DC’s Expanded Universe gets bigger and bigger. Most of the films that have preceded Aquaman have been pretty disappointing, from Batman v Superman, to Justice League, to the terrible Suicide Squad. In fact, the only good movie so far has been Wonder Woman, in my opinion. But with a promise of taking themselves less seriously and focusing on delivering a fun experience, Aquaman has been released and it’s… underwhelming. Let’s find out why.
Jason Momoa is Aquaman. I don’t mean he portrays the character, I mean he is the superhero shown on-screen during the film’s runtime. He’s very different to the character we know from the comics, but right now, it’s very difficult to picture another actor playing Aquaman. His portrayal is fun and iconic, and expands upon what was shown in Justice League. In fact, it’s weird to see an origin story after last year’s ensemble, which already established his persona, but the result is surprisingly good, as Momoa has created a very likeable character through his charisma and acting. The character’s design is really good too, with tattoos all over his body that give him a mystic look without being too overbearing. However, it must be said that the costume designed for him, which is shown during the last act, is quite poor and looks cheaper than it should.
The rest of the cast, while not as remarkable, is pretty good too, with highlights such as the ever great Willem Dafoe as the hero’s trainer and a better than usual Amber Heard as Mera, who serves as a character who explains things to the audience as well as a love interest for Aquaman… More about that last thing later.
It’s kind of difficult to know how James Wan got to direct Aquaman. His previous projects, with the exception of Furious 7, have all been horror films, and none of them was good at all. Unsurprisingly, his efforts in DC’s latest flick have an underwhelming result. Different tones clash, resulting in a lack of cohesion that’s quite painful. Wan has a hard time balancing serious scenes and humour, which leads to jokes that don’t land and scenes that can’t be taken seriously because they are preceded by dumb punchlines. Whenever a moment is completely over the top (such as an octopus playing drums) it’s fun to watch, but those quirky parts are always ruined by dark, edgy bits.
Action scenes suffer with that lack of proper direction, too. The first few fights are amazingly handled, the very first being shot in order to look like one continuos shot (an incredible scene, without a doubt). The following few scenes cleverly mix humour and action, not by throwing jokes here and there, but by actually creating fun moments with the action itself. Aquaman enjoys fighting villains, and he mocks them by making the fight look effortless to him. He makes use of the environment to prove his control over the situation and it’s hilarious to watch him do so. However, every action scene in the second and third acts is the dull, overly dark we are used to in DC’s cinematic universe, which was a huge disappointment after all the fun during the first part.
Every single frame is flooded by CGI. This is understandable due to the fantastic nature of the environments on display, but even the most simple situations have been completely created in 3D animation, a decision that’s at least questionable. In addition, a character must be shown younger than the actor really is in some scenes, and extreme de-aging CGI was used to achieve that effect. Other than that, the visual effects are impeccable, creating breath-taking environments, packed with light and colour. The fact that the writers have come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation for the abundance of brightness really surprised me, too, and it made me look at the depth of the ocean with greater joy.
It’s hard to talk about the script itself, as it has both great and terrible moments throughout. The story being told is fun, and most of the narrative is properly managed, with some missteps here and there, specially when it comes to pacing. The main problem is that the lines themselves are awful. As stated earlier, most jokes don’t work at all, many of them are childish puns, and the more serious dialogue isn’t much better either. Without a doubt, the single worst part of the script is everything related to the love relationship between the protagonists, it seems a 10-year-old wrote it. In fact, a 10-year-old would have written something with fewer silly moments and would’ve avoided the most terrible cliches we expect in a teen romcom.
To say that this film is long is an understatement. At 143 minutes, there are times during the second half of the movie in which it just feels endless. Dull arcs flood the runtime, and a massive amount of elements in the story makes the watching experience boring at times. One of the villains, Black Manta, is explored with great detail, from his origin story to his motivations, but as the third act begins, it’s more than obvious that he wasn’t necessary at all in the movie and could’ve been removed altogether. For such a colourful and playful film, it’s a shame that the abundance of characters made the whole script drag and feel tiresome.
All in all, Aquaman is a promise that DC hasn’t been able to deliver. It doesn’t work properly as a serious film that at times seems to be trying hard to be. It doesn’t work as a fun, lighthearted flick either. It’s an attempt at making everyone happy, following Snyder’s darker tone while also taking a more comedic approach mimicking Marvel’s steps. Momoa definitely deliver a great performance, but a single person can’t keep the ship afloat, even if he is the king of the seas himself. 5/10