2018’s Aquaman is DC’s attempt at capturing the lighthearted fun of Marvel’s 2017 Thor: Ragnarok. Were they successful? Not totally, but at least no one will accuse director James Wan of making a dark, inaccessible drama full of broody characters.
A mostly shirtless Jason Momoa stars in the titular role, diving into the part of a half human/half fishperson from Atlantis with as much machismo as he can muster. He’s so much easier on the eyes than Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water fishman, and thankfully he’s not kept in a tank but instead spends the film attempting to stop an impending war between the citizens of Atlantis and the non-amphibious Earthlings.
Whether or not it was James Wan’s intention, Aquaman is pure camp. It’s not as cornball and goofy as Clash of the Titans (either the 1981 or 2010 versions), but it nudges close to that territory. Of course, it’s nearly impossible not to fall into a pit of silliness given the characters ride around on sharks and seahorses. Add to that the underwater effects that demand time is spent marveling at Amber Heard’s flowing locks or the tiniest of movements from random strands of Patrick Wilson’s tight ponytail. Aquaman’s arrival in his own stand-alone film is obviously not going to be taken as seriously as a Batman or Superman origin story.
The PG-13 film establishes how Arthur Curry/Aquaman came to live among humans. His mom, Atlanna (a smooth as silk Nicole Kidman), fell head over fins for a lighthouse keeper, but the King of Atlantis wasn’t about to let her settle into a life of domestic bliss above the sea. Leaving her baby behind, Atlanna was forced to return to Atlantis where she gave birth to the current king, Orm (Wilson). Orm’s a power-hungry human hater who gathers his underlings and prepares to end the reign of land dwellers.
Fortunately for us helpless humans, Princess Mera (Heard) has a soft spot for our kind. She tracks down Arthur and convinces the reluctant hero to take on his half-brother in a battle for underwater supremacy with the…drumroll, please…fate of humanity (or at least coastal properties) hanging in the balance.
Jason Momoa’s flexing pecs are able to swim over most of the rough spots in the plot, busting out in a massive smile or tossing his hair as he delivers a smoldering glare to distract from the actual storyline. Momoa’s made for this sort of over-the-top action role and if we can’t have him back romancing Khaleesi and leading the Dothraki, then an Aquaman outing will just have to suffice.
Amber Heard’s solid as a princess who’s more capable of leading than the men around her. Heard’s Mera, once you tear your eyes away from following the flow of her hair, is the best developed character in the film. If it weren’t for Mera, men would destroy the planet. Heard, the least campy part of Aquaman, plays Mera as someone who totally understands the fact the fate of the world rests on her shoulders.
Nicole Kidman pops in and out of the film in the pivotal role of Aquaman’s mom. Kidman’s coming off an Emmy Award-winning role in HBO’s Big Little Lies and has two films – Boy Erased and Destroyer – that will keep her busy this awards season. Aquaman’s a smaller part for the Oscar-winning actress, but her presence feels large in the film despite the fact she’s on screen 15ish minutes.
Kudos to Aquaman’s writers for not spending much time on romance. It’s there, but not so much that it steals away focus from what’s really important, the CG-heavy action scenes. Two and a half hours feels about half an hour too long, and there’s a bizarre chunk of time spent trudging along through the desert. However, for the most part the film flows along fairly well. Momoa’s definitely having a good time playing Aquaman and that alone makes the film far more enjoyable than, given the material, it has a right to be.
MPAA: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Release Date: December 21, 2018
Running Time: 143 minutes
Directed By: James Wan