AQUAMAN review by Ronnie Malik – Jason Momoa stars in the underwater superhero origin story

AQUAMAN review by Ronnie Malik – Jason Momoa stars in the underwater superhero origin story

Director: James Wan

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish, and Julie Andrews

Rating: B-

Moviegoers first got glimpses of the modern day Aquaman in BATMAN v SUPERPMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and JUSTICE LEAGUE and for the most part were delighted by the rough and tough sarcastic daredevil. It is no surprise that a film featuring the underwater hero is arriving at theaters. Audiences will now have the opportunity to learn the backstory of the Aquaman tale. Stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink, AQUAMAN the movie, an action adventure film directed by James Wan, showcases a man reluctant to step into the spotlight and who will ultimately accept his destiny and morph into a beacon of hope that will untie two worlds together.

Tom (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse keeper, discovers Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) from the underwater kingdom of at Atlantis, washed up on shore injured and unconscious. The queen is escaping an arranged marriage and as Tom nurses her back to health they fall in love and their union results in their ultimate joy – a son who they name Arthur. Their happiness is short lived when soldiers from Atlantis come to capture the queen and return her to the royal suitor that waits for her below. Atlanna decides to return because if she stays her son will be discovered and killed since intermingling species is forbidden. She promises Tom that one day at sunrise she will return.

Fast forward to present day and Arthur (Jason Momoa) is now a chiseled tattooed muscle machine that is a rogue warrior trying to protect innocent people from injustice. We are introduced to the adult Arthur when he dramatically makes his entrance aboard a submarine being highjacked by pirates. During his mission to rescue the sub’s crew, Arthur leaves the father of one of the gang members to die. This sets Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the son of the deceased pirate, on a mission to avenge his father’s death by finding Arthur and killing him.

Meanwhile below the surface we are introduced to King Orm (Patrick Wilson) who it turns out is Arthur’s half-brother. King Orm is plotting to unite 7 sea kingdoms and declare war on the surface world as well as proclaim himself Ocean Master. Vulko (Willem Dafoe), Arthur’s mentor, and Princess Mera (Amber Heard), who is engaged to King Orm, are deeply disturbed by how a war will cause thousands on both sides to die. Mera reaches out to Arthur and pleads with him to become the true king that will unite both land and sea. To complicate matters King Orm is in cahoots with Manta and provides the vengeful criminal advanced weapons with instructions to kill Arthur and Mera. Arthur is confused and conflicted about playing the role of king, but with a chain of events he finds himself crossing oceans, deserts, cities, and finally discovering his true destiny to becomes the Aquaman.

AQUAMAN is a movie that will make some rather dizzy. There is so much going on that it is hard to keep track of what is actually happening. Thankfully the filmmakers do manage to make sense of all the confusion by the end of the production so that those watching will have an explanation of what they viewed for the past two plus hours. Arthur and Mera set out on a quest to retrieve an ancient weapon that only the true king of Atlantis can possess. Part of their journey takes place in the Sahara desert which is painfully long and filled with terrible cheesy dialogue that does absolutely nothing to enhance the storyline. The effort to unite 7 underwater cities feels more like uniting 100 as it takes up so much time watching King Orm and his crew going kingdom hopping. There also one-liners given to Arthur that are delivered at the wrong time in the hopes of creating comic relief. When Arthur meets his half-brother there is an emotional exchange between them, but before the complexity of their relationship can be probed, a silly one-liner is thrown in which totally spoils the whole scene. This would have been a great opportunity to explore and develop the turmoil they both experience knowing that they are brothers.

The CGI effects for the underwater world aren’t bad (very similar to the CGI in the film AVATAR) and offer up plenty of sea creatures, plant life, deep sea city views, and fight sequences that are rich with color. Then there are strange musical ques added as introductions to certain scenes that feel rather odd. The rapid jumping from scene to scene can almost make someone go cross-eyed. There is barely enough time to adjust to one thing happening and then it is on to the next bit of mayhem. Vulko just shows up in flashback sequences teaching Arthur how to be a wise warrior and there is no explanation given as to how Vulko knows the secret of Arthur’s existence.

William Dafoe proves what a good actor he is no matter how silly the role. He is a sort of Mr. Miyagi and Arthur is his Karate Kid. He looks almost ridiculous in some of his costumes and riding on the back of a sea horse but somehow manages to make it all look good. The fabulous Nicole Kidman is completely miscast as Arthur’s mother. The tall willowy actress does not look the part of a strong seafaring warrior queen and somehow her performance as the sacrificing mother is not convincing – perhaps that is because her time in the film is so brief. It is common knowledge that Kidman is a beautiful 50-something-year-old actress so it felt a bit weird seeing her playing a young girl trying to escape an arranged marriage. Why not just use an actress that is the right age? Amber Heard’s performance is flat and uninspiring. Heard was not able to bring to life the passion and gusto of other female heroes like Wonder Woman or Black Widow. Patrick Wilson’s performance is going to be compared to Tom Hiddleston who was fantastic as Loki in THOR. Wilson’s just doesn’t pull off the same believable quality as a conniving villainous brother seeking power. One memorable performance that does work well comes from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II playing the disgruntled Manta.

Is there any actor that is a standout in this latest comic book adventure? Yes, and that would be Jason Momoa. The Hawaiian born actor is perfect for the role of Aquaman. It’s almost as if the role were written especially for him. Momoa plays the sea hunk with a twinkle in his eye and manages to deliver the corny dialogue with his own unique sense of style. One of his best moments in the movie is when he finally transforms into Aquaman and owns his place as the one who will lead. Momoa looks fantastic in costume and his screen presence is unmatched by any of the other cast members.

AQUAMAN just misses the mark of being a great movie due to it being stuffed with too many plotlines and silly nonsensical moments that defy all logic. If the filmmakers had just scaled down a bit and focused more on the relationships going on in the film, then the action sequences would also have made a bigger impact. There is a chase sequence through Sicily and the choreographed fight scene between Arthur and King Orm that are done quite nicely. There are several spots in the film that are very entertaining and then the tale takes strange distracting turns that are hard to follow. The saving grace is that Jason Momoa holds everything together and despite all the problems with this production there is still some entertainment value. Clearly there is a sequel coming so hopefully the filmmakers will take the opportunity to make a much better film that will be a tidal wave at the box office versus a splash that barely hits the rocks.

AQUAMAN opens December 21, 2018

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