The problem with Aquaman is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Half-hearted environmental PSA on the hazards of polluting our oceans? Showcase for all the kaiju that could be unleashed if given a higher budget? Tomb Raideresque adventure quest for a mysterious gold trident? Ridiculous over-the-top fantasy epic, à la Lord of the Rings? The answer shouldn’t be all of the above, but that’s what we’re getting, and we’re getting a LOT of it. At a runtime of over two and a half hours, Aquaman gets pretty hard to sit through, Jason Momoa’s rippling physique bedamned.
You’d think I, as the obvious target audience, would love all the swaggering braggadocio of Jason Momoa letting loose, but I didn’t. Aquaman sucked. One of the reason’s Momoa’s turn as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones was so effective, was that there was so little of him. He was spread out through seven episodes; here, it’s two and a half hours of nothing but machismo. That’s all very well, and I have to hand him points for being enthusiastic, but the dude seems to have embraced his Khal Drogo character a little too tightly, and is unable to let it go. It just gets… painful, after a while.
Surprisingly, no one in this movie can act, and there are quite a handful of established actors in this piece who come with cult and Oscar cred. Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson – often found in more highbrow, award-worthy work – as Queen Atlanna, Vulko and Prince Orm, seem almost embarrassed to be in a superhero epic, and act accordingly. I expected more out of Patrick Wilson, who at least got to showcase a lot more of his skills as The Owl in Watchmen, but nothing can help his performance in this particular movie. The CGI is far too distracting, and perhaps the effort of trying to keep their faces straight began to tell.
Being an Oscar-winner is not a hindrance to doing a good job in a movie with a silly premise, as Robert Downey Jr. has demonstrated so often. It requires a sort of insouciance, and self-awareness, and without it the performance becomes tedious and flat, as Kidman, et. al., demonstrate. You have to really embrace being part of a superhero flick. There is no slumming it. Everyone knows the actors are in it to make money, but they need to project a sense of fun, which none of them end up doing.
Except Jason Momoa. That one is on the opposite end of the spectrum, having waaaay too much fun, like the drunkest guy at the party, capering about while everyone else awkwardly looks on. It might even have been fun if he wasn’t so aware of why he was cast to be Aquaman instead of some blonde, milquetoast boy scout. Do you know how many times he looks flirtatiously over his shoulder at the audience?
Do you know how many times he goes shirtless in Aquaman?
Too many, and I can’t believe I’m complaining.
The truth is, relying on that body can only take one so far. It just isn’t enough to distract from the reality of things: although the movie is beautiful and the underwater scenes are a marvel (my favourite visual is of Aquaman and Mera diving into the trench with a red flare, pursued by a thousand sea monsters), it’s still a disjointed, bloated mess with cringey dialogue, needless backstory and unnecessary exposition.
I’ve had it with these DC movies. They’ve had so many chances to get it right, and they still keep sucking ass. I have decided this will be the last time I voluntarily pay for a DCEU offering. Unless it’s by Christopher Nolan, I’m out.