Saturday, 29 December 2018

Review: Aquaman

Aquaman (2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 143 mins / Dir. James Wan / Trailer

As a reviewer (and as you can see dear reader, the cutting-down of these extravagantly lengthy articles is proving only partially successful), a clean-slate is pretty much the ideal scenario for any movie. Read no reviews or opinions beforehand, and let hopefully the flick speak for itself. Mission accomplished, I went into Aquaman with no expectations. Although I confess I went in with no particular excitement, either...


Jason Momoa is Arthur/Aquaman (hereafter referred to as Arthurman), a sort of amphibian hybrid superhero whose father is a creepy CGI lighthouse keeper*1 in Maine, and whose mother is Queen Atlanna (hereafter referred to as Aquamum) of Atlantis, sort of like Daryl Hannah in Splash only with legs. When she's in the water as well, I mean. Anyway. Arthurman is doing fine rescuing various submarines from pirates until merlady Mera (Amber Heard) rocks up one day to tell him that his half brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is threatening to kick off and lead the seven armies of the sea to take over the land, in conjunction with King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) and aquatic admin assistant Vulko (Willem Dafoe). Meanwhile, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays a 'dry-land' pirate with archetypal daddy-issues and so wants to kill Arthurman, and sporadically returns throughout the film in an attempt to do so.

And I suppose that once you accept that the characters can talk and be heard underwater, it makes absolute sense that there'd be daylight at the Earth's core, as well.

But the film's alright. By no means great, but Aquaman is far from the most troubled entry in DC's cinematic canon. But that said, it's also pretty far from the most interesting one, too. Momoa continues to be a natural fit for the role in a film which is pretty much built around his presence. Although while the action sequences are pretty much a given, the trademark deadpan humour Jason displayed in Justice League falters, as the script just isn't there to support his natural comic timing*2.


As Arthurman's dialogue is relatively minimal, the burden of the script is foisted onto everybody else. This could be Amber Heard's toughest gig to date, as she struggles admirably to deliver her lines without bursting into laughter. There are vast swathes of the film devoted to her and Willem Dafoe standing around explaining backstory which doesn't matter. Considering the amount of alternate bickering and flirting they have to do, Heard and Momoa have precisely no chemistry together, to the point where I suspect they might have green-screened all of their shared scenes on separate days.

The movie features a series of progressive flashbacks to Arthurman's youth, where he's played by a succession of actors who look nothing alike. And I can't believe The Punisher and the Green Goblin have jumped ship to DC (actually with those two, I can).

Aquaman is over-scripted, over-acted, over-directed and way over-long. Here more than ever, DC's live-action output is clunky and old-fashioned, ingrained with a campiness that borders on Gods Of Egypt levels. When pirate-dude comes back as Black Manta, he's pretty much the only one in the movie not wearing a partially CGI costume costume, and as a result looks like something out of Power Rangers*3.

And I didn't think it would be possible to find a more miscast villain than David Thewlis pompously snarling through his ill-fitting armour in a part he's clearly not right for. Then Patrick Wilson was all 'mate hold my Kryptonite'. King Orm is flat-out ridiculous, even for a movie like this*4.


The plot as detailed above is a bare-bones affair, and the production is forced to rely on spectacle as a result. In the end, Aquaman borrows so heavily from Thor and Black Panther that it's had to take out a loan from The Phantom Menace just to keep up the repayments*5.

Rupert Gregson-Williams' score is nicely rousing for the most part, but its claustrophobic submarine fight-scene features more-than-a-touch-of Henry Jackman's 'Lemurian Star' cue from the Winter Soldier soundtrack. Y'know, the bit where there's a claustrophobic fight-scene on a maritime vessel…


It wouldn't be a DC movie without a murky CGI 30-minute explosion to round things out. And if Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Meg have taught us nothing else, it's that these look so much better when they're happening underwater. Yay.

Of course it's easy to be cynical about all this, but it's also nigh-on impossible to find some sort of depth or subtext in the screenplay. It's just a very linear franchise-filler, and that's okay. But every time the script threw in some heavy-handed line about pollution and the environment, I couldn't help but think of the number of non-recyclable drinks cups in the auditorium around me. Can that really be the message?

But if you're after an uncomplicated, undemanding*6 superhero flick over the holidays that's sincere in its silliness, you could do far worse. Aquaman is basically fine*7.

DC's best film of modern times is still Teen Titans Go! To The Movies.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well, the other DC flicks, frankly.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you like the look of the trailer, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Most of the cinematic spectacle will be reduced accordingly in your living room, so choose wisely.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, it's not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
It's likely, but not certain.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Jango Fett is in this.

Maybe that's what he looked like after Geonosian scientists grafted his head back on after Geonosis…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Seriously, the CGI de-aged Temuera Morrison used for the first sequence is just embarrassing, even worse than Rogue One Princess Leia. He looks like an pre-vis animatic rendering of a burns-victim. [ BACK ]

*2 The most pertinent example being that bit from the trailer where Arthurman punches in the top of a submarine and lands in the corridor. Two armed henchmen look at each other nervously while Arthurman looks coyly over his shoulder and quips "Permission to come aboard?". He is already aboard. That is the joke. That is the level of wit reached in the first ten minutes of the film and maintained throughout. [ BACK ]

*3 "Call me..." *postures* "...Black Manta!" he said as I sniggered slightly too loudly in the cinema. [ BACK ]

*4 "Call me..." *grimaces* "...Ocean Master!" he said as I actually guffawed in the cinema. [ BACK ]

*5 Yeah, that's about the ninth time I've used that joke on this blog, and I'm not even sick of it yet. I'd apologise here, but I'm just not sorry. Hey, if DC can recycle threadbare ideas then I sure as hell can, too. They're the ones profiteering from their laziness, I do this shit for free. [ BACK ]

*6 Genuine conversation overheard after the film:
-Have you just been to see Aquaman?
~Yeah, loved it mate, best one yet. So much better than Justice League.
-Yeah man, that was fucking shit.
~Yeah, right!

…and I thought 'but why are you here watching this then, if its predecessors offended you so?'. Then I remembered that I was due to see the new Transformers flick three days later, even though I tore the last one a new arsehole. Although I'll be honest, these didn't seem like two reviewers spitballing ideas for an imminent deconstruction. But you never know. [ BACK ]

*7 Seriously though, Arthurman has got long hair and a beard. How is this efficient for someone who spends half their time underwater and the other half trying to dry out (and presumably stinking in the process)? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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