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After appearances in two earlier films, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Aquaman now gets his own origin-story showcase in the DC Extended Universe, a story of his infancy and childhood that kicks off like a laugh-free version of Ron Howard’s Splash. Despite some engagingly surreal moments, heartfelt environmentalist gestures, big-name supporting roles and occasional flourishes of marine camp, this is a let-down: a laborious, slow-moving and dripping wet film, barnacle-encrusted with solemnity and with a ripply-underwater production design that looks like a giant version of the kitschy items that you put in fish-tanks. And Amber Heard turns in a performance as King Nereus’s daughter Mera that is about as relaxed as her appearance in the famous “hostage video” she made with Johnny Depp to apologise for infringing Australia’s rules on importing pets.
Jason Momoa is back as Aquaman himself, though there’s still no depiction of the presumably big moment in his life when he got those humungous tattoos. His parents got it together in 1985, when his Earthling dad Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), while tending to his lighthouse in Massachusetts, discovered the beautiful Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) unconscious on the beach, on the run from an arranged marriage in the undersea world of Atlantis. Atlanna can breathe air and does not have to be kept in the bath, and she and Tom fall in love and have a baby, named Arthur after the British mythic king and for some residual lady-of-the-lake vibes. But then the terrifying Atlantis stormtroopers show up to grab Atlanna back, with those water-filled helmets which for some reason Atlanna herself doesn’t need. Kidman is rather well cast as Atlanna, and her willowy grace and unearthly beauty make her a plausible Atlantic monarch, although her character sadly absents herself for most of the action. Tom is now a single dad.
The one really good moment in the film comes in Aquaman’s lonely teen years, when he is bullied by a couple of older kids while on a school trip to the aquarium and an enraged shark smashes up against the glass, in an attempt to protect him. But then he becomes the amiably self-satisfied gym bunny and happy-hour enthusiast that we all know, pretty much free from the agonised self-questioning that is a part of every single other superhero’s psychological makeup. Aquaman doesn’t do emotional vulnerability.
The crisis of his adult life arrives when Aquaman’s half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson), the entirely ridiculous and sometimes gold-clad potentate below the sea, wishes to unite the various kings under his own unscrupulous rule and lead a pre-emptive attack on all those air-breathers walking around above sea level, poisoning both land and sea. Aquaman is the only person who can stop this; his own mixed ancestry will bring a spiritually amphibious peace between humans and water-dwellers. The ghastly Orm has also hired gangster/mercenary David Kane, soon to be Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), with a bag of what look like rusty doubloons – are those legal tender in the US? – to kill Aquaman, against whom Black Manta in any case holds a grudge for killing his pirate father in a way that was admittedly a bit ruthless. Black Manta has a point about this.
The extraordinary thing about this film is that Willem Dafoe is in it, proving yet again what everyone says: Dafoe’s sheer actorly integrity can ride out whatever silliness he finds himself in. When you see him under the sea, riding some sea creature like a horse, and with a completely straight face, you don’t laugh at him. Dolph Lundgren plays King Nereus, and carries it off reasonably well, although like every other marine character, there is the issue of hair distractingly waving and rippling in the water like seaweed.
But Wilson is just, frankly, dull. He is not allowed to develop an interesting character and he suffers from the obvious comparison with Loki, Thor’s adopted brother played with relish by Tom Hiddleston as a velvety-voiced villain. But then Momoa’s good-ol’-boy characterisation of Aquaman itself only goes so far. This is a film that never quite comes up for air.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Aquaman review – a complete bellyflop | Film