In Review: ‘Aquaman’

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | jan. 2019

I didn't expect the world from “Aquaman”; I'll freely admit I don't know the source material at all and having refused to watch Justice League, I only know the character from a few snippets that I've happened across. Jason Mamoa certainly does his job, he's a charming enough presence with a sense of humor, and there are plenty of decent turns in the acting department across the cast, but this is another DC film that follows the philosophy that more is better — ironic considering this film's best moments are when it stops to give the actors a moment to do something other than break things.

Acting as the slightly too late “origins” story for Aquaman, we're introduced to his parents, who, after a slightly awkward introduction, become lovers and soon baby Arthur Curry is born and grows to be the reluctant superhero/Atlantian king when we get to see him square off against a high-tech pirate who's trying to hijack a Russian submarine. Not that this matters that much, this only sets up a waste of time in the form of Manta, a villain that just needs to die quickly so we don't have to suffer his presence anymore. He comes and goes and has very little importance to anything other than to throw in a human bad guy other than, well, the entire human race who gets a slap from the story for all our bad ways. The rest of the story is a familiar battle of kings, queens and wannabe's that should suit Mamoa well given his “Game of Thrones” background. For what it's worth, the opening is actually pretty decent with enough of the “dark and gritty” brutality that DC fans seem to want, fun action and some nice character introduction but this does not last.

“Aquaman” soon drops into being a relentless assault on the audience using sight and sound as its weapons and relentless is the key word here. It barely pauses for breath as director James Wan pummels the screen with gaudy neon CG and ludicrous numbers of bad guys all while refusing to have the camera calm the hell down. The result: nausea and confusion. Visually it's a desperate mess as a dense clutter of things are thrown at the screen while the camera wheels, whirls and swoops almost non stop while the score refuses to acknowledge anything as being less than epic at any time.

Then there's the writing. The story is overloaded. Why Manta is here is beyond me as he provides little more than a distraction at best, an annoyance at worst, and the entire subplot could have — and should have been — jettisoned to bring the run time down. He provides very little more than some minor character arc for Aquaman here and is so thoroughly charmless that he's not even an enjoyable bad guy. His fate was no more important to me than most of the secondary bad guys in this film and that just adds up to being extra baggage the film is carrying that it just didn't need. The main thread of the story is not a bad per se, it's just not very original, and unfortunately even this feels bloated; in short, everything needed stripping back a bit as the story and the production ironically drowns in overindulgence and even the decent performances feel relegated to being second class citizens in this cluster-fudge of post-production excess.

It's all so heavily overbaked and unfocused and oddly I found this more disheartening than I did with the abysmal “Batman V Superman,” probably because this at least has some promise, but when there are literally thousands of faceless enemies being hurled at two heroes in just one sequence alone, then it all loses any sense of awe and suspense and just becomes ridiculous beyond parody.

The things that are wrong with this movie are the very same things that heavily colored BvS, things like an over-reliance on visual noise, the hammy dialogue and overextended action scenes. When it does occasionally calm down there are some genuinely decent moments, not least between Aquaman and his father and between his mother and his father at the beginning, and the fundamentals of the story, as unremarkable as they are, are not bad; it's just that the excesses of the film do tend to swamp the quieter moments by outweighing them so heavily. It's tiring on the eyes to watch this film, it just doesn't stop to breathe and it throws stuff at you like the CG is going out of date and CG is a big part of the problem here. The possibilities that CG offers are abused here, after all, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. A dozen bad guys can portray threat as well as several hundred if used right and there are occasions in this film where “more and bigger” enemies are thrown around as a way to try and escalate the stakes, sadly it just comes over as ludicrous and self-indulgent as the main characters become dwarfed by the scale of it all, it doesn't feel epic, it just begins to feel like the rantings of a sugar tripping toddler.

To be honest, I'm fed up with having to say bad things about DC's films, I wish they were capable of getting a grip on themselves and concentrating on doing justice to the characters rather than relying solely on spectacle to bedazzle their audience. While “Aquaman” does go a little of the way towards course correction for DC, it fumbles the ball in this largely crude reflection of Marvel's successes and it's mostly in the writing and direction where these problems originate. Aquaman, the character, is at least a hero here, a slightly flawed one but a hero nonetheless, and for that I'm grateful but come on, DC, please put the story front and center and dial back the smashing together of toys.


He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

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