Aquaman movie review: James Wan's vision, Jason Momoa's swag make this superhero film work
Aquaman has some truly original imagery and a matching score to boot. If only the writing had been as imaginative.
The conundrum around making a studio superhero film today is that while they cannot get it terribly wrong, they usually do not get it absolutely right either. They are all fun while they last, with
some thrilling action set-pieces strewn about. But they also ultimately have the same one-line plot - extraordinary person discovers his (her?) inner hero and saves the day/world.
That pretty much sums up James Wan's Aquaman, though admittedly, the film does have its share of moments to keep you interested throughout. After teasing him in 'Yawn of Justice', Jason Momoa's intriguing presence in the flawed-but-underappreciated Justice League did not go unnoticed. The solo Aquaman film thus promised much, and it delivers… enough.
Set largely after the events in Justice League, the film charts the journey of Arthur Curry from strange guy who does crazy things with water, to true-aqua-blue saviour of worlds (and Khal of
Atlantis). The details are interesting but not extraordinary. There is a bad-ass almost-equal woman as faithful companion (as is the rage these days); a power-hungry half-brother villain;
and a trident that will make its rightful and worthy possesor master of the ocean, or Ocean Master.
Easy to grasp and breezy to sit through, Aquaman finds firm ground mostly underwater. Atlantis is imagined as a sub-marine Wakanda (pardon the blasphemy.) The scale depicted in the heart
of the ocean is so staggering, you are almost okay with creatures that even the widest frame of the scene cannot capture in their entirety. I would have loved to see more detailing in the texture and
feel of Atlantis, though.
A large part of the film is also devoted above ground, where Aquaman and Amber Heard's Mera track and chase the legendary trident of King Atlan, and this is where the chinks are revealed. We travel from watery Atlantis to the deserts of the Sahara, to Italy and then to - well, let us just say that even in the real world, if I had to look for something of immense power hidden deep in the ocean, I know where I would check first. The entire journey thus seems to be more to give the protagonist something to do for two hours of screen time, rather than a logical part of the story we gathered to witness.
Action set-pieces work best when the writing around them is sharp and well-detailed. When the clues in a chase are solved with ease and the action is put in merely as added attraction, then even a nicely crafted set-piece can feel cumbersome. Aquaman suffers from this often, even though Wan has a gift for staging scenes in fresh ways. He also manages to slip in a hat tip to his horror film expertise somewhere along the way.
The Conjuring remains the gold standard in Wan's filmography, but he shows that he has the chops to handle the scale of a tentpole Hollywood blockbuster. The film has some truly original
imagery and a matching score to boot. If only the writing had been as imaginative.
In the acting department, Heard has the most thankless sidekick role in the film, but she also provides it some of its best moments. Momoa himself relies mostly on screen presence and swag to sail through proceedings. Yes, he takes to the role of Aquaman like a fish to water. (Puns don't kill people, people kill people.) Nicole Kidman is great to see in her tiny role as Queen Atlanna, Aquaman's mother. However, any expectation you may have of she magically elevating the film is nothing but a big little lie. Willem Dafoe is woefully miscast as old faithful Vulko, while James Wan regular Patrick Wilson as the primary antagonist King Orm is, well, adequate.
In fact, the word 'adequate' is probably the word that describes Aquaman best. The film checks all the boxes, builds the character, sets up a sequel and all the other yadas. The trippy soundtrack and visuals make it a big screen watch, but mainly for fans of the genre.
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