Like most movies in the DC Extended Universe, James Wan’s Aquaman positions itself to be a large-scale sweeping epic. Unlike most movies in the DCEU, however, Aquaman can’t decide whether or not it wants to be that movie.
Aquaman stars Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa, reprising his role as Arthur Curry from 2016’s Batman vs Superman and 2017’s Justice League. When Arthur’s half-brother, King Orm of Atlantis (The Conjuring’s Patrick Wilson reuniting with Wan for their fifth collaboration), decides it’s time to wage war on the surface world, Arthur must team up with Orm’s fiancé Mera (Amber Heard) and the royal vizier Vulko (Willem Dafoe) to claim his rightful place on the throne of Atlantis.
Tonally, Aquaman is a mess from the jump. Momoa can’t seem to decide if he’s supposed to play the material straight, like the warrior-king he’s destined to become, or with a subtle wink to the camera, like the pseudo-joke Aquaman has become over the years. When we first encounter Momoa’s version of the character (four other actors play Arthur at different stages of his life), he undercuts an up-to-that-moment tense sequence with a sassy hair flip and a bad joke.
Later in that same sequence, a group led by the man who will become Black Manta (portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) hijacks a Russian submarine. Manta escapes through a flood of water, leaving his dying father. For some reason, the scene is shot in slow motion, leaving me laughing out loud in both that and the previous moments. Now, after marinating on the movie for two days, I’m still not sure if I was supposed to.
When the first trailer dropped at San Diego Comic-Con, I instantly became worried about what appeared to be overly CGI-ed elements of Atlantis. These go by more smoothly in the movie itself, particularly because they’re given a narrative reason for being there. The luminescent glow is a result of Arthur’s (and the other Atlanteans’) eyes adjusting to the depths. However, the movie’s response to cleaning up one element of poor CGI is by utilizing another. The action, especially in the third act when Arthur rides up from the Earth’s core on the back of a giant octopus-crab hybrid for his final chance to stop Orm, looks more hackneyed than anything in the movie that is purely CGI.
I’m a huge Aquaman fan. I was ready for people to finally experience what kind of a badass this guy can be when taken seriously. I really wanted to like this movie, but…
Aquaman swims into theaters this weekend with – 2.5 out of 5 pink-haired Dolph Lundgrens (yes, really).
P.S.: did you know there were supposed to dinosaurs in this movie? In the present? Because why not, right?