Advance Review: AQUAMAN 'All Spectacