Main cast: Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman), Amber Heard (Mera), Willem Dafoe (Nuidis Vulko), Patrick Wilson (Orm), Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (David Kane/Black Manta), Temuera Morrison (Thomas Curry), and Nicole Kidman (Queen Atlanna)
Director: James Wan
Prince Orm has it all planned out. As the rightful heir to the throne of Atlantis, he will gather the remaining undersea kingdoms under his banner and invade the surface world. Never again will those impudent nobodies pollute the sea, kill wildlife, et cetera! With his loyal vizier Vulko advising him and his feisty betrothed Mera by his side, and with King Nereus, Mera’s father, in an alliance with him, what can go wrong for Orm?
Well, meet Arthur Curry. Not once in this movie did it explain why we call Arthur “Aquaman”, which is a silly name in the first place, but alas, the name sticks. At any rate, ages ago, a wounded Atlanna was washed up at a beach and was taken in by lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry. She was trying to escape from an unwanted marriage, and in the process, she fell in love with Thomas and bore him a child, Arthur. Alas, her intended’s men soon caught up with her, and she decided to go back to Atlantis so that Thomas and Curry can live in peace. She was forced to marry that meanie, of course, and bore that meanie a child, Orm. Alas, then word got out that she had a half-breed brat left on the surface world, and her enraged husband sacrificed her to the shark-like creatures (sahuagin, if you play those tabletop games) called the Trenchers.
Understandably, Arthur is not too keen on going back to the realm of those folks who killed his mother. Valko, who has promised Atlanna that he would watch over that kid, had trained Arthur in the arts of elite swimming and trident kung-fu and he has asked Arthur to go back and challenge Orm for the throne. Nope. It is only when Mera seeks him out, and he witnesses firsthand Orm’s initial onslaught on the coasts of the world that he decides that he will return to Atlantis, if only to stop Orm from starting a war that can only tear the world apart into chaos.
Oh, and the guy who becomes Black Manta eventually wants Arthur dead because Arthur let his father die when our hero could have saved him. Arthur was like, “You are all scummy pirates that kill innocents, so whatever!” and now David Kane is like, “You killed my father, now die-eee-eee!” Naturally, he is paid by Orm to cause trouble for Arthur and Mera.
Set about one year after the end of Justice League, Aquaman does its best to make up for the failings of the previous movies in the DC Extended Universe (Wonder Woman being the sole exception, of course). It is gorgeous to behold – the bright colors on the screen create some breathtaking visuals, and that scene of the kiss between Mera and Arthur is worthy of being blown up and framed on my wall. Some of the sight should be ludicrous – a octopus thing playing drums during a gladiatorial tournament, Dolph Lundgren seated on a CGI seahorse – but instead they are actually awesome. This is one feast for the eyes.
Alas, folks expecting lovely close-ups of Jason Momoa’s wet torso will have to settle for some lovely beefcake scenes but nothing too, er, up close and personal. On the other hand, Amber Heard shows her cleavage in most of her scenes, and while the scenery is undoubtedly amazing, I do wonder why we need a cleavage-baring outfit for underwater living. Won’t flotsam and other stuff get caught in there? Then again, I suppose if we want to quibble, we have to ask why these undersea humanoids retain their hair in spite of having undergone other evolutionary changes to make them adapt to their new habitat. Won’t hair in general slow down swimming and be generally a hassle to keep under control? And while the armors worn by the characters in this movie are gorgeous, I can only wonder whether those heavy-looking things will only be in the way when one needs to swim around quickly.
That aside, Mr Momoa certainly manages to inject a swagger that makes his Arthur Curry stand out as a version that isn’t a complete replica of the comic book version. This one is fun and different enough to be interesting. However, the plot of this movie is its biggest flaw, and the script never allows Mr Momoa to show more of this swagger. If anything, Aquaman has many things in common with Mr Momoa’s other headliner movie, Conan the Barbarian, in that both movies have really cool versions of the titular character, but the script treats the hero more like a prop than anything else. The script is like that of video game or tabletop RPG story – here’s a mysterious clue, go find the location of a great treasure, get the treasure, defeat the bad guy, party; random encounters show up along the way, slay them all – and as a result, people are just doing things without really showing me much about their character.
There are many scenes here that are filler in nature. Everything about Black Manta could have been removed and the overall story line wouldn’t be affected much. In fact, the movie would be better, as then the numerous “fight for the sake of fighting” scenes that drag the middle of the movie down would also be gone. This movie is about 140 minutes long – almost two and a half hours! – and this is not good because it could and should have been shorter with tighter editing.
However, Aquaman does come to life in its last third or so, after dragging its knuckles behind it for so long. The climactic battle is visual and sensory overload in a good way, and if anything, it just affirms how cool and hot-damn this version of Arthur Curry is. Mera is also fine as a kick-ass lady in her own right, although her ability to kick rear ends seem to come and go depend on the plot, hmm. Also, Atlanna and Thomas may not have much screen time, but the actors playing these characters manage to make their scenes together so sweet and poignant that I actually tear up a bit in these scenes. If anything, this romance is far more believable than that between Arthur and Mera, even if these two have the most beautiful kissing scene ever. Also, Orm is almost a sympathetic villain, and it’s nice to see one that isn’t just a one-dimensional final test for the protagonist in an origin movie cliché.
In the end, I do want to love Aquaman, but it tries to do too much and ends up just trying to cram one too many story lines in its already bloated run time. As much as I love looking at this movie, it loses its direction after a while, along with any momentum it has built in its first half hour. It manages to regain some of its magic in its tail end, but for the most part, this one is a missed opportunity.