By Marc S. Sanders
The next installment in the DC Cinematic Universe takes place in the ocean. Too bad the ocean is just too murky. James Wan’s Aquaman is muddied in long, boring, unsurrendering exposition and CGI. It is a film based on the most famous of all the undersea super heroes who is destined to be King of Atlantis. HE’S HALF MAN! HE’S HALF FISH! HE’S AQUAMAN, AND HE MUST BE KING!!!! That’s about all we should have to know to appreciate the storytelling of this film. However, Wan left me guessing just what the hell everyone was talking about for most of the film. King Orm (boring Patrick Wilson) declares takeover of this kingdom and take over of that kingdom and I’m like what, who, how, why???? Who the hell is he talking about? Why is this a threat? What will this mean for everyone? Shut up! Stop talking! Show me something! In the immortal words of Syndrome (from a better super hero film), “Stop Monolouging!!!!”
The first problem is when we are brought from one ocean floor to another and another and another and they all have location names like Kingdom of the Starfish Curtain or Dwelling of the Stingray Horse or some such thing. So what? These locales are literally shown for no more seven seconds before it moves to another location. This isn’t Krypton or the Batcave. We get to go to “Somewhere In The Atlantic Ocean” or “Somewhere In The Indian Ocean,” but so???? And????? Wan seems too proud to uncover these geographical areas that hold no measure.
Then there is the cast of characters. We got Dolph Lungren with a red beard, Willem Dafoe with a slicked back ponytail, Amber Heard beautiful as the love interest Mera, Nicole Kidman with her alabaster skin looking angelic as a queen and mother to Arthur Curry (the Aquaman title character) and Patrick Wilson, blond, white and curiously looking like the Hanna Barbera Aquaman during the days of Super Friends. Wilson is the big bad here and he’s kind of boring, kind of not intimidating, kind of the guy who looks too innocent to ever be cast as a villain in any film.
Let’s go off subject for a moment, shall we? Jason Momoa is the best thing about Aquaman and he makes a great Aquaman. I knew that when I saw him in the role in last year’s Justice League (a much better film; yes the Joss Whedon cut). Momoa is ripped, muscled and tattooed perfectly with long flowing charcoal hair, a perfect beard and sparkling blue eyes. This guy looks great on land while downing full pints of beer with his dad, or under CGI water. As I became less and less interested as the movie went on, I found it curious that the image of Momoa’s Aquaman is destined to defeat the image of Patrick Wilson’s (supposedly) ruthless King Orm, also known as Ocean Master. It’s as if the gorgeous motorcycle dude is meant to erase the much maligned (see countless GIFs and a couple of Big Bang Theory episodes) Hanna Barbera blond boy image.
The CGI does its best. After all, how else do you film a movie that primarily takes place under the ocean? It’s colorful. The effort is there. What I took issue with was the great battles between all these kingdoms. I couldn’t tell who was fighting who, who was with who, and who lived and who died, not to mention how they fight. Was it with spears? Laser guns? Swords? Hammers? Pies? What?????? I know these are underwater battles, but why can’t any of these great kingdom of kingdoms movies learn from the best like Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films or Ridley Scott’s Gladiator? There is something more literal in those grand battles. You could always recognize who was charging at whom. In Aquaman, it’s mass hysteria, riots in the ocean streets.
The villain Black Manta is next best thing after Momoa. Played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Unfortunately, he’s not given much to do. He’s out for revenge against Aquaman. That’s been done before. What saves the character is the costume and helmet. Now this is a villain!!!!! He looks badass with red sonic blasts shooting out of his eyes and he’s agile; the filmmakers at least got the image and movements of this guy right. The best scene of the film takes place on land in what looks to be the Greek Isles. Lots of rooftop jumping, statue shattering, and wall breaking with good fisticuffs are in play here between Momoa and Abdul-Mateen. It’s a good long scene. Then, oh yeah, we gotta go back to Wilson and Dafoe talking about something somewhere that’s labeled with some “legendary” location amid some coral.
James Wan and the writers of Aquaman try too hard. There’s too much going on here that doesn’t belong. I don’t know how a pre teen kid nor an adult could sit through these boring conversations of fiction that is unfamiliar to many. Again, none of this is the stuff of legend like Lord Of The Rings, or Krypton, or Gotham City, or even Star Wars or Star Trek. If only Wan and crew didn’t elevate the importance of things that even they show are just not that important. Stick with the simplicity guys. At least, you got the Atlanteans riding Sea Horses. Nice touch, there!