Of all the newcomers Bruce Wayne rounded up in Justice League, Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry was the only to demonstrate the charisma and longevity of character necessary to front a solo venture. Those hoping for another Wonder Woman from DC, however, will be disappointed by Aquaman. From Conjuring director James Wan, this regressive submarine blockbuster treads murky water for an excessive hundred and forty minutes, before sinking into computer generated chasms leagues beneath the tides of sense.
Whatever Wan was aiming for with his superhero debut – it literally could be anything based on the film’s veering tones – Aquaman is most aptly compared to 1999’s The Phantom Menace. The effects here are barely better than those of George Lucas’ first Star Wars prequel and the script is no less turgid. Further still, Wan’s film is just as liable to throw up something exciting to tease viewers as to what the film could have been had it tightened up and cut the slack. The effortless cool of Momoa isn’t enough to keep the ship afloat but you’ll wish it was.
Aquaman is set after roughly a year after Justice League but often struggles to remember that – continuity fans will be disheartened. Though we have already met Arthur, Wan opens with a brief origins prologue to introduce his Atlantean mother, Atlanna (Nicole ‘sign here’ Kidman), and human father, Thomas (Temuera Morrison), and tell their tedious tale of forbidden love: ‘Like two ships, destined for each other’. When Atlanna is forced to return to the sea, Arthur is brought up by landlubber Thomas, whilst sneaking in some cheeky lessons in being badass from Willem Dafoe’s wise Atlantean counsellor Nudis Vulko. Though Arthur is, by right, heir to the throne of Atlantis, in his absence, his vengeful brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has stepped to the fore.
In Orm’s defence – and, to some extent, the film’s – the chip on his shoulder is a just one. Sick of sitting by as mankind dump their waste into the global warmed seven sees, Orb’s ploy is to unite the four remaining kingdoms of Atlantis and take on the surface world. Only Aquaman stands in his way but first he must unite with water warrior Mera (Amber Heard) and retrieve the magical, long-lost trident of Atlan. This will give the heavily tattooed and generically powerful hero even more super-skills, not to mention a shiny new suit, which, frankly, makes him look like he’s selling bleach. There’s another foe to be faced along the way – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s David Kane – and innumerable Power Ranger tribute acts, but who actually cares?
Risibly scripted on every front – ‘Where I come from, the sea carries our tears away’ – and plotted with little care for logic, at worst Aquaman is boring. The action scenes are retrogressively styled as video game conflicts, whilst a slinky Heard is visually smoothed to glow with digital effervescence. At any point, the film will flirt with set-pieces from The Day After Tomorrow before globe trotting into National Treasure territory and slam-dunking back into the Gladiator ring. Just when Wan finally settles into an enjoyable, lighthearted flow, another wall explodes and another pointless battle begins. Julie Andrews voices a giant crab and there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from a drumming octopus. The finale, meanwhile, is totally barmy.
Bizarrely, Aquaman has already proved to be a huge hit in China and looks set to best Batman vs Superman as the highest-grossing film in the DCEU franchise to date. A post-credits scene introduces the inevitable sequel to come, but, if that one’s as exhausting as its predecessor, I’m bringing a pillow to go with my life jacket and buoy.