Aquaman Review

Look, it’s a fools errand to try explain where the DC movie universe is up to at the moment. Either, you’re up to speed with the frayed narrative threads or you’re like me and you decided it was easier to simply forget what’s come before and tackle each new film as if it’s its own thing. And, for the most part, James Wan’s Aquaman is its own thing, with an off the cuff mention about the events of Justice League being the only tangible thing connecting the series together.

Jason Momoa continues his sojourn into having the best time of his life as he gets to play Arthur Curry, a dude who’s half human and half sea-dude. In this universe, Atlantis is a real thing that exists under the seven seas out of the purview of land dwelling morons who flood the ocean with trash. In the films opening, Arthur’s mum (Nicole Kidman) washes up on the shore of Arthur’s dad (Temeura Morrison). She’s injured, he brings her inside, she eats his goldfish, they fall in love and then not long after, Arthur’s born. Some soldiers appear and Arthur’s ma scarpers. Flash forward and action meets consequence as adult Arthur is now downing beers with his pa after battling pirates in the ocean.

Meanwhile, down in Atlantis, Village of the Damned-esque Patrick Wilson is a wannabe Ocean Master who wants to bring the armies of the seven seas to the land so the land dwellers get the picture that polluting the oceans is not on. His sidekick is Willem Dafoe with slicked back hair and a bun, and his beau is the exceptionally red haired Amber Heard. They’re actors and they act.

Amber Heard isn’t on board with Patrick Wilson’s plan and thinks that Arthur can solve the problem and stop a war starting with the land dwelling folks, so she trundles off to the land to convince Arthur that this is the right thing. Of course, even though he helped save the world in Justice League, Arthur has become a reluctant hero because apparently in 2018 that trope still has legs (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).

Generic plot is generic and Arthur finally embraces being Aquadude and poses with a trident quite a bit. He is also shirtless most of the time, so if you find the overwhelming amount of CGI, well, overwhelming, then you have something else to look at. Momoa has muscles that both Dwayne Johnson and John Cena had no idea existed, and James Wan is quite happy to ensure you know about the existence of said muscles.

Yet, with all the generic aspects of the core plot, there is a wealth of absurd and extreme fantasy going on. The realm of Atlantis is mammoth – so big that it is its own bustling metropolis undersea. Think of it like DC’s version of Wakanda. Heck, it’s so mammoth that it stretches the believability of this city staying hidden from land humans for so long. Unlike Black Panther and Wonder Woman where their worlds managed to stay hidden thanks to a handy force field thing, Atlantis merely exists out in the open seas. Add in the fact that these sea dwellers are casually riding around on Great White Sharks and Killer Whales like it’s no big deal, and that behemoth creatures exist just off the coast of Maine, well… shit… believability has been stretched to exhausting point.

But complaining about believability in comic book films is a fools game. After all, these are films built on nonsense. However, it’s how the filmmaker presents that nonsense that decides how the world is received. Yes, it’s easy to say Marvel has beaten DC because they took their time to gradually build up a universe and make it one that feels real – and I swore to myself that I wouldn’t drag that old chestnut into this ‘review’ – but, it’s even more apparent how flimsy this universe that DC are conjuring is when the climax rolls around and countless seismic explosions tear apart the sea floor as a giant creature climbs out. These things appear to go by unnoticed by folks on land with no troubles at all.

Non-existent believability isn’t always a problem, but the rest of the skeleton that the film hangs on needs to be entertaining. And, for the most part, Aquaman does have some element of ‘fun’. This is mostly thanks to the work from Momoa and Heard, who James Wan has paired together working some kind of wannabe Indiana Jones buddy comedy, with a touch of action. Heard kicks a fair amount of ass – she’s no damsel in distress, which is refreshing. The climactic battle under the sea is exceptionally busy, but it still looks good and entertains in exactly the way it intends to – a vibrant, overblown, underwater version of the great battles in Lord of the Rings.

What drags the film down even further is the insanely erratic score from Rupert Gregson-Williams. Paired with bizarre pop songs (or renditions of pop songs – you’ve all no doubt seen Pitbull’s version of Africa out on the internet, and it’s as bad as you’d imagine), Gregson-Williams score lurches from classical, to rock, to synth, to pan pipes. It never grasps onto one theme, instead coming across like a restless child who’s given the reigns of the radio and can’t pick a station. Initially it appeared that there was going to be a theme for the land, and a theme for the sea, thematically separating the two, but instead it’s a pizza breakfast smoothie of noise.

Finally, Aquaman joins the ranks of Kingsman, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, by having a villain whose plan isn’t actually all that bad. Patrick Wilson wants to give the land dwellers the old ‘what for’ after they have polluted the oceans and killed fish. Fair call really. Yet, everyone else doesn’t want him to because of, reasons. Unlike Kingsman or Infinity War, he’s not exactly encouraging genocide, just suggesting that the land folks should maybe not trash the world. It’s a good message that’s lost in a mire of chaos.

So there’s 1000 words on Aquaman. It’s a film. It’s something everybody will see because of obligation, and sure, they’ll have a good time. This review will do little in swaying viewers one way or the other. If you do go, then at least Jason Momoa’s excitement at all the fun he’s having is mildly infectious.

Also – there is only one mid-credits scene, so feel free to leg it once that’s rolled.

Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson
Writers: Geoff Johns, James Wan, Will Beall (based on characters by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris)

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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