How do you make the oft-mocked “silly” member of the Justice League work? You embrace the more out-there elements of the mythology and combine it with tried-and-tested tropes of the day. Someone’s been watching GAME OF THRONES intently. And HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. And JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. And a whole host of others. Admittedly, it’s an attractive genre smorgasbord that’s served up, grab-bag that it is.
Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa), the son of a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and an Atlantean queen (Nicole Kidman) reluctantly returns home to reclaim his birthright, not before battling his devious half-brother (Patrick Wilson) and reclaiming a powerful artifact.
Straight out of the dock they dismiss the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE almost entirely with a disinterested shrug of Arthur’s massive tattooed shoulders. It’s probably for the best that director James Wan and his writers started from scratch with their story and had Aquaman operate in his own self-contained world.
I got a distinct STAR WARS Prequel Trilogy vibe from pretty early on. It’s not so much the convoluted fantasy political machinations (of which there are plenty) but more the feeling that, if the technology had been available, George Lucas would have made the Gungan capital city Otah Gunga look as bright and busy as Atlantis does here. It’s a really good-looking film but there’s almost too much visual information to process at once in some shots. The smaller-scale battles work a little better because of this; you’ll remember more of King Orm (Wilson) fending off a submarine attack on an Atlantean diplomatic meeting than you will the later full-on war between about five different armies and their chosen sub-aquatic mounts because your brain doesn’t go into shutdown.
After ANT-MAN AND THE WASP‘s almost-there de-ageing, the Aquaman team seem to have taken a step backwards. Yes, we’re back in the smooth-all-flaws-out-of-the-face school of making someone look 20 years younger. And the actors they try this on, it’s ridiculous – Willem Dafoe and Temuera Morrison were always craggy! It’s a good job they’re all good actors giving solid performances or this might be more distracting. All the wet hair effects are very nice though.
There’s a fair smattering of funny moments, both intentional and unintentional, I think. Yes it’s amusing that Arthur isn’t the sharpest forked weapon in the treasure chest (Mamoa plays good-natured dumbness well) and a fair amount of more capable people have to help him get to where he needs to be. But the neon stat sheet for Arthur and Orm that pops up before their duel for the benefit of the arena audience is an…interesting choice that’ll either make or break the film for you.
King Orm is admittedly the stronger of the film’s two antagonists; cruel, egotistical, permanently slicked like an authoritarian barracuda (never does he look more angry than when he is thrown on land and his hair bounces back to boyish golden curls). Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is pretty dull with a predictable vengeance arc, and pretty ineffective opponent for the big guy with the trident.
I’m so pleased they got Aquaman riding a seahorse, kicking ass. Nobody kicks quite as much ass as Amber Heard’s Mera though, demonstrating her aquakenesis to a variety of creative and deadly effects. Speaking of Mera, for much of the plot she’s far more useful and level-headed than her bulging Bro-seidon, yet she has to defer to him because it’s a Chosen One / Divine Right of Kings story. They even ask at one point, “What could be better than a king?” Even underwater civilisations completely and utterly removed from humanity apparently don’t value female rulers as highly, which is depressing.
Aquaman doesn’t quite make landfall with this standard origin story weighed down by plot flotsam. But it’s got enough visual dazzle, momentum and enjoyable performances to make it worth a quick dip. By the way, I don’t think I got enough sea creature jokes in this review. SSP