FILM REVIEW – AQUAMAN. With Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman. Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall. Directed by James Wan. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. 143 minutes.
AQUAMAN is fun enough for the first twenty hours or so, but then you have to get on with your life. Actually, it clocks in at just under two-and-a-half hours. It just feels like it goes on forever.
As superhero origin stories go, it’s actually an improvement over most of the movies based on DC comics (and this reviewer grew up reading DC). However around the third time characters are disrupted by an unexpected explosion only to learn that they need to go somewhere else to achieve their goals it gets to be repetitive. The imaginative visuals and humor are a plus, but it still has to cope with a script that keeps hitting the same beats over and over again.
The set-up is that one night, lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescues Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) who, wouldn’t you know it, is queen of the underwater city of Atlantis. They fall in love and have a son they name Arthur. However, Atlanna was to marry another underwater royal and has to leave. In the present-day Arthur (Jason Momoa) is an ocean faring superhero, who makes an enemy of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a homicidal pirate.
If you think there’s enough going on for a story, the movie is just getting started. Arthur’s half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), is trying to unite the underwater kingdoms to launch an attack on the land dwellers. His intended, Mera (Amber Heard), and his vizier, Vulko (Willem Dafoe), try to convince Arthur that he must block Manta and demonstrate that those on land and those underwater can work together.
At this point there’s enough plot here for two movies… but there’s still more. Arthur must find and claim the trident of the first king of Atlantis, and this search – and the attacks from both Manta and Orm – take up much of the movie. By the time of the ultimate and inevitable showdown between Arthur and Orm, you may feel like you’ve played a few too many levels of a video game at one sitting.
Momoa, looking nothing at all like the 1960s Aquaman, brings some ironic humor to the role, and has good onscreen chemistry with Heard in spite of reports that all was not well off-camera. Wilson gets the job done as the ambitious Orm, and Dafoe proves to be both surprising and effective in an atypical role for the actor. Heard and Kidman make the most of their screen time, but this is a boy’s movie, with both women in skintight suits and Kidman made younger through special effects in the film’s early scenes.
With “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman,” the people shepherding the DC superheroes to the big screen are trying to get out from the dark and somber shadows of the recent “Batman” and “Superman” movies. While not perfect, “Aquaman” is a definite step forward.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.