Aquaman is the first single-character film for Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa). The film is bold and adventurous, but the characters seemed very dry and stilted for a film full of cheesy dialog. The story ultimately suffers from being overlong. Now in theaters.
Something curious happened to me during the opening minutes of James Wan’s Aquaman.
I was bored.
Certainly, the single-take action shot that opens the film was dynamic, downright brilliant for its ability to demonstrate a close-quarter combat scene in which we’re introduced to an otherworldly security force trying to capture Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Fortunately, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) is there to intervene – the start of a terrific love story between representatives from the land and the sea. They eventually give birth to Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa).
We’re not given enough information about why they are trying to capture her before the fight breaks out, and we’re not necessarily meant to understand it. Just as quickly, as the well-choreographed fight started, it ends with the opening logo and a brilliant fanfare courtesy of Rupert Gregson-Williams flashes before our eyes.
This is partially the challenge with the script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall (story written by Geoff Johns, James Wan and Will Beall, based on characters created by More Weisinger and Paul Norris). There are a number of threads and some ultimately cheesy dialog that punctuates the rather vibrant production.
We first meet Arthur Curry as a young kid in an aquarium, where fellow students bully him. He immediately shows them what his talents are, which allows us to see just what kind of character he is – he means business, but is also a smartass and there’s nothing wrong with that. Jason Momoa relishes in his role, which we first saw in DC’s Justice League. The cheesy dialog I mentioned earlier perfectly suits his style and approach to the character, which I appreciated.
When we’re not admiring his god-like physique, he is battling his way through two fronts; the first of which is a rogue group of mercenaries trying to take a submarine. The mercenaries, led by Jesse (Michael Beach) and David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) are trying to steal the sub for nefarious purposes, never mind why. In the confrontation, Jesse dies and David vows revenge.
I would have thought that this story thread would have ended here, but no. Wan manages to interweave it with the underwater struggle for power between Arthur and his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson, The Nun) and Orm tries to claim the throne for his own. Prudently, Arthur wants nothing to do with the underwater struggle for power, but he is eventually forced to intervene when he and Tom are attacked. Mera (Amber Herd) is there to guide him into Atlantis and to keep Arthur out of trouble.
Also providing guidance in an Obi-wan like role is Willem Dafoe as Vulko. The flash back scenes where the younger Arthur begins to learn about his powers were fascinating to watch. Dafoe has excellent screen chemistry with Momoa and the younger actors found to play the aging Arthur in training. When we get into the modern conflict, Dafoe seems out of sorts in terms of the character and the performance where he offers a Shakespearean quality that is leaps above the rest of the undersea performances.
Part of the danger presented from Orm’s ascension is who he allies himself with, namely King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren, Creed II). As Mera’s father, there is a regality about Lundgren’s performance that I appreciated; I certainly didn’t mind his red-colored hair in a ponytail, but I found his presence in the film to be unnecessary because, as you probably guessed it, David Kane resurfaces.
Armed with Atlantian technology, David becomes Black Manta, a character that I’m sure is familiar to fans of the comic book. Stretching out the story thread that opened the post-opening credits sequence, Black Manta is meant to distract Arthur’s quest for the one true sword that will establish his claim to the throne.
I would say that the Indiana Jones – style quest to find the “treasure” is perhaps the film’s best aspect. We get to see Jason Momoa in action with the traditional elements of protecting a damsel in distress are present. What makes these sequences so much more powerful is that Mera really doesn’t need protecting because she’s on the quest as much as he is. The humor in these sequences work the best.
I am unsure if this was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers, but I struggled with their constant use of a well-placed bomb to movie certain plot elements forward. I found it frustrating to be in the middle of a sequence only to have an explosion take me out of what was happening on the screen; this call to action was used repeatedly throughout and really ran its course.
The third act, we already know that Aquaman will claim his right to the throne. The precipitous undersea battle that permeated the film’s marketing is a sight to behold. I didn’t necessarily perk up from my boredom, but the undersea battles brought to mind Mike Hodges’s Flash Gordon and I was just waiting for a character to say “DIVE!” Alas, that didn’t happen.
In spite of my boredom, Aquaman is a fun film. It follows on the heels of the successful Wonder Woman as a single-character driven piece. The story and the action follows the character’s cheekiness, even if it wears thin by the end of the overlong run time. I am curious to see where Arthur Curry’s adventures take him in the future.
As a single film, Aquaman was an exercise in patience that simply didn’t pay off.
Now in theaters, Aquaman is rated PG-13.