I really don’t want to lead you the garden path, Aquaman has a lot of flaws. Amber Heard’s acting for one. But also the fact that if it is making a point in its narrative then the ending fails to capitalise on it. Also that the characterisation is weak and inconsistent, I couldn’t tell you who Arthur Curry really is at this point because in any given scene he is whatever the scene requires him to feel. And yet…..and yet God help me I had fun watching this movie. Part of the fun was how bad it was like when a cover a Toto’s Africa played, but part of it was how silly it was and how much it knew that when signifying Italy and burgeoning love they the soundtrack played Roy Orbinson’s Mystery Girl. If Adam McKay does smart dumb comedy then maybe director James Wan is on his way to making smart dumb blockbusters and that’s a good thing.
The plot picks up a little after Justice League, Aquaman goes around the ocean saving the day and beating bad guys up, sculling a beer with his old man and mostly keeping to himself. Then destiny calls and well mostly scenes of exposition interrupted by sudden explosions follows. Thank God they cast big names because I can’t remember the names of the characters just that they were played Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Jack the Muss.
Aquaman is a film that goes to a lot of effort in its world building but is less about what and why something happens and more about how. Plate work ensues, we go to Italy, Africa and Maine and I’m not even sure if they even went to a water tank set let alone left the studio to shoot on location there’s so much green screen on display. Yet the film looks gorgeous, if its a cartoon it is a pretty and inventive one unafraid to have big name actors astride sea horses and sharks.
Speaking of the cast Dafoe and Lundgren play as you expect, Lundgren actually plays it so straight and earnest it makes the unique kind of straightforward. Wilson, an actor I greatly admire proves game and doesn’t look awkward as his costumes grow more ridiculous but a film like this really deserves a villain who doesn’t bring earnestness but theatrics. In fact Wilson, who looks like the comic book Arthur Curry and was cast as the villain partly because of this, would have made a good Curry it has to be said. Amber Heard fits into her costume snugly and tries hard, she is stuck in another female sidekick role where she cares more deeply about the plight of the story than the hero and has to prod him into fulfilling his destiny. A thankless role I grant you but Heard fails to bring any nuance and little joy to the role and the chemistry between her and Jason Momoa is non-existent.
Momoa a man who has the body that leaves many swooning and the smarts to have a sense of humour about his image. The character as written is all over the shop but Momoa clearly has a passion for what he is doing. Its exciting to have an actor of islander heritage cast as an aquatic superhero but beyond that, his attitude, comic sensibilities and physique suit the role too. He also gets to show vulnerability here as a man born of two worlds who feels he belongs to neither and mourns a mother he barely knew. Which brings us to Nicole Kidman who may just be the best thing about the movie, she plays it straight too no matter how weird her costume and she brings real pathos to her role as a Queen, warrior, wife and mother. When they say great actors are slumming it in blockbusters they don’t always have reason to mention how the actor can elevate the production, Kidman here does.
As for the production itself, the movie moves fast but is too long. Cut a villain here, an action scene there, slow it down and get to the guts of why these people are doing what they’re doing and you might have a great movie. A final epic end battle has really nothing to do with anybody we care about until late in the game and just feels like it is there because you got to go big and Hollywood-you really don’t. Yet the movie zips along and there’s a few jokes here and there and it certainly doesn’t tax your brain as it proves a feast for your eyes. Good looking people, cool looking worlds, big explosions and lasers, crab monsters and mystic tridents. It never bores and that’s a crime too many blockbusters have been guilty of lately. In fact when people square off and thump their trident down and you hear a big brass reverberating sound you can’t help but smile. We’re not the only ones having fun with this.