Film Review: Aquaman (USA, 2018) proves utterly unapologetic in its decision to play everything as riotous

After what has felt to be an endless journey for Jason Momoa‘s portrayal of the King of Atlantis to grace the screens, Aquaman finally arrives in the hopes of both serving the character justice and steering the DC ship back on course after the underwhelming Justice League.

Traditionally a blonde-haired/blue-eyed creation that was often the laughing stock of the DC roster (who can forget the running joke that was “James Cameron’s Aquaman” from the HBO comedy Entourage?) Momoa’s bi-racial aesthetics were an immediate indication that the Zack Snyder-led DCEU entries weren’t to be our father’s Aquaman.

With his imposing size and a charismatic-come-cocky wink in his eye, Momoa’s take on the character was enough to make an impression in the much maligned Justice League, managing to escape much of the criticism in the process.  For his self-titled solo debut, fans of the character are no doubt hoping it bears more in common with the critically adored Wonder Woman and returns DC to a state of grace.  With Momoa at the helm, a healthy (and impressively stacked) support cast behind him, and proven director James Wan (The Conjuring, Furious 7) behind the lens, could it be possible that all is right once again?

Yes and no.

Audiences hoping that Aquaman could liken itself to the extended Marvel roster, the Dark Knight trilogy, or even Wonder Woman are likely to be disappointed with the fact that Wan and screenwriters Will Beall (Gangster Squad) and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Orphan, The Conjuring 2) have embraced the film’s comic-book aesthetic and turned it up to 11 by creating a truly bonkers production that’s an exercise is excess.  This is 1980’s/1990’s extra cheese, OTT action that proves utterly unapologetic in its decision to play everything as riotous rather than attempt remote realism.  If you’re willing to surrender to what Wan has created in the depths of his CGI ocean than you’re potentially in for a delirious ride of entertaining lunacy.  If not, prepare to sit in cynical gasp for the better part of 140 minutes.

Whilst we await Momoa’s first appearance on screen – and he makes the most grand of entrances that almost guarantees to not leave a dry seat in the house – the film plays catch-up on Aquaman’s origins, with Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman earning extended cameo points as his parents whose forbidden romance (he being human, her an oceanic queen) inevitably separates them when her world comes calling for her to return to face her fate.  The film often dips back into Aquaman’s younger years, and it oft at times feels a little overdone (Willem Dafoe makes for a nice mentor though) but, at the same time, it’s playing by the superhero story rules and it can’t help but seem necessary to learn of Aquaman’s progress as a warrior.

The pay-off with each segment of exposition though means we’re treated to an action sequence of such orgasmic glut in the following moments, and the film truly hits its stride when Aquaman’s villainous half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, having a fun nibble on the scenery) and queen-in-the-making Mera (Amber Heard, letting her flame-red hair and skin-tight bodysuit do most of the heavy lifting) enter the story, pushing it towards the inevitable showdown between Orm and Aquaman in their battle to claim the throne of Atlantis; one particular sequence set atop the roofs of an Italian village is truly one of the most entertaining set pieces an action film has delivered in some time.

As the film unspools towards an underwater battle that is so drenched in joyous derangement it’s difficult to know where to even start, it becomes more and more evident that Wan knows exactly what type of film he is attempting to sell – it’s just up to us if we’re willing to pay for it.  The script is heavy on forced one-liners, and there are some horrible music cues (want to see Momoa and Heard emerge in slow-motion from the water to the sound of Pitbull? Done!), but it can’t exactly be faulted for presenting itself for exactly what it is – a comic book movie.

Clearly not wanting to be taken as a serious project, Wan delights in his decision to void subversion within the genre and present Aquaman for the vibrant slice of comic culture he is.  Momoa has more than made this character his own, and you can only imagine going forward that his hulking, masculine frame and surfer-bro temperament will be the basis for the character.  Undeniably flawed but unequivocally entertaining, Aquaman may be more worth the wait as a project for the charismatic Momoa finally earning his due, but is still a damn fine slice of diverting celluloid nonetheless.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Aquaman is screening in Australian theatres from 26th December 2018.

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