Skulking onto the scene as the first DC movie after the ignominious critical reception and woeful box office performance of Justice League, James Wan’s Aquaman has both everything and nothing to prove – and is just as muddled a film as that paradox would suggest. With big battles and complex lore, it clearly wants to be an underwater Lord of the Rings, but instead ends up closer to Phantom Menace territory, with some tonally incoherent splashes of Fast and Furious.
After saving the world with the Justice League, half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) has returned to “normal” life – occasionally battling pirates, but mostly spending his days drinking. However, the ascendancy to the Atlantean throne of Arthur’s warmongering half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) throws him into a battle for kingship, trying to save both the surface world and the ocean kingdoms.
Even now, with comic-book worlds normalised in cinema, it’s hard to shake just how dumb everything in Aquaman is. While the vast wilds of the ocean depths make for imposing backdrops, any foray into Atlantean civilisation looks ridiculous, and the CGI and lighting are plain ugly. Orm’s throne room, in particular, is embarrassing, the effects work and set design looking less than 50% complete.
Wan crafts some engaging set pieces (an encounter with savage deep-sea monsters puts his horror experience from The Conjuring to good use), but it’s very hard to care about the story. Momoa and Amber Heard have a flat non-chemistry, and the finale tries to cram in way too many elements to give weight to any of them.
It’s not quite on a par with Venom or Crimes of Grindelwald as the worst blockbuster of 2018, but Aquaman’s poor visuals and choppy, overstuffed script should ensure that it’s forgotten as soon as the next Marvel movie rolls around.
CAST: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison
DIRECTOR: James Wan
WRITERS: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall
SYNOPSIS: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.