Directed by Australian James Wan and partly filmed in Queensland, underwater superhero epic Aquaman is naturally overlong, overblown and sopping wet with CG efffects.
However, many of the problems here are offset by the near-irresistible top-billed turn by Jason Momoa, who’s a real hoot as our hero Arthur. He’s not some sort of great actor – but he doesn’t need to be.
Wan (Saw, The Conjuning) has trouble holding the whole unwieldy thing together, but his cast are game, some of the endless CG stuff is impressive enough and there are nice nudge-nudge fanboy gags about H.P. Lovecraft and TV’s Stingray in there. And Momoa (who played the role briefly in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and more extensively in the dismal Justice League) certainly knows how to crack a one-liner.
In Maine back in 1985, lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescues Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), princess of Atlantis, during a storm. They fall in love and have a child despite her fearing that the undersea and surface worlds can supposedly never peacefully co-exist. These opening scenes are notable for not being filmed anywhere near Maine, being laden with romantic goofiness, featuring lots of digital work to make Kidman and Morrison (cast at Jason’s request) look weirdly younger, and introducing heavy-handed political and environmental themes that only get clumsier.
Once Atlanna is eventually dragged off by Atlantean stormtroopers we leap forward to the adult Arthur/Aquaman saving a nuclear submarine full of star-struck Russians, and making an enemy of David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who becomes his nemesis Black Manta. Kane attacks Atlantis at the secret suggestion of Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s jealous half-brother and megalomaniacal ruler of Atlantis, who then uses it as an excuse to wage war on the surface by using tidal waves – something that now looks more than a little unfortunate given what’s recently happened in Indonesia.
Arthur doesn’t want to get involved in all this Atlantean skullduggery and nonsense but is, of course, dragged in. He’s riskily helped by Mera (Amber Heard), who’s being pressured to marry Orm, and Atlantis’ counsellor Nuidis Vulko, played by no less than Willem Dafoe. Watching Dafoe play the role straight as he trains up the young Arthur in flashbacks, exchanges ominous dialogue with Dolph Lundgren (as Mera’s expressionless Dad Nereus) and stand around looking soggy and cold is pretty damn peculiar.
If that synopsis sounds complicated then that’s because it is, and Wan and two credited screenwriters (although there were surely many others) let it wander and wobble all over the place, and from Queensland to Canada to Italy to Morocco, as well as plenty of soundstages where the cast engaged in much tedious greenscreen work. But Momoa keeps you watching, even if he doesn’t actually don the character’s trademark orange skivvy until quite late in the game.
But no matter, as his Arthur/Aquaman has been hugely successful anyway, and far more popular than Henry Cavill’s sulky Superman and Ben Affleck’s boring Batman. If only those DC Comics bigwigs could now figure out some credible way for him to share a screen again with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman they might finally have themselves a superhero epic that could go toe to flipper with Marvel.
Aquaman (M) is in cinemas from December 26