Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Aquaman

Jason Momoa drowning in a sea of cheesy CGI.

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Warner Bros.

Aquaman is fun for a while. It starts out in 1985, in Maine, where a lonely lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) comes upon an unconscious woman (Nicole Kidman) who has washed up on the rocky shore. He takes her home, love blossoms, a baby arrives, and eventually a squad of head-busting commandos shows up to take the woman back to her native realm. (Her name is Atlanna, she's from Atlantis—as Tom might have suspected from her soggy silver supersuit—and she's being forced to return there to consummate an arranged marriage to the king.) Tom is left to raise their son, Arthur, alone, although Atlanna does set up regular trans-world visits from a royal vizier named Vulko (Willem Dafoe in a man bun) to train the boy in the deadly underwater arts. Aquaman begins.

Thirty years later, we see the now-grown Arthur (Jason Momoa)—who has evidently spent a lot of his youth accumulating tattoos—singlehandedly liberating a submarine from a gang of frogmen pirates. Here, I think, is where the picture starts tipping over into the sort of superhero junk with which DC movies (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Justice League) are so closely associated. Director James Wan, pulp auteur of the efficiently compact Insidious and Conjuring franchises, seems a bit overwhelmed by his first foray into the land of comic-book blockbusters. Since he's not enrolled in the Deadpool school of meta-snark, he goes along a little too agreeably with the genre's stylistic clichés (Aquaman's appearances are heralded by a cliché metal guitar riff) and sub-funny dialogue requirements (dropping down through a submarine hatch, Aquaman aims an over-the-shoulder smirk at a couple of startled pirates and asks, "Permission to come aboard?"). He also allows the action scenes to wander on and on, inflating the picture's runtime to a flabby two and a half hours.

The movie's most debilitating problem, however, arises when the story relocates to the underwater world. This is a vast, teeming hellscape of computer-generated whatnot, some of it surprisingly cheesy. There are squads of jauntily cruising sharks and sea turtles, drum-playing octopods, fishy monsters of one unremarkable sort or another, and more fireballs than you might expect to see so deep beneath the waves. This is CGI at its most smothering—your eyes cry out for air, for tangibility. Everything is weightless and yet oppressive, like a sheet tangled around a drowning human body.

The characters aren't much more substantial. There's Princess Mera (Amber Heard, under a mop of neon-red hair), who emerges from the sea to tell Arthur that he has a younger half brother down below named Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is stirring up a war against the surface world in retaliation for all the centuries' worth of dreck that humans have dumped into the oceans. Orm aspires to the title of "Ocean Master" (really), but as Queen Atlanna's second-born son, his claim to the Atlantean throne is weak—first-born Arthur is the rightful royal heir. Unfortunately, he'll have to stake that claim in person—a plunge that Arthur takes only reluctantly.

The story becomes exhaustingly peripatetic. Vulko tells Arthur he must find a legendary trident. Mera figures it could be in the Sahara Desert, of all places (cue the Pitbull version of Toto's "Africa"), and soon she and Arthur are in a plane cruising above the sands. (When Mera jumps off with no parachute, Arthur turns to the camera and says, "Redheads—you gotta love 'em." Really.) They eventually move on to a sound-stage Sicily for an interminable, rooftop-running battle against a swarm of pirates led by bad guy Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who hates Aquaman and has joined Orm in pursuit of the beefy half-breed.

We also take a tour of various oceanic districts, among them the Kingdom of the Fish Men, the Kingdom of the Trench, and the Kingdom of the Brine (where you might expect to find poultry bobbing in the waves, soaking up deliciousness, but you would be disappointed). None of these fantasy locales are especially memorable—they exist mostly to provide more overtime for the movie's army of digital animators (among whose sins is the creepy technique that wipes away years from the faces of Kidman and Dafoe in the story's early stages).

The movie is a muddle in most ways, but Jason Momoa is having a great time in it – his brawny high spirits are almost contagious. When Arthur challenges Orm to a dual—a fight to the death—Orm decrees that it be carried out in an arena called the Ring of Fire. Arriving at this shadowy venue, encircled by rivulets of fiery lava, Arthur looks around like a puppy in search of a stick and says, "This is the Ring of Fire? How's it work?"

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  1. I’m surprised that Aquaman is so bad considering how Justice League was such a masterpiece.

