New ‘Aquaman’ Captures Everything Wrong with Modern Hollywood Movies
Starring Jason Mamoa and Patrick Wilson, latest DC comics-inspired flick is a big, wet mess
When the least silly thing in your new movie is a pirate who dresses up a praying mantis in honor of his grandfather while he hunts a guy who can breathe underwater — you have problems.
That’s not to say “Aquaman,” the latest chapter in DC’s attempt at mimicking Marvel’s lame cinematic universe, shouldn’t be silly. It’s very silly at points, and that silliness is sometimes fun — thanks mostly to Jason Mamoa’s star-making role, which seems to be imbued with many of his own characteristics (Mamoa is shown above right; Patrick Wilson is at left).
But there’s also a lot in “Aquaman” meant to be taken seriously — and the script never quite manages to help the casual viewer buy into this digital nonsense.
First, we’re shown the fairy tale love between a Maine lighthouse keeper and a queen from the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, played by Nicole Kidman — who has somehow gone from starring in Oscar-winning films to filling her time wearing plastic-looking fish gear.
Kidman’s character is one of many unneeded elements in “Aquaman,” which runs about half an hour too long — its official runtime is two hours and 22 minutes. The prologue featuring her could have been replaced with a few lines from Arthur Curry (Mamoa); her presence is little more than a distraction.
Another problem with the film’s opening is the use of CGI (computer-generated imagery). The de-aging tech used on actor Temuera Morrison — who plays Curry’s human father — is so bad it feels at times we’re watching a graphic that escaped from a Playstation 2 video game interact with Nicole Kidman, who stumbled out of a Halloween party.
The graphics are a big crutch throughout the movie, in fact. While certain wide shots look breathtaking — including a scene in which Mamoa’s Aquaman and Amber Heard’s Mera, a friend from Atlantis, dive underwater while chased by sea monsters and guided only by a light in front of them — many other scenes are simply awkward.
It’s incredible that director James Wan managed to complete this movie, considering the special effects shots and elaborate designs needed; but some of the calls are just wrong.
When we’re underwater and watching characters talk, for instance, bubbles float by and a digital effect makes the image look wavy. Also, actors endlessly float about on screen — and it’s hard to concentrate or take anything they say seriously. We see everything through smudged glasses. That’s not what a movie that likely cost nearly $200 million to produce should offer.
It’s OK to miss a lot of what is being said, though, as it’s just expositional garbage. We haven’t seen so many people explain things since watching instructional videos in driver’s ed.
About 90 percent of Willem Dafoe’s role as Vulko, a military commander who trained Arthur, is merely explaining secret tridents, the fates of characters who aren’t him, and the history of Atlantis. This is fine for Dafoe: He can basically spend two hours being Willem Dafoe and it’s an entertaining movie. But when every character is explaining things or having things explained to them, the viewer is weighed down big-time.
It also doesn’t help that the dialogue gets sillier and sillier. Characters who talk about a thing called “oceanmaster” are enough for one movie. We’re already watching people talk underwater; we don’t need discussions of secret tridents and journeys to the center of the Earth on top of everything else.
Also, a human being can only watch so many digital crabs fight digital sharks.
Despite the glaring flaws, Mamoa is really funny in parts of this film, and the sections that let him shine like he’s an ‘80s action movie are fun. Plus, for those of us who like these sorts of comic book movies, this is not a totally inhuman experience, like those alien-created Marvel films.
Still, “Aquaman” is a big, wet mess. The concept is bloated and the film essentially feels inconsequential. If you were sitting in the theater to watch “Aquaman 2” and hadn’t seen the first movie and someone turned to you and said, “So Aquaman became king of Atlantis in the first movie after stopping his brother (played by Patrick Wilson, above left) from declaring war on the surface. Also, his dad is human and his mom is a fish-thing,” you would have essentially the same experience as watching this movie.
Is no one going to call Superman, the toughest thing on the planet, or even mention his name?
Another nitpick: This writer is not big on the whole fictional universe thing, where movies are built on novelty connections more than actual story and character. But since this is a movie connected to the previous DCEU (DC Extended Universe) movies — there’s a nod to last year’s “Justice League” in one scene — how does nobody call Superman?
We hear over and over that the entire world might be at stake and Curry just looks around whining and moaning about how he’s not a king and there’s nothing he can do. So is no one going to call Superman, the toughest thing on the planet, or even mention his name?
Maybe he’s taking a vacation on a beach somewhere far away from Aquaman — which is what this writer wanted to do when the movie ended.
Check out a trailer for the film below: