American films

Aquaman film review: James Wan’s underwater adventure may be the oddest DC Universe film yet

  • The superhero from the Justice League gets his own stand-alone film
  • Jason Momoa plays Aquaman and gives the story much needed humour and heart
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 11:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 12:53pm

2.5/5 stars

After his introduction in last year’s Justice League film, the “king of the seas” gets his own stand-alone adventure. And what a curio Aquaman is: full of bizarre sights that bring the DC Comics character’s world vividly to life, but in a manner that will leave you scratching your head for half the film.

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Imagine the sight of Willem Dafoe’s Buddha-like figure riding a hammerhead shark like it’s a horse. Or Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and the red-headed Mera (Amber Heard) munching on a bunch of roses like they’re candyfloss. And, for good measure, a giant octopus playing the drums in the depths of the ocean – ‘bizarre’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The film is directed by James Wan, who cut his teeth on horror (Insidious, The Conjuring) but also helmed the seventh Fast and the Furious film, so is familiar with the demands of franchise filmmaking. This is a competent enough origin story, but its oddball nature means that it’s unintentionally hilarious at times.

Beginning with how Aquaman’s parents met, we see lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescue a woman on the rocks – Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), Queen of Atlantis. They have a child, Arthur, but when guardians of the deep come looking for her, she returns below for the safety of her son.

Years later, Momoa’s Arthur – Aquaman as he’s being dubbed – is a “surface-dweller”, though remarkably at one with the ocean. But it’s only when Mera arrives, asking for his help, that he finally visits Atlantis. His mother is now dead and his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) wants to become “ocean master” and wage war on those above.

There’s a very telling scene where Orm sends all the waste that’s been dumped in the ocean back to the surface – a moment where Wan’s film suddenly finds its voice and contemporary relevance. Unfortunately, this thread is never sustained, as Arthur and Mema go back on land in search of a trident that will allow him to defeat Orm.

From the Sahara to Sicily, the locations are unusual and, it should be said, Atlantis is beautifully rendered. But in the underwater battle in the final act, there is so much CGI you can practically hear the hard drives groaning. Through all this, though, Momoa stands tall. He brings humour and heart to a film that is desperately in need of it.

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