The earth in the newest DC entry, Aquaman, is split between two polar opposite worlds: the ocean and the land. Far beneath the white crests of waves lie the people of Atlantis — an extremely advanced group of super-humans gifted with fantastical abilities and a burning hate of the polluting land-dwellers (us). The threat of war is imminent, and it is up to our hero Arther Curry, the titular Aquaman (played with machismo charisma by Jason Momoa), who is a man of both land and sea, to save the day.
In many ways, a very similar problem plagues the film itself. Aquaman is the tale of two halves: The first is an unarguably spectacular display of action which is in large part thanks to the film’s director James Wan. If that name sounds familiar to you it should, because Wan is the man who single-handedly saved the horror genre with his work on the likes of The Conjuring and Saw franchises. His brilliance as a director is again on full display in Aquaman, as he uses his unparalleled command of thrills and visual artistry to create intricately crafted action scenes that are better than any super-hero movie in recent memory.
The second however, is an often embarrassingly bad screenplay (by a trio of writers that I won’t bother to name) that made watching the more dialogue-heavy scenes feel like a vat of molten-lava was slowly being poured over me. Searing with burning fury, it slowly yet inescapably pressed me into my brumal chair and hardened in every orifice it slithered its way into as I choked for any hint of non-existent air. To be clear the script was not bad because it was cheesy or insufferable in its soapy tone –that actually would have been very much appreciated and in fact very fitting for the mock-Shakespearian style Aquaman was aiming for. It failed because of its rote… nothingness.
It was boring. And for a popcorn superhero flick that’s an inexcusable offense.
The story of Aquaman is colored weirdly, yes, with a world populated by evil mermaids, deadly water guns, and talking crabs, but its essence is tried and true. Aquaman is the chosen one, and along with the help of his love interest Princess Mera (Amber Heard is left to struggle in this poorly written role) and a handful of other maternal and paternal help (Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe both make appearances), he must find the mystical lost trident and defeat the evil King Orm (Patrick Wilson) to prevent all-out war and take his place as king of Atlantis. It’s funky, but the gluttony of royal and inter-familial drama in a visually beautiful environment lends itself to a lot of fun. But while James Wan is able to capitalize to the fullest extent possible, a painfully dry script (ugghhh) is barren of the jokes and over-the-top monologues the film so desperately needed, and this leads to long stretches that are unable to take advantage of Momoa’s committed performance and are damn-near unwatchable.
But all that being said, I can’t specifically not recommend this movie. A far cry from the horrors of Justice League and quite a bit more enjoyable than the first two similarly constructed Thor movies, so much of Aquaman was ultimately just too sensational to witness for me to dislike the film. I mean how could I? Still seared into my head a few days later are the epic spectacles of thousands of sharks smashing into legions of talking giant crabs. Still, I see red lasers pepper the sky around acrobatic gods that smash tridents as they tumble through the war-torn sea. James Wan is nothing short of a master artist in his ability to evoke Van Gho in his never-ending palette of colors that swirl around mythical creatures with the awesome style of a work by Emanuel Luetze.
So yes, the film is a disappointment.
Yes, it’s a waste of potential.
Yes, DC is gonna have to hire a screenwriter one of these days if they wanna challenge Marvel.
But while Aquaman doesn’t make the splash it should have, James Wan’s striking command-of-craft is still enough to keep Momoa’s godly sculpted head afloat.