    1. The DCEU death march continues

      1. At least they’re drowning it now.

  2. Why would the bastard son of Atlanna be the heir?

    1. Not just a bastard but a mamzer to boot.

  3. Duel, not dual?

    What did you think about the spiderman flick? With that violence, it should’ve been pg13.

  4. I’ll just headcanon this as the Namor movie that Marvel won’t make. It’s all sea men.

    1. Marvel can’t make it, as far as I know. Last I checked Namor rights were still owned by Sony.

      1. yeah, but they ain’t usin’ ’em or nuthin

  5. (cue the Pitbull version of Toto’s “Africa”)

    Seriously? Does such a thing exist? Ugh.

    1. It does, and it isn’t nearly as good as the masterpiece that Leo and his friends cooked up.

  6. Does Loder just hate DC or something? He’s criticizing this movie for it’s lack of snark of all things.

    Granted, superhero movies are silly to begin with, so you do need wisecracks now and then just to keep the audience laughing at the screen instead of at the director. But Loder seems determined to dislike anything from DC. I bet he even liked the all of the Fantastic Four movies.

  7. Aquaman needs a lamprey hanging from his torso for his sidekick.

  8. I put it well below Wonder Woman and well above Justice League and Batman Bin Suparman.

    Agreed with Loder that the CGI was overdone. Every underwater scene was visually gorged with stuff.

    ]Arthur turns to the camera and says, “Redheads?you gotta love ’em.” Really.

    Well… not really. Mera jumps out, the alarmed pilot expresses his concern because he’s pretty sure she didn’t have a parachute, and then Arthur delivers his line to the pilot, and he’s looking at the camera because it’s showing the pilot’s point of view. It’s not a straight 4th wall break a la Deadpool or Wayne’s World.

    There are a lot of underwater lava scenes which… break physics pretty badly. I mean, lots of things break physics in superhero movies, and fantasy, and scifi, but you really can’t have lava under water without the lava turning the water to steam, can you? (So I’ve now looked this up, and the boiling point of water at the bottom of the Marianas trench is apparently around 900 degrees and lava and apparently lava at a volcanic vent is 1300 – 2200 degrees, and so the movie physics are wrong but not so wrong as I thought)

    The preaching about how bad we surface-dwellers are for polluting the oceans was laid on a little thick. Presumably the tribes of Atlantis don’t make any trash, or something. And they’ve got a clean energy source that they don’t share with us.

    Momoa is clearly having fun and that part was infectious. It’s hard not to enjoy his character.

    1. M emory jogged about “Redheads” — thanks. And thanks for the reasearch! (No sarc intended…)


  9. He also allows the action scenes to wander on and on, inflating the picture’s runtime to a flabby two and a half hours.

    Nope.

    1. Sorry: 143 minutes

      1. so 2 and 7/16ths hours.

      2. It wasn’t a commentary on the run time beyond I feel infinitely sorry that you had to sit through a two hour plus movie about Aquaman. Although, in fairness, it would seem you were paid to do so but I can’t imagine it was enough.

  10. I liked how everybody just happens to have a full change of clothes on hand despite not having any luggage.

  11. My only question is: why do Reason movie reviewers spend so much time on this kind of cinematic comic book dreck? Is this what Reason thinks its audience is really interested in? Good grief.

    1. libertarians, comic book nerds — i’m guessing the venn diagram shows a fair bit of overlap…..

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  13. Batman v Superman was an underrated classic. Basically the same plot as Avengers Civil War but with a lot more cinematic flair.

    1. It’s no classic, but not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Eisenberg was truly horrendous tho.

      1. Eisenberg is bad in any role he plays.

  14. Waiting for this movie 🙂

  15. You know, if you spell “duel” correctly, it isn’t necessary to parenthetically define it. Or was this making fun of a weird pronunciation? But no, they’re homophones. Probably just a typo, but in that case why the definition? I’m baffled.

  16. Some of my friends say this movie is completely garbage, some people say is the second good movie from DC (after Wonder Woman). I would say it’s just ok (still better than BVS). I had no expectations so I could watch it without any disappointments. I like how guys from https://rocketpayz.com/ reviewed this film and I quite agree with them. Personally, from me, I like Momoa in this way. I know someone thinks it’s a complete miscast, but my opinion – he is cool.

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