To anyone who filters the DC Comics cinematic universe through the overwhelming success of the brand’s rival, Marvel Studios, Aquaman the movie is best seen as a reply to the Thor series, which is where Marvel pointedly plays up the most ridiculous attributes of superhero blockbusters. Aquaman the character has always fit into a dodgy slot in the realm of comic fantasy as a guy who is half Atlantean-half American and talks to fish. And while there’s plenty to laugh at in the movie, its interminable length and earnest attempt to stuff as much “incident” into its two-and-a-half-hour running time leaches all the humor out of it.
The main difficulty faced by director James Wan is not so much the visual challenge of making underwater action scenes feel credible—for what it’s worth, they look perfectly OK—but rather squaring the epic prerogatives of an aquatic empire with the relatively real-world concerns of modern-day landlubbers. Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the son of Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), who has escaped the royal confines of her birthright, and the human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), who discovers her half-alive and washed up on the rocks below his keep. Atlanna eventually returns to Atlanta and Arthur grows up a bastard, but the main reason he’s bullied as a child is his affinity for fish and all things marine; and for most of its first 30 minutes the film makes for a compelling origin story. It’s when Arthur has to confront his fishier half that things become problematic plot-wise and thematically.
For one thing, the script relies too heavily on the viewer’s understanding of the mythology of Antlantis, which feels almost made up on the spot. Then there’s the surfeit of characters whose rationalization of good-vs.-bad becomes baffling very quickly. When Mera (Amber Heard) arrives at the lighthouse to beg him to claim his birthright from his evil half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), the stakes seem clear, but then the writers throw in lots of complicated iconography, including a trench where exiles are punished, an extraneous super-villain named Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a trusty royal advisor (Willem Dafoe), and a plot by Orm and his father, King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) to make war on the human race. It’s this last bit of story that brings Aquaman into his own, but getting there proves to be a confusing, incoherent journey. The battles are vivid and ingeniously staged, but when things calm down the compositions feel overly stylized, like those tacky environmental paintings that were so popular in the 80s. Momoa, it should be pointed out, takes the ridiculousness of his character in stride, and the movie would have been funnier if it weren’t so damned busy.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Marunouchi Picadilly (03-3201-2881), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Toei (03-5467-5773), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Aquaman home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2018 Warner Bros. Ent. and DC Comics