Battered Fish Schtick

Epic Undersea Battles Can’t Save Aquaman


Alleged musician Pitbull’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” plays as Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) fly into Africa. There’s also a scene where he wakes up on a boat to find her staring off into the distance, pensively playing a recorder. Nicole Kidman kills a television with a trident. Black Manta yells “Call me Black Manta!” Ocean Master yells “Call me Ocean Master!” Aquaman yells “I am Aquaman!” If you take a shot every time someone does a superhero landing, your liver will turn into a puffer fish.

These are all facts. Here’s another you may have guessed: Aquaman is bad!

The prologue focuses on Aquaman’s conception, an unintentionally laughable sequence where the superpowered queen of an undersea kingdom, Atlantis, boffs a lighthouse keeper because he gives her some tea. Fast forward, and their spawn, Arthur, is now the somewhat infamous Aquaman, who we first see on a submarine, where he makes a bad guy watch his father slowly drown. Nothing says “goofy escapism” quite like a man weeping for his murdered daddy.

The rest of the movie has Mera, who wears a wig left over from a Little Mermaid porno spoof, dragging Aquaman around to find a magic trident that will prove he is the “one true king” of Atlantis. This will allow him to stop his brother and Eric Trump impersonator, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), from declaring war on all humanity. Of course, this leads to an epic battle with armor-clad seahorses and grumpy crustacean-people that admittedly looks pretty damn cool. Someone let Jimmy Cameron know he just spent a decade working on those underwater Avatar sequels for nothing.

From the erratic soundtrack to Aquaman’s wallet chain, which he keeps on while underwater, director James Wan’s film isn’t “silly fun,” it is “silly stupid.” Excusing it as a product of the genre ignores the now ample evidence that a bit of cleverness can make impossibly goofy premises sing, just ask Marvel’s talking raccoon and stick. The only measurable difference between Aquaman and, say, Catwoman or Green Lantern is a few hundred milly in production budget that was best used to de-age Willem Dafoe. Despite a well-chosen lead and wildly watchable undersea action, it’s torpedoed by its unfathomably bad script and beached-whale-esque bloated run time.

None of this is Momoa’s fault. He remains inexplicably charismatic, as if he’s just about to beat you up but you still really want him to like you. Heard, on the other hand, is saddled only with clunky exposition or “born sexy yesterday” moments, like when she eats the heads off roses given to her during one of the several music montages.

The frustratingly popular TV show, Big Bang Theory, is about nerds. Except those nerds don’t act anything like nerds do in real life. They are poorly written versions of what non-nerds think nerds are like. Aquaman feels like that, like a movie written by a group who were told what people like about comic book movies. It is the Big Bang Theory of merman movies. Glub, glub.

Grade = D


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