Aquaman (***1/2) has fun in the shallows

Aquaman – 2018

Director James Wan
Screenplay David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall
Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison

James Wan’s take on Aquaman in the DCEU is a fun exercise in accepting what’s given to you and making the best of it. Not one of the primary DC comic book heroes, Momoa made the best of his first go round (technically second, if we count cameos) Justice League. He was a fresh face with some decent lines delivered like he actually might be cooler than the suit he was destined to wear.

We start his first major solo motion picture with a quick synopsis of the creation of Arthur Curry. The son of a lighthouse keeper (Morrison) and the princess of Atlantis (Kidman) who is washed ashore while escaping the reach of marital betrothal.

Years later, Momoa’s Arthur Curry is enjoying a vigilante’s existence in the sea in the wake of helping save the world from Steppenwolf. He rescues the crew of a submarine, and in the process, allows a key death to occur.

Arthur has a half brother, Orm (Wilson) is itching for sole possession of the throne of King of the Seas. He hatches a plan to make it look more than imminent that the other kingdoms combine to help in his quest for war. In this effort, there is the opportunity for a decent plot device. Orm isn’t necessarily wrong when he sends his warning shot on the shores of the earth by belching up all of the garbage and war ships we’ve sent to them through the years. As it stands they only touch on this point before we are mired into the bog of machinations and detail.

The plot moves adequately if not fluidly between past and present. The male Atlanteans have a unique hairstyle, but at least two of the women (Kidmans Atlan and Heard’s Mera) have the worst looking wigs when on dry land. Why they couldn’t have just kept her hair damp, I have no idea. The mythology is a pleasant enough hocus. I might have wondered where they hid all of the monstrous and beautiful sea creatures they utilize for transportation were it not for the things I learned while watching The Meg.

The cast is actually pretty good, depending on what tasks they’re given. DaFoe, Lundgren and Morrison actually have things to do, which is nice. Morrison is given some real unfortunate CGI de-aging early on, but later he looks more like a human.

Heard is passable, but the plot doesn’t do any favors. Her main job is to remain stoic, humorless and tell Arthur why and how to save the world. Many of the angles give the impression of Black Widow in the Marvel Universe. Thing is, we know there’s more behind that wry smile of Scarlett Johansson than Mera’s actions reveal.

Wilson is the actor that seemed the biggest question mark. He’s good enough as the bad guy with some noble intentions. He’s somewhere between Loki and Killmonger, without being as well presented as either, but not bad at all.

This is the Jason Mamoa show, however, and Wan takes full advantage of his incredibly beautiful lead. There are so many beefcake shots, it would sate most anyone who’s an admirer of the human potential to look completely ripped. If they found screenwriters that could channel a voice that more closely matches what we think the pre-eminent stud of the sea should be (basically smart ass, with a gradual turn toward self -awareness) he could become a major star with this role.

The effects never get any closer than the effect of an underwater cartoon. It’s cool enough that they let Atlanteans speak underwater with an effect that seems affected enough to be plausible. They are wise enough not to try to solve every mystery with one film. The telepathy with the sea creatures is a prime example.

Bonus points for not giving the bad guy the worst possible CGI and keeping away from the massive explosion endings where the baddie waits to be knocked off of a perch for which the DCEU films are known.

As it stands, the film still should do quite well. It’s more fun than any DCEU film than Wonder Woman yet it still feels like something that matters at times. Not all that much, though. I hope WW, The Flash and Aquaman push their leads and the DCEU out of the mire.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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