After “Justice League” came out last year to a disastrous reception from critics and fans alike, it was hoped that DC would put the brakes on their current slate in hopes of finally taking the time to figure out just what was going wrong with their releases. After all, there were clear problems with duds like “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and with another disaster like “Justice League,” clearly something needed to be done to fix the continuous problems these films were having. Alas, this didn’t happen, and they’ve opted to plunge full speed ahead with a solo film featuring one of the duller characters from their last outing, Aquaman. It’s a film that no one was particularly asking for, but as we’ve seen in the past with DC, that hardly seems to matter.
The film starts with Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescuing Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), Queen of Atlantis, during a raging storm. The two fall in love and have a baby, a half-human/half-Atlantean, that they name Arthur. Eventually Atlanna is forced to return to Atlantis, where she is judged for her “crime,” but in the meantime, Arthur is left to train with her advisor, Nuidis (Willem Dafoe). As it turns out, Arthur is quite skilled as a warrior, but finding himself rejected by his people, he leaves Atlantis behind for the surface world.
In present day, Arthur’s half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), hatches a plot in which he has a group of pirates attack Atlantis in hopes of sparking a war with the surface world. It is his hope that this will cause the other tribes to rally behind him and declare him “Ocean Master,” commander of a mighty ocean army. When the daughter of one of Orm’s allies, Mera (Amber Heard), learns of the plot, she seeks out Arthur (Jason Momoa) for help and tries to get him to claim his birthright as King of Atlantis. Together, they must find an ancient artifact that will help them not only win the battle against Orm, but also help Arthur declare his rightful place as king.
Perhaps the nicest thing that can be said about James Wan’s “Aquaman” is that it’s not the chaotic mess that “Justice League” had been. It’s still a bit of a mess, but a slightly more organized one. Instead of a cornucopia of half-developed characters, we are instead treated to a select few who are stuck in a rather repetitive film. In theory, there wasn’t much wrong with the story of Arthur trying to stop his brother and claiming his birthright, but the way in which the writers try to go about it has the characters engaged in a non-stop series of scenes of exposition, followed by big, bland battle sequences, repeated several times over the course of the film’s lengthy 143-minute runtime.
As you can probably imagine, this becomes rather tiresome after a certain number of times, especially when you’re hoping that the story will just move forward without having to feel the need to resort to yet another interrupting fight. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t well done, for there’s a rooftop chase in Sicily that almost passes for thrilling thrown in the middle, but for the most part, the battles are just dull attempts to excite the audience, who have probably realized early on that the film doesn’t have much to offer beyond its relatively simplistic narrative (which, if we’re being honest, consists largely of a fetch quest) and some talented stars attempting to make it sound believable.
As it always does, it builds up to a major end battle, which, in this case, becomes a laser light show, similar to the mess found in the climax of the recent “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Just like it was there, the climactic battle is rather ho-hum and uninspired as you watch the two sides duke it out in a massive CGI-fest. Another major issue here is that, by the times things get to this point, it doesn’t feel as though there’s anything really at stake, so all you can do is just sit back and wait for it to play out in the exact fashion that we know it will. To put it simply, it’s not exactly the way a big, all-out battle to determine the fate of billions should feel.
In conclusion, the film is indeed a little stronger in story and character than some of its predecessors in the DCEU have been, but it still has a long list of problems all its own to contend with. With slightly better structuring and a better-planned finale, “Aquaman” might have been able to work, despite the character not being all that interesting in the first place. Perhaps this will finally be the one that will cause DC to stop and take stock of what needs to be done to fix their films, for if they continue as they are, the results are merely doomed to remain the same. 2/4 stars.