“Aquaman” Movie Review


     It it wasn’t clear before, it is most definitely the case now.  The filmmaking world is incapable of producing content without lifting key design and plot elements from classic films of the past.  For all the talk about reboots and remakes, there seems to be another trend that has been occurring for some time now in which films such as “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner” have become templates where filmmakers simply insert their own characters and play as though the work is their own.  The latest example of this is director James Wan’s “Aquaman”, an origin story of the character introduced to the filmgoing world in both “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” and last year’s “Justice League”.  Now I realize most will let these issues slide, and many won’t notice, but it’s amazing what lengths these film studios will go in order to guarantee themselves a hit.

     What exactly am I talking about?  “Aquaman” transports the audience to the underwater world of Atlantis, a sprawling and beautiful aquatic metropolis that appears not to be somewhere within Earth’s oceans, but rather those of Pandora.  In addition, the city’s design elements look suspiciously like those within Coruscant, seen in the “Star Wars” prequels, with the notable overhead flying traffic lanes and infinite levels of futuristic structures below.  If rumors are true that James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels will partly take place underwater, than he must be pissed right about now because Wan likely beat him to the clear and obvious look of a potential oceanic city.  Take it a step further and Cameron might also not like the fact “Aquaman” features plot devices taken directly from 1989’s “The Abyss” in which those living below the water are not happy with us land dwellers and our habits with war and pollution.  There’s even the recycled image of a massive brightly and colorfully lit underwater craft rising to the surface and thus lifting other ships and people who were floating above it.  Is this a case of “What’s old is new again”?  Or is it ok now to rescue a failing franchise by reusing the ideas and concepts of other more successful films?

     Fortunately, all of this works in the favor of “Aquaman” given the fact it removes the action away from any chance the other “Justice League” characters could enter the fray and muck the whole thing up.  With the vast majority of scenes taking place under water, the story belongs solely to Jason Mamoa’s titular superhero.  The screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall works to the film’s advantage as well, providing some weight to the proceedings where we actually understand what the characters are fighting for and why.  It also helps that Mamoa is paired with Amber Heard’s Mera, which gives the action scenes the welcome addition of an ass kicking female lead who challenges Aquaman both physically and mentally.

     Through dialogue, it is indicated the events unfolding are taking place after the heroes of “Justice League” defeated the menacing, yet personality free CGI creation, Steppenwolf, an act which essentially saved Atlantis and has now put Aquaman, who goes by Arthur Curry on the mainland, in line to take his rightful place as King.  In a flashback, we learn Arthur is the child of Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and a lighthouse keeper she falls in love with named Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison).  An affair of which is said to have been executed for, which left her only full blooded son, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), as the purported heir to the throne.  Politics between those within the royal power pulpit, including King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) and Orm’s top advisor, Vulko (Willem Dafoe), lead to the idea of an all out war with the unsuspecting people living on land.  All the while, Arthur and Mera embark on an expedition to find a hidden Trident said to be wielded by the only true King of Atlantis.

     Aware of Arthur and Mera’s exploits, Orm sends a goon squad led by Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a pirate with an ax to grind against Arthur,  in an attempt to stop them. The sequence leads to a tone changing foray in the desert that has the look and feel of an “Indiana Jones” movie, but then moves quickly to a roof top chase in Italy that plays exactly like the one in “Fast Five” where Vin Diesel encounters The Rock for the first time.  Although the action here, trumped up with a sci-fi twist, is definitely top shelf.  Wan, at one point, propels his camera, as if it’s on a zip line, from one roof top to one a football field away where simultaneous action is occurring with different characters.  Even though, yet again, there’s familiarity from another film franchise, the adrenaline still flows in the scene, creating a high stakes confrontation between a superhero and masked villain equipped with the very best in Atlantian technology.

     But like nearly every superhero film before it, “Aquaman” stages a massive and mostly unintelligible battle sequence in the third act where multiple sides collide in all out war for aquatic supremacy.  You’ll again be reminded of “Avatar”, both because the field of battle resembles Pandora, as well as the many people involved in the fight are riding various sea creatures of whom they can communicate with in much the same way the Na’vi could with their surrounding animal population.  It’s also overkill and mind numbing, as you realize the film has now gone on for well over 2 hours with the conclusion no where in sight.  As a CGI demo reel, the sequence would certainly turn heads.  But what exactly does it add to the story?  Did the filmmakers believe the key to saving the DC Universe was more excess?  Aren’t they paying attention to that other comic book film studio across town?  You know, the one’s whose characters we actually care about?

     As Arthur Curry / Aquaman, Jason Mamoa is one of those rare actors who possesses both the physical tools, as well as the charisma to bring the character to heights many may have never thought possible.  In fact, more of a story dependent on his considerable presence may have done wonders for the film, considering none of the best qualities of his performance are featured in any of the dozens of action sequences.  Think back to 1978’s “Superman” and the dramatic aspects of character development which propelled Christopher Reeve to legendary status.  You get the feeling Jason Mamoa could’ve done the same, but unfortunately the filmmakers became too impressed with all of the toys they were given to play with and ignored the very basic components of telling a story.  And because the film is jam packed with so much eye candy, “Aquaman” becomes an instant blur soon after you leave the theater.  GRADE: C