Movie Review: Aquaman

After a year of hype, three trailers, numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, AQUAMAN has finally washed up on shore. Was it worth the wait? Superhero fanboys and fangirls will emphatically say “Yes!” but for the rest of us, the answer is more like an indifferent shrug. AQUAMAN is not bad but it’s not great either, though many would argue that in the DC Extended Universe, “not bad” is high praise.

In case you been living underwater for the past year, AQUAMAN charts the origin story of the famous amphibious superhero beginning with the time his mother, Queen Atlanna of Atlantis (played by Nicole Kidman, who looks about 25 here, thanks to the wonders of plastic surgery, Botox and perhaps CGI de-aging), meets lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry (New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison) after fleeing from an arranged marriage. Atlanna and Tom fall in love and their union results in Arthur. Atlanna, though, finds that she has to return to Atlantis, so she leaves the boy under the tutelage of her trusted adviser, Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS; A FAMILY MAN; JOHN WICK), who becomes young Arthur’s Yoda, teaching him how to wield a trident and harness his ability to communicate with marine life. Flash forward and adult Arthur (now played by Jason Momoa, TV’s GOT) makes an enemy out of treasure hunter and high-seas mercenary David Kane, aka Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN; BAYWATCH), after Arthur thwarts Kane’s plans to hijack a nuclear submarine, resulting in the death of Kane’s father. Meanwhile, thousands of feet down, Arthur’s younger half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson, THE NUN; TV’s FARGO), has his own nefarious plans afoot. Under the pretext declaring war on the surface for all the marine pollution you and I have created, he endeavours to unite the various kingdoms that live underwater to his cause. Orm’s fiancée, Mera (Amber Heard, THE DANISH GIRL), sees through his plans and she travels to the surface to convince Arthur that he needs to go to Atlantis to claim the throne before Orm can be named Ocean Master. Along the way though, they need to find the legendary Trident of Atlan, which will cement Arthur’s rightful claim over his brother.

A cross between STAR WARS, LORD OF THE RINGS, GAME OF THRONES, the legend of King Arthur, INDIANA JONES and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, AQUAMAN packs a lot of story into its nearly 2-1/2 hour running time. Fortunately, director James Wan (SAW, the CONJURING franchise; FURIOUS 7) never lets the film drag too much (let’s be honest here and admit that it does drag) by moving the audience through a series of spectacular undersea worlds, on our way to the ultimate showdown between the half-brothers. Perhaps taking a cue from the competition over at Marvel, AQUAMAN is not all dark and gloomy like many other DCEU films have been though. However, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve already seen all the film’s lighter moments. These involve the bushy-eyebrowed Momoa making some quip in his goofy-macho style, usually looking over one of his broad shoulders as he delivers the line. AQUAMAN is no THOR: RAGNAROK though, and Momoa is no Chris Hemsworth, who at least has screen charisma. Yes, AQUAMAN is escapist popcorn entertainment but barely that. The dialogue, when it’s not cheesy, is clunky, and the story is full of missed opportunities, the biggest one being the issue of marine pollution only to be tossed overboard like a piece of… well, jetsam.

Not surprisingly, the film is CGI-intensive with almost all the action taking place underwater. Even with all the advances in technology in recent years, these scenes lack awesomeness in the way that Wakanda wowed us earlier in the year. If the CGI bar was moved up with AQUAMAN, I missed it.

Regardless of what you and I think of the film, the box office has already spoken. The film opened two weekends ago in China and has already raked in close to US$200 million in that market alone (US$261.3 million from all overseas markets). That puts AQUAMAN well on its way to becoming one of the franchise’s most profitable entries and in Hollywood that means one thing – a sequel is coming.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Thursday, December 20th at 8:30 am HK time!

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