Aquaman, directed by James Wan, in all its flashy camera moves, vibrant landscapes and somewhat entertaining action, is a big, dumb, empty film that I found myself inevitably checking out of and forever having to mentally try to keep up with an experience that genuinely seemed confused by what it wanted to be. With this review, I’m going to try to not be totally negative, but I must stress that Aquaman doesn’t make that an easy thing to do.
Arthur Curry / Aquaman – played by Jason Momoa – learns that the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, led by his brother, King Orm – played by Patrick Wilson – plans to attack the surface world. Arthur, along with the help of Mera – played by Amber Heard – seek the trident that will give Arthur his place as true king and help to unite the seven kingdoms with the surface world. Many trials lie in his way, and he needs to succeed for the sake of everyone.
I really wanted to like Aquaman. Despite writing this universe of DC films off after the absolutely abysmal Justice League movie; the enthusiasm of Jason Momoa during the entire promotional tour for this film was admittedly infectious, and thus I wanted to give it a fair chance. But oh my god did this film not work for me!
I know the exact moment I completely checked out from the film and knew it just wasn’t for me; it was when I saw an octopus playing the drums. At that moment I knew that not only is the DCEU a total mess and without any attempt at consistency, but there films at this point are just not for me; which is a shame, because I grew up a DC kid, but here I am enjoying nearly everything Marvel is putting out, while struggling to want to stay in the cinema when watching a DC offering.
Aquaman has a really odd problem, but it’s a problem that’s in part because of the systemic issues that now plagues the DC Universe films. The primary problem in Aquaman is the surprising lack of the title character in the film. In all the loud, overly encumbered mess that is this film, Aquaman himself fades into the background and quickly becomes an irrelevant feeling element in the overall film.
There were genuinely points within this film where I forgot Aquaman was a factor in everything. The film is constantly pulling itself in so many directions and trying to put its focus on so many different things, that Aquaman himself gets lost in all of it and became a character who felt like he had the least to contribute in a film where it was all supposed to be about his rise to the throne.
And it means the biggest loser in the whole film is Jason Momoa himself. Momoa is a hugely charismatic individual who always draws your eye. The decision to initially cast him was one that I wasn’t sure about – and after the handling of the character in Justice League, I really wasn’t sure he was the right choice – but in Aquaman I finally saw how much of a right choice he was. So, it’s a massive shame that he feels like a character with the least impact or screen time. I found myself wanting to see more of Momoa as the fish talking hero, but I never felt like I was getting enough.
Beyond Momoa, the rest of the cast in this film just look lost or as if they’re acting in different movies. There were genuinely points where Willem Dafoe looked lost on-screen as he blurted out the empty nonsense dialogue that was given to him. But while those actors looked confused and their characters feeling more like expository machines or an element to make the plot move along, Aquaman himself (the title character) was someone who felt more irrelevant that all of them. At the end of this 2-hour and 20-minute slog (a running time that just isn’t necessary) I still feel like I know nothing significant about Aquaman, nor do I have any interest to explore the character further. In total, Aquaman is a character who likes to drink and occasionally say, “Oh yeah”.
And I know why the film’s title character is such an irrelevant note in his own film. It’s because at this point, the DCEU is so irrevocably broken, that each film that comes out is both trying to fix the problems that came before, while also trying to forge the new path for the franchise, and so far, that’s something Warner Bros. DC and whatever filmmaker is handed the reigns is simply unable to do in a way that makes for a coherent, competent film/experience.
Ultimately what Aquaman is, is a total mess. It’s tonally all over the place, it in no way feels like a film that’s set in the same universe as the others, and there are some truly, truly baffling decisions that somehow made it into the final edit and weren’t just there to make the editor laugh – for example: Aquaman and Mera walking out of the water in slow motion while a Pitbull song plays. It was a moment I couldn’t believe was happening when I was watching it, and I was convinced I was being trolled at that point.
Throw on top of all of that the absolutely bloated and nonsensical plot. I’m just going to come out and say it as plainly as I can: the script for this film is garbage. It’s shocking how dumb this film is, top-to-bottom, when it comes to storytelling, character development, dialogue, exposition, etc.
Take its handling of exposition as example: This film unloads so much exposition in the beginning, it becomes absurd, but what’s even more absurd is how at the end of every single scene that’s laden with exposition, it without fail ends with a big explosion, a fight scene and then it to the next scene – every single time! I think James Wan knew how uninteresting and tedious the exposition was when he looked at the script, so he thought ending every scene with an action scene would make up for it. I mean, with how bad and uninteresting the information they’re giving you is, I can’t see any other way for them to try to keep audiences engaged.
I feel I could sit here for the rest of the review and ramble/rant about all the dumb, confusing nonsense that fills this film, but you don’t want to sit through more of that, and I personally don’t enjoy doing that, so I’m going to touch upon some of the things I did like in this film, because there were elements that I enjoyed.
From a technical standpoint, all the artists who worked on this film were clearly given free rein to create some truly out-there stuff. The fantastical cities and landscapes created by the extensive visual effects team were certainly a treat for the eyes. The costume designers made some brilliantly hand-crafted practical suits – both of the comic book accurate outfits that Aquaman and King Orm wear in the final battle looked great, and I’m amazed they actually made the original Aquaman suit look so good on the big screen. The set designers, the prop makers, the sound design team; anyone involved in bringing the under-water world alive and making it such a feast for the eyes and ears did an outstanding job.
And despite my dislike for this film, I do also want to praise the director, James Wan. He was handed a sinking ship (pun intended) and despite all the challenges he undoubtedly faced, he fully went for it and made a film that fans of the comic will love, that kids will be wowed by, and that the shareholders will enjoy the (surprising) box office success of. The man is a really talented director, and with what he had, he certainly made a film that doesn’t hold back and goes into full cheese mode from the beginning. I respect James Wan for his work and his commitment, and I appreciate and respect the people who worked their hearts out on this film.
But… for me, Aquaman was a movie I was simply not able to enjoy. I found it a genuine struggle to sit through and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that it gave me a headache. The level of nonsensical stupidity that fuels this film was so taxing to wrap my head around, that I went to bed annoyed and sore in the head. I wish I could be like so many other watchers of this film and have enjoyed my time with a movie that requires you to turn your brain off and let the six movies worth of content wash over you, but that’s just not me; Aquaman isn’t a film for me. But it is a film for many others, and I have to recognise that and pay attention to that fact.
I personally CAN’T recommend, Aquaman. I wouldn’t feel right having seen this film saying that you should go to the cinema and sit through this overly long, confusing mess. But I’m also not the target audience for this type of film (not anymore). DC has fully lost me at this point, but if you do like these films, and if Aquaman seems like something you’d enjoy seeing, then by all means have at it. I honestly do hope you have a good time and you laugh along with it and it puts a smile on your face. But currently, for me, the DC films are ones I have no want to seek out or watch… sadly.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of Aquaman! Please leave any opinions, thoughts, etc. you may have down in the comments section below. If you’re interested in knowing when I post new content, please consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Last but not least, I want to offer you my thanks; I know this review was more negative that I usually like it to be, and I don’t enjoy doing that sort of stuff, but I still want to thank you for stopping by my blog, giving it a chance and hopefully liking it enough to return. So, in summary: thank you.., sincerely!