This film is almost as bad as the Green Lantern movie…almost.
Aquaman, the newest comic book adaptation from the studio that ruined Justice League (I’m still a little butt-hurt about that one), sees our titular hero, Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa), as he tries to find a way to balance being both a man of the sea and a man of the land. Shirking his responsibilities as the King of Atlantis, Arthur is tracked down by love interest and badass Queen in waiting, Mera (Amber Heard), to stop Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) aka Ocean Master, before he starts enough wars to tear both Atlantis and the surface world apart. But with Arthur still not accepting his noble fate, and Orm and his right hand man, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), getting dangerously close to igniting chaos across the seven seas, will the fabled Trident of Atlan, an all-powerful ancient Atlantian artifact that will help Arthur lay claim to the throne, be enough to turn the tides of war, or is it too late for the fabled Aquaman to do anything more than become fish food for his power mad brother?
I have no idea what happened with this film. It seemed fine enough from the trailers, coming across as nothing great but at least something totally average and acceptable, like a movie that was going to try to play it safe while figuring out how to fix the mess that is the DC movie universe as best it could. But as I settled in to see my (one week early) showing, almost immediately I felt like something was off. The first twenty minutes were exposition filled and rather silly, and sat weird with me, but as with most movies that have to build entire worlds and rules right off the get go, I let it slide, thinking that it could only get better from there. But I was wrong.
From the wall-to-wall noise that is the score of the film (there’s a Pitbull cover of the song Africa in here for some reason), to the crappy 80s/90s one-liners that would be right at home with a laugh track and live studio audience, to the lighting that makes almost every shot look like it were cut from a bad episode of Power Rangers, everything about this film kept sliding in the wrong direction the longer it went on. It’s like the filmmakers tried to make a shitty live-action adaptation of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but forgot that they weren’t making a cartoon and went with it regardless, a problem that just can’t be solve no matter how hard everyone involved tried – or didn’t.
The cast, while initially seeming to be spot-on, is phoned in all around, the usually reliable Patrick Wilson taking a long distance call as the money rolls in around him, while Amber Heard tries her best, but comes off as forced. Arthur’s mentor and confidant in Willem Dafoe’s Vulko, does literally nothing but give creepy smiles and weird hero tips, and unfortunately, the guy playing Black Manta is simply bad in the role. On the flipside, it’s clear that Mamoa is having the time of his life as Aquaman, and I truly believe that there’s a perfect depiction of the character somewhere in there, but my God does the script do him no favors. If I wanted a pee joke or misplaced teen angst in my superhero films, I’d just have waited for Shazam! to come out where it’d make a whole lot more sense.
With all of that being said, there are a handful of good, if not great aspects to this film that are overshadowed by the sheer mediocrity everywhere else. The action, when present, is damn entertaining to watch and almost every scene that takes place underwater is everything that I could have hoped for in bringing this character’s environment to life, right down to the way the image seems a little blurred due to all of the particles floating around in the deepest depths of the sea. The promised sense of awe is most definitely present during these scenes and the way it all comes together at certain points is quite nice, but stellar visuals and a slight sense of wonder can’t save a sinking ship when it’s already halfway underwater, and that’s a shame.
A step mostly in the wrong direction, Aquaman is a meticulously manufactured film that plays more as a Fast and Furious sequel than anything of real substance, which would be fine if this was still the 90s and part of the Batman Forever/Batman and Robin universe…but it’s not and it isn’t. The final film is a mish-mashed amalgam of check marks all the way down the list of cliché and low hanging joke and story fruit, shuttling from scene to scene, beat to beat, with nary a second to stop and smell the seaweed in between. The only saving graces of this film are the fantastic visuals from showing off Atlantis in all of its bioluminescent glory to translating all of the underwater segments near perfectly from comic page to screen. In the end, this film is a letdown and it’s a shame because there’s so much here that could have went well, but when you pander to audiences instead of showing them something truly unique and thoughtful and new, there’s only so much a film like this can pull off.