13th Dec2018

‘Aquaman’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish | Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall | Directed by James Wan

aquaman-poster

Directed by James Wan (Furious 7), Aquaman is the latest DC superhero to get the solo movie treatment, having previously appeared in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. The success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman clearly influenced many a studio memo, because there’s a concerted effort to move away from the doom and gloom of the Zack Snyder DC movies, but the overall results are mixed.

Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) reprises his role as Arthur Curry, a beefy, bearded, seabound superhero who spends his days thwarting pirates and various other aquatic ne’er-do-wells, before returning to his local bar and boozing with his lovelorn dad, Tom (Temuera Morrison). However, all that changes when he’s visited by the beautiful Princess Mera (Amber Heard, sporting a costume that’s practically begging for a Little Mermaid joke), who tells him he needs to accept his destiny as the rightful ruler of Atlantis and stop his power-hungry brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) from uniting the kingdoms and waging war on “surface dwellers”.

The script, by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, has a lot of ground (and water) to cover, including some lengthy backstory involving Arthur’s Atlantean mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), some overly complex exposition involving Atlantis’ seven kingdoms, a quest to recover a mystical trident that will unite the kingdoms and a second supervillain in the shape of Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a former pirate who’s seeking revenge on Arthur for the death of his father.

Unfortunately, the dialogue is one of the Aquaman‘s weakest elements, meaning it frequently gets bogged down in tedious exposition and there’s a general lack of humour (or, at least, humour that works), despite the occasional winning ad-lib from Momoa. Similarly, the plot is all over the place (literally), as if they couldn’t quite make up their mind which of several storylines to choose, so they threw everything in and hoped for the best. Visually, the film is something of a mixed bag. The production design work is impressive – especially on the costumes and the various cities – but there’s a deluge of dodgy CGI in the battle sequences and some of the effects shots are truly laughable, especially when anyone has to ride a seahorse or a battle shark. (That said, the sight of Willem Dafoe – as mentor figure Vulko – grinning his famous grin while straddling a shark is an undoubted high point).

As for the performances, Momoa single-handedly keeps the film afloat with a relaxed, effortlessly charismatic turn that’s extremely watchable, even if he can’t quite nail the more emotional moments. Heard is clearly enjoying herself as Mera, warrior princess, and she generates decent chemistry with Momoa, as well as proving she can more than hold her own in the action sequence department. Elsewhere, Kidman brings some much-needed class to the proceedings (and gets in a few fun action sequences of her own), but Wilson is left floundering by an underwritten script and what should have been an entertainingly camp villain role ends up feeling like a damp squib.

On the plus side, various individual sequences are entertaining (most notably a scary sea creature attack and Arthur and Mera’s globe-trotting treasure hunt), even if the rest of Aquaman is frustratingly uneven. In addition, there are a number of pleasingly weird details scattered about (a drum-playing octopus here, a bizarre costume there, etc), which ensure that your interest never wanes for too long.

Ultimately, Aquaman can’t quite compete with Wonder Woman, but it’s head and shoulders above the likes of Justice League, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.

**½  2.5/5

Aquaman in in cinemas everywhere now.

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