cheese.
The film's poorly written prologue, and poorly written becomes a theme here, gives us the story of how Queen Atlanna (an overly competent Nicole Kidman) washes ashore and encounters Curry's lighthouse keepin' dad (Temuera Morrison) and the two make sweet then make Arthur. This, of course, means Arthur is half-human/half-Atlantean and all kinds of confused. It also goes without saying that our beloved and fairy like Queen Atlanna will eventually have to bail on the domestic situation, her return to Atlantis designed to ensure young Arthur's safety.
Aquaman ends up giving us not one but two key conflicts - David Kane's Black Manta will end up seeking revenge against our waterlogged superhero, while one devilish dude named Orm (Patrick Wilson), Aquaman's half-brother (think Loki but without personality), will attempt to be the ultimate badass by manipulating all the undersea tribes and trying to gain power over them all.
Sigh. Are we done yet?
Aquaman gives us exposition. And more exposition. And more exposition. And more exposition. And more exposition.
There's a lot of freakin' exposition.
Along the way, we meet up with Willem Dafoe's Nuidis Vulko, a loyal advisor to Atlanna said to be entrusted with ensuring young Arthur is trained to become the Atlantean warrior he will inevitably need to be. He will also cross paths with Mera, featuring the super-coiffed Amber Heard, an empathetic princess whose encouragement leads Arthur down the road to his identity as Aquaman.
Are we done yet?
Wait. Not yet? Gee whiz.
Aquaman is epic in scale, yet abysmally lacking in design or cohesion. It's as if Wan knew that he wanted to make something bigger, yet he forgot to make it better. Everything looks 80's disco cheap, yet it's so overwhelming and awe-inspiring that you can't help but keep watching anyway. Wan can't seem to decide what he wants Aquaman to be, yet the film's tonal inconsistency may very well be one of its best selling points as its endlessly interesting even if it's for all the wrong reasons. The film's final third makes overwrought look timid, yet you can't help but admire Wan's absolute willingness to just throw everything at the screen assuming that the audience that has been waiting on this film is going to love it.
The weird thing is he's probably right.
The truth is that virtually everyone expects Aquaman to dominate the holiday box-office scene and that's a reasonable expectation. While Mary Poppins Returns is unquestionably a better made film, there's simply no question that at its worst Aquaman is still going to give its target audience an overwhelming abundance of what they're looking for from the film.
Acting? Honestly, you're not heading into the theater worried about the acting in Aquaman. Momoa is barely passable as a leading man in a character he should be able to own, while Heard barely makes a noise as Mera. Only Kidman and Dafoe really do anything to show off here and both of them have looks on their faces like "Hey, at least I can buy a new house with the paycheck."
Trust me, if I could do a paycheck film I would.
Love it or hate it, I have the strangest feeling that James Wan made exactly the film he wanted with Aquaman and I'm equally confident that it's going to make major bucks at the box-office. Did I like it? Nah, honestly I hated it. But, there's an audience just looking for a little underwater escape and despite the fact that Aquaman drowns in the shallow end there's simply no doubt we haven't seen the end of him yet.
Where's Thanos when you need him?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic