Movie Review: Aquaman
One of the great joys of reading superhero comics is the eclectic nature of their inspiration. The genre has drawn on everything from pulp fiction to mythology, creating a body of work that is idiosyncratic and often gloriously absurd. Superhero movies, however, have tended to eschew this everything but the kitchen sink approach to present more grounded, realistic visions of the world they are trying to represent.
James Wan’s Aquaman is the first movie I have seen that really felt like reading a comic rather than just watching an adaptation of one. It’s the story of Arthur Curry, the son of an Atlantean queen and a human lighthouse keeper who must claim his birthright to stop his evil half-brother, Orm from becoming Ocean Master and waging a war of vengeance upon the surface world. The plot follows the same sort of meandering structure one would expect of a story being spread across five issues rather than three acts and its influences are pulled from across the cultural landscape including comics, film and mythology. Wan’s visuals are spectacular presenting us with a lot of old concepts that feel fresh in the new light of his directorial vision. I was never really surprised but I wasn’t bored either. The characters are archetypal and they fill their roles in the story with a good humor that is missing from more serious movies of this genre while never descending into parody.
Aquaman’s greatest flaw is that the script itself is weak, relying far too heavily on tired tropes and cliched dialog for its own good. The first forty five minutes are a slog through a morass of set-up and exposition accompanied by some very dodgy CGI that makes several actors look more like cartoons or the victims of an over-enthusiastic plastic surgeon. The performances are mediocre overall though it’s hard to say whether they might have been improved with better material. Jason Momoa and Amber Heard manage to plow through on shear charisma and almost impossible levels of raw sex appeal but I am forced to admit that Momoa’s range as an actor is limited to playing versions of himself. The comparison has been made to Flash Gordon but Aquamanlacks an actor of Max von Sydow’s talents to lend it weight and one of Brian Blessed’s exuberance to lift it up.
Aquaman isn’t a great movie. It’s not going to win any Oscars and it may well be largely forgotten a year after its home viewing release. In spite of all its defects however I enjoyed it more than any other superhero movie I’ve seen this year even if both Black Panther and Infinity War were better made. Aquaman wears its soul on it’s sleeve and while there are moments where it struggles to stay afloat, it still manages to keep its head above water.
Overall Rating: 8 Recommendation: See