By John H. Foote
Despite appearances in Batman v. Superman (2016) and Justice League (2017), Aquaman is an original movie, telling the story of how the super hero from beneath the sea came to be. A big, overblown, overlong epic film you can see where the two hundred million budget was spent, and we understand why they have changed the look of Aquaman from the comic. On The Big Bang Theory, poor Raj is always stuck being Aquaman when the quartet dress up as the Justice League for parties at the comic book store. “Aquaman sucks” he moans with disdain pulling on the bright yellow wig and ridiculous tights along with the sea horse around his waist that looks like a childs floating device for pools. Indeed, that Aquaman does suck.
So they altered the look….obviously a smart move. But does it allow the movies to be good, or great?
As seen in the DC comic he wore a gold top that looked like it was made of scale, along with green gloves. Green shorts and tights completed the outfit and he was the only person in Atlantis to have blonde hair. Had Momoa wore this he would have resembled a Vegas dancer cast out of Showgirls (1996).
Jason Mamoa, with rippling muscles, heavily tatooed, long flowing hair that seems constantly hair gelled, usually with his shirt off, tights or pants adorning his legs, brings an entirely different look to the character, something primal. I like Momoa as an actor, he was terrific as Kal Drogo in Game of Thrones, and very good in Frontier made for CBC TV and available on Netflix, but lets be clear, he is of limited ability. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne Johnson before him, he is great in action sequences and tosses off a sarcastic line with great aplomb, but his depth needs some work. That is not to say it will not come, it certainly did for the aforementioned actors when they learned to laugh at themselves, something I suspect Momoa is already working on.
Being an origin story we start right at the beginning.
Found injured by a kindly lighthouse worker, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) is taken in and cared for by Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison). During their time together they fall in love and have a child, a boy possessing great powers within the ocean. When she must leave, she goes, leaving the child in the care of her husband, though he will be sent to train with warriors from the deep.
When his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) attempts to bring together the armies of the deep to wage war against unsuspecting humans, Aquaman gets busy fighting back. Using all his substantial powers against his brother, war is waged between the two, disrupting the peace that has existed for centuries below the sea.
Now to be clear it takes a long time to get to this point, like learning to dog paddle. Called Arthur when not Aquaman, as a boy and teen, he is taught how to communicate with the ocean life, swim at a furious pace, and do everything a superhero beneath the sea might need to do. Riding a great white shark provoked a huge guffaw from me, but I will give it this, it was interesting to watch.
His brother, a nasty bit played by Patrick Wilson, has decided to attack the land lovers for polluting the sea, and quite frankly, I get his point. But eliminating the human race? Well, that I take exception with. Lucky for us so does Aquaman, who uses everything he has been taught to fight back against Orm.
Now the screenplay is beyond stupid, with Orm having to say most of the terrible lines. Momoa escapes relatively unscathed, partly because of his charisma, mostly because he has the
James Wan directed the film, and beyond the terrible screenplay, it is simply way too long. You could easily chop thirty to forty minutes out and not miss a thing. While watching, I found it easy to see what could be cut, but was having a much more difficult time deciding what to keep. That is a bad sign, that means you have a potentially terrible film on your hands. I did not find it terrible as much as I found it unnessesary to make an original film when we have already seen the character in two previous films, and everyone knows the character. These films are made for fans of the comic books, so tell me that anyone going in does not know who the hell Aquaman is?
In fairness Mamoa makes the film watchable with a strong presence and smartass attitude. But the others, some very fine actors, are wasted. Willem Dafoe, so good this year as Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate, is Vulko, a friend who trains the young Victor to become a leader in the ocean. You can almost see the shame in Dafoe’s face, “yes, this is what I will do for money.” Nicole Kidman is always interesting, but in the year she gives the gutsiest performance of her career in Destroyer, she also is wasted here as the big guy’s mom.
Patrick Wilson, so good in Angels in America (2004), has the promise to be a great actor and he can sing to boot. But here, as the bad guy Orm, he is spitting out silly dialogue and spends most of the movie looking, well, like a dumb ass.
Wan does a nice job capturing life below the sea, the screen shimmers but for what?
As Raj says, “Aquaman sucks.”
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”