Aquaman Review

At one time a seemingly unfathomable comic to adapt to the big screen, DC’s “Aquaman” has arrived in all its CGI underwater glory, giving fans of the character something tangible to cheer about instead of the pipe dream propagated by HBO’s “Entrouage” more than 10 years ago. Yet “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin didn’t realize how spot on he’d be in surmising that only James Cameron could bring such a film to life; 2018’s “Aquaman” is a mammoth endeavor of digital production design and world-building that feels an awful lot like “Avatar” (all the more impressive given Ellin’s prediction was years before that film hit theaters).

DC Entertainment takes viewers on an outer space-like exploration of the oceans’ depths full of colorful characters, creatures and costumes. It’s a completely new visual aesthetic whose next closest comparison would be Marvel’s “Thor” movies. With mostly the metropolitan-set “Superman” and “Batman” films on their resume, Warner Bros and DC are in completely uncharted territory and they hold nothing back in creating a film with a lot to visually admire. The “Avatar” comparison would feel apt at this point alone, but both films ride digital effects extremely hard, opting to put all creative energy into the visual experience instead of the storytelling.

Put bluntly, “Aquaman” offers absolutely nothing new in terms of a superhero story. It’s another tale of an outsider hero with special gifts who’s believed to fulfill a destiny that he wants nothing to do with. Predictably, he’s pushed, makes some mistakes and is ultimately motivated to do it and become the true hero. Maybe that’s the actual comic arc, but writers Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick give it zero nuance.

Thankfully, DC Entertainment was smart enough to anchor this film with Jason Momoa, a totally rugged and unconventional leading man who nevertheless has this intangible appeal that totally works for a superhero. He’s not nearly as funny as the script wants him to be, but he’s got layers; it’s definitely more than just an external performance.

What neither Momoa, nor his veteran castmates Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and even Nicole Kidman, can do is make the predictable story beats of this movie any better than tolerable. That’s where the “Avatar” comparison ends. For as formulaic and familiar as Cameron’s story was, the story was nurtured and the connection to the characters deep. “Aquaman” squanders its best relationship, the one between Arthur and his father (Temuera Morrison), who disappears for most of the movie.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of visual spectacle to keep “Aquaman” from sinking under the weight of its visual effects budget. And not all of it is creative design, either. Director James Wan deserves a lot of credit for bringing some serious creativity to the film’s action sequences. They’re a little glossy (maybe that’s Zack Snyder’s iron grip on the DC Expanded Universe), but there’s a stunning choreography to a lot of the fight scenes, in particular — the camera moves with precision from angle to angle, and the contact that happens feels particularly explosive. Somehow, Wan has figured out how to make the leap from being a master horror filmmaker (“Saw,” “Insidious,” “The Conjuring”) to full-blown, exaggerated action.

Like any great fantasy, “Aquaman” hints at the expansiveness of its worlds in the water and the possibilities for future storylines — maybe even high-quality ones — if they can grab some good storytellers. In the meantime, “Aquaman” is a fun ride that embraces its fantasy elements and makes a concerted effort to get away from DC Entertainment’s dark, grim and self-serious reputation thus far.

3/5 Stars

Directed by James Wan
Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall (screenplay); Geoff Johns, Will Beall, James Wan (story)
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman


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