(2018) (Jason Momoa, Amber Heard) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Superhero Action: A half-human, half-Atlantean man must contend with his half-brother, the current king of an underwater realm, who wants to reunite the kingdoms of Atlantis and wage war against those who live on land.
- Decades in the past, lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (TEMUERA MORRISON) rescues a young woman from the rocky shores of Maine, unaware that she's Atlanna (NICOLE KIDMAN), the queen of Atlantis who's fled an arranged marriage. The two fall in love and have a child, Arthur, but those from her underwater realm won't let her live in peace. Thus she returns there and leaves Tom to raise their boy and her friend, Vulko (WILLEM DAFOE), to teach young Arthur all about his amphibious ways.
Now in the present, Arthur (JASON MOMOA) is a hulking man who acts in heroic ways when needed, such as thwarting the pirating of a nuclear sub by mercenaries. But his action turns one of those men, David Kane (YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II) -- who will eventually become the super-villain Manta -- as his sworn enemy. But Arthur discovers he has bigger fish to fry due to developments below the sea.
It turns out his half-brother, King Orm (PATRICK WILSON), is desirous of reuniting the fractured kingdoms in Atlantis to wage war against those who live on land. And he's already convinced another such ruler, King Nereus (DOLPH LUNDGREN), to join him. But that man's young adult daughter, Princess Mera (AMBER HEARD) -- who's betrothed to Orm -- wants no part of that and goes to warn Arthur, who's become known as Aquaman, of those plans.
Arthur doesn't want to get involved or follow her suggestion that he could be the leader to have both worlds live in peace. But when one of Orm's actions nearly costs Tom his life, Arthur sets out for the underwater world to confront his half-brother and put an end to his nefarious plan.
- OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
- You may have recently heard about an extravagant wedding in India -- where the two involved families' net worth is reportedly $53 billion -- that cost somewhere in the ballpark of $100 million. Whenever I hear of numbers like that for something that doesn't last that long, I typically think of all of the good that most of that money could have done for those in need. I mean, really, once you get above $10 million for nuptials, the rest is just fluff. Gold-infused fluff, but pretentious fluff nonetheless.
I get similar feelings when I hear or read that some movie cost hundreds of millions of dollars with its advertising and marketing often costing just as much. Yeah, I get that every studio wants a flashy, headline-grabbing homerun, but if I were running such a company, I'd be making a bunch of $10 million films and letting the odds (and hopefully good filmmaking) work in my favor.
All of which brings us around to "Aquaman," the latest attempt by Warner Bros. and the DC Universe to create a hit to match what Marvel cranks out at least once or twice a year. With a budget reportedly in the $160 to $200 million range and who knows how much on A & M, the film will likely make back that much and maybe more. But again, if I were running the show, I wouldn't be spending that much dough on one of the lesser beloved comic book characters.
And if I were, I'd certainly want it to be far, far better than what's ultimately delivered. Sure, fanboys and fangirls (including critics who fall into such groupings) will likely heap praise on this offering. I have to tell you, however, that for everyone else it's a big bloated mess that overstays its 143-some minute runtime by, oh, I don't know, roughly 140 minutes.
In fact, it looks and feels exactly like what you'd expect a 13-year-old boy -- if he were the son of some uber rich family with money to spare (and indulge their offspring) -- would create if making such a superhero movie. It's wildly uneven, tonally all over the map, and clogs the screen with special effects that range from pretty great to pretty bad (but which are never in short supply). It also features some cringe-worthy dialogue, a hero and villain pairing that's so physically uneven the outcome is never in doubt, forced humor (and romance), and -- well, I could go on and on (and on).
In short, the flick comes off like an adolescent bender of mixing any superhero movie, "Avatar," the mind-numbing large-scale battles of the "Lord of the Rings" flicks (if they occurred beneath the seas), a gargantuan monster straight of some Godzilla (or "Pacific Rim") pic, and the legend of King Arthur and the trusty "you can't pull it out" sword, Excalibur. I can sit through a lot of bad films, but I'm guessing you might need some Indian billionaire money to get me to endure this misfire again.
That's a shame since Jason Momoa -- who briefly played the titular hero in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and then again in "Justice League" -- seems just right for the part. While he might not look anything like the versions of the character I grew up with in the 1960s and '70s (in comic books and cartoons), some of those at our screening audibly didn't seem to mind when he showed up looking like a modern-day Fabio, all muscled out, featuring tats, a beard, and long, flowing hair.
But before we get to that eye candy, director James Wan ("Saw," "The Conjuring," "Furious 7") and screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall give us a little back-story in the form of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) who finds a woman (Nicole Kidman) washed up down on the shore. She's pretty (and pretty confused), and makes short order of his TV with her trident. We quickly learn that she's the Queen of Atlantis and has fled an arranged marriage.
Before you can say "Kevin Costner in 'Waterworld'" the two have a half-human, half Atlantean boy (sadly no gills for breathing) who grows up only to have his mother abandon them for their boy's protection (after some laser-toting baddies from "down under" show up). Some occasional later flashbacks show Willem Dafoe being the kid's Mr. Miyagi, but we're otherwise on to some action in the form of Aquaman, now all beefcake beefy, interrupting the pirating of a nuclear sub by some mercenaries, one of which (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) we know will be back with "revenge is a dish best well served with a side of seaweed" later in the flick.
The main story then kicks in where we learn that King Orm (a badly miscast Patrick Wilson from a physical standpoint) wants to reunite the fractured kingdoms of what was once Atlantis and take on the surface world for some deep sea comeuppance, not only for getting to exist out in the open, but also for polluting and otherwise harming the sea and those who live in it.
He manages to convince another king (Dolph Lundgren, suddenly hot in Hollywood what with this and "Creed II") whose long hair looks as glorious as Mr. Momoa's floating in all of that water. The only problem is that his young adult daughter (Amber Heard) who's also betrothed to Wilson's king) doesn't like the sound of that and thus sets out to enlist Aquaman's help. He doesn't want to do it, doesn't think he's king material, flirtatiously clashes with her -- yada, yada, yada -- but eventually agrees.
Oh, did I mention his name is Arthur? Thus, with great power comes great responsibility and he must then find Excalibur, uh, the long-lost trident of Atlantis' first king, and pull that from a rock (or the king's corpse's steely grip, you choose) and do battle with the current king who just so happens to be his half-brother.
Bored yet? Well, perhaps sensing that, Wan and company decide to enlist practically every special effects artist in the world to fill every underwater scene with some sort of visual flair, most likely to distract us from sensing how derivative, boring and sporadic this truly is.
Alas, said effects are not always as special as they should be, and some of the action fight scenes look particularly video game clunky. That's especially true of the first one that gives Nicole Kidman a chance to kick some aqua booty, but only reminds those of us who've seen "Destroyer" how much better both she and that film are than this.
For all the flak "Waterworld" received back when it was released, at least it felt like it was made by an adult who created a unique story and setting. Here, it's like some young adolescent was given the keys to the studio with a no-limit credit card and went on a spending spree. You can just imagine such a kid eagerly exclaiming "and then we'll do this, and then put this in, and then the characters will ride sharks and enormous seahorses, and everyone's hair will float like they're underwater." And not one adult in the room will say anything.
While I know Wan isn't such a kid, the end result is the same. Yet another misfire in the recent DC Comics movie universe ("Wonder Woman" being the exception), "Aquaman" makes one yearn for Disney to buy these properties and let Marvel turn them into what they could and should be. Waterlogged to the nth degree, the film rates as a 3.5 out of 10.
Reviewed December 15, 2018 / Posted December 21, 2018
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