VOD film review: Aquaman
Ivan Radford | On 10, Apr 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson. Arthur Curry
Watch Aquaman online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Some films are so bad that whenever someone speaks, you can almost hear the dialogue honking in your head. Aquaman, DC’s latest superhero offering, does the honking for you. Every time anyone says something dramatic, the soundtrack booms in the background, three notes that almost review the film on their own: dum-dum-dummm!
Now, let’s be clear: any film about a superpowered human who can communicate with fish isn’t one to be looked to for intellect, and James Wan’s blockbuster surely knows it. You only have to look at the way Jason Momoa smoulders on to the screen, saying things like “permission to come aboard” with a playful glint in his eye, to know that Aquaman understands what it is and how preposterous it is. And yet this gloriously daft, operatically silly film never really becomes the fun it wants to be. It is, despite boasting a scene in which a gigantic octopus plays the underwater drums, surprisingly dull.
A lot of that is down to the script and the editing. We begin in 1985, when Maine lighthouse keeper Thomas (Temuera Morrison) stumbles upon the waylaid runaway Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), who promptly falls in love with Tom and has a baby with him: Arthur, destined to grow up and become Jason Momoa’s swaggering outsider. Fast forward to him as an adult and he ends up being drawn into the civil war brewing under the waves, as his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), tries to become the king of all the ocean. You can tell he’s a bad guy because he has an army of sinister troops who all wear water-filled helmets. Also, he’s called King Orm, and every time he says anything, the soundtrack kicks in with its unsubtle three notes.
Then, suddenly, into the fray comes Willem Dafoe, whom we discover plays Nuidis Vulko, the man who trained Aquaman to fight as a boy. It’s hard to know what’s more jarring: the digital de-aging effects used for his flashback, or the fact that it interrupts the plot 30 minutes in and the movie never finds its momentum again.
So far, so mediocre, but nothing that can’t be rescued by some over-the-top acting and self-aware humour. That is, until a pirate called David comes along. Thwarted in a hijack by Aquaman, he stands and watches his father die aboard a sinking ship, before throwing his head up into the air and screaming revenge. It’s a moment that’s meant to land emotionally, but, thanks to a ludicrous twist involving a grenade, is laughable in all the wrong ways. That attempt to cram in an additional villain only muddies the waters further, making it hard to know whom to fear, whom to take seriously or – crucially – who’s taking themselves seriously.
The result dives from amusing nonsense to straight-faced melodrama and back again without pausing to take breath – a dizzying, exhausting cycle that means Wilson doesn’t get to develop Orm beyond a cardboard cut-out villain, Momoa doesn’t get enough time to strut his stuff, and we don’t even have the time to enjoy the fact that Julie Andrews briefly appears to voice a mythical sea monster.
If the tone is all over the place, though, director James Wan consistently delivers the goods with his action sequences, from an opening showdown featuring Kidman’s Atlanna that demolishes a living room to a jaw-dropping sequence featuring amphibious critters that is lit with nightmarish bursts of red and green (and will likely be too intense for many 12-year-olds). That a spin-off, called The Trench, is in development is testament to the fact that the set piece is far too good for the rest of the film.
The result is a well-performed blockbuster that is nonetheless weighed down by its lengthy runtime, poor pacing, uneven FX and cheesy dialogue. This world and these characters have potential to make a splash, but this first voyage sinks rather than swims – a shame, because the unintentionally hilarious moments that pop out throughout almost make it a so-bad-its-good affair. If only it were slightly better. Or slightly worse.
Aquaman is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.