There’s a lot riding on Warner Bros.’s new DC Expanded Universe film, Aquaman. But it seems that there’s always a lot riding on each new DCEU film, as the foundation for this cinematic universe is broken and has been broken since Batman v Superman. Last year’s Wonder Woman showed that DC and WB can make a good DC Comics-based film, but then that was ruined by Justice League. Now, Aquaman is burdened with the unenviable task of trying to right the wrongs of the past, both of the studio’s decisions and in the film’s plot.
Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, the product of the love between lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Atlanna escaped her tyrannical husband, the King of Atlantis, and found refuge in Amnesty Bay, Maine, with Thomas. Together they raised a family with a son, who, by right, would one day be king, even though he is a half-blood.
When Arthur’s half brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson) begins to orchestrate attacks on his own people using “surface world” weapons, the Seven Kingdoms of Atlantis rally for an assault, and only the now-grown Arthur Curry, The Aquaman, can stop Orm by claiming his birthright and become the King of the Seas, even if he doesn’t think he’s worthy of the title.
There is obviously a lot more to the story in Aquaman, and that’s one of the issues with the film. The script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by James Wan, Beall, and Geoff Johns, tries to do too much with this first movie. It’s almost as if Warner Bros. had no faith that this would work, so they crammed a trilogy’s worth of plots into this one film, and the results are mixed.
On one hand, there’s a lot to process and unpack here as Arthur battles Orm, the Ocean Master, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the frightening fish-monsters called The Trench, the Atlanteans, the surface dwellers, lava crab monsters, massive leviathans, and even a legendary sea monster god that most Atlanteans think is a myth. On the other hand, all of this amounts to some batshit crazy visuals and scenarios, especially in Aquaman’s second and third acts. Heck, Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) even go on a desert adventure to the Sahara mid-way through Aquaman to seek a mythical artifact to prove Arthur’s lineage, which just adds to the craziness.
This disregard for pacing and plot attrition puts Aquaman in the same echelons of 1980’s Flash Gordon, which, in itself, had way too much going on as well. In fact, this felt much like Sam J. Jones’ hero film throughout, sans the epic Queen soundtrack. There are a great many parallels, and I’m sure when Aquaman opens wide, writers and film buffs will write comparison pieces all over the internet between the two films. I almost expected director James Wan to embrace this by adding some more obvious callbacks to that iconic film, and the fact he didn’t — not outright — tells me that maybe he had no idea he was remaking Flash Gordon — or should I say, “Fish Gordon.”
None of this is to say that Aquaman is a bad film; it’s not. It’s incredibly fun and thrilling without being funny, which is worth a hat tip to all involved. The biggest issue I have is that Jason Momoa is not very good as Aquaman. He’s a fine actor and has a huge following, but Arthur Curry is not the character for him. This is made worse by the casting of Patrick Wilson as Orm, who, with his blond hair and heroic facial features, looks exactly like the classic comic book version of Arthur Curry, so every time they are on screen together, all I could think of was the miscasting here. This blame goes on Zack Snyder for casting Momoa in the first place for his abomination, Batman v Superman, and it’s really a shame, as James Wan, with a better actor, or an actor in the right role, could have made this film one of the best comic book movies ever — seriously.
If you can see Aquaman on a IMAX screen, do so. Prepare for a wild ride that your eyes and brain will thank you for after. In the end, the visuals and absurdity of the action on-screen makes up for the casting and plot issues, and makes Aquaman a must-see for comic book or sci-fi fans. I’ve always been a fan of Aquaman comics, and he is much more in line with Marvel’s Thor — both in the comics and in the film universes — than people realize. James Wan was able to capture some of that mythical intrigue here, even though his Aquaman cannot reach the levels of Marvel’s norse god. Hopefully, we will, in fact, get a sequel to expound on the character more, but after burning through so many plot devices and villains here, I have no idea what’s left for Fish Gordon to battle.
Aquaman is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on December 21.
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