Rating: 3 out of 5 seahorses
Director James Wan’s “Aquaman” is a ridiculous film that likely killed many of my brain cells, but I enjoyed its sensory overload nevertheless.
This DC Comics film centers around the titular hillbilly hunk, played by Jason Momoa, as he embarks on a fish-filled mission to find a mythical trident and claim his rightful place as king of Atlantis. Aquaman — or Arthur Curry, but Aquaman sounds cooler — is the child of lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry, played by Temuera Morrison, and former princess of Atlantis, Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman. Aquaman’s half-brother Orm, played by Patrick Wilson, is determined to start a war with the surface, submerging Aquaman in a cartoonish battle for the future of planet Earth. Along the way, Aquaman meets a Poison Ivy look-alike named Mera, played by Amber Heard, who helps him demolish bad guys and fuel his testosterone. There’s also a subplot featuring a revengeful pirate named Black Manta — one that serves little purpose besides adding action sequences and setting up sequels.
Despite an overly long running time and lackluster character development, “Aquaman” should entertain viewers expecting nothing more than a lighthearted, visually and aurally bombastic slice of stupidity.
As expected, Momoa portrays Aquaman with an adolescent swagger that’s endearing. He has great comedic timing and delivers his dialogue with almost enough enthusiasm to excuse the numerous attacks on viewers’ intelligence. Momoa’s intimidating physique — he could probably take on a great white shark in real life — and wispy, seaweed-esque hair is also perfect for the role of underwater action figure. Momoa carries the film on his shoulders, always making sure viewers don’t take the proceedings too seriously.
The visuals, along with Momoa, also left a positive impression. Bright, eye-popping colors leap off the screen, representing an antithesis to the gritty aesthetic typically associated with DC films. Even though “Aquaman” uses copious amounts of CGI, it strengthens the exaggerated characters and situations. How else are you supposed to include laser sharks, a kraken or an octopus doing a drum solo?
Wan isn’t afraid to get weird, and viewers will either go along for the ride or abandon ship within the first five minutes. Aquaman’s bone-crunching entrance, filmed in 30 frames per second and featuring an overly dramatic look into the camera, is representative of the film’s goofy tone.
Much of the dialogue is painfully corny and more representative of Saturday morning cartoons than mega-budget blockbusters (except for Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films). Much of the cheese is intentional, especially relating to the hilarious romance between Aquaman and Mera. “Dramatic” moments, however, felt off-kilter, likely because many actors attempt to give their characters emotional weight that, frankly, just wasn’t meant to be. Aquaman’s parents have a potentially interesting backstory, but the film rushes through their scenes, which left me unintentionally amused. Their relationship is utterly drenched in over-the-top melancholy.
Willem Dafoe, playing Aquaman’s mentor, brings to mind misplaced actors from the “Star Wars” prequels. Atrocious de-aging effects on his face don’t help anything. Wilson’s performance as Orm is indistinguishable from countless other comic book villain portrayals.
Surprisingly, the film also tries to make its own climate change Killmonger, but Orm comes up woefully short in comparison to Michael B. Jordan’s masterful performance in Marvel’s “Black Panther.” Orm’s admittedly understandable motivation is offset by the fact that “Aquaman” only really cares about delivering extensive action sequences and visual panache. For every five minutes of conversation, there’s 15 minutes of superhero carnage. “Aquaman” is not a cerebral film by any stretch, and it often seems that Wan panders to viewers with miniscule attention spans.
The pervasive action sequences are, however, technically brilliant. Wan films them using long-take and wide-angle shots that capture the actors’ impressive choreography. Viewers are thrown into the action with exaggerated camera movements that perfectly match the film’s tone. Each action set piece also feels distinct thanks to Wan’s devotion to the laughable material.
Unfortunately, “Aquaman” plows on for a walloping two and a half hours — during which, eventually, even devoted viewers might question their investment in the absurd proceedings. The film also speeds through Aquaman’s backstory in an emotionally uninteresting way, and characters spout seemingly never-ending streams of exposition.
Coming in with rock-bottom expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by Wan’s approach to “Aquaman.” The film is way too long and contains numerous moments that made me cringe, but as a braindead experience, it suffices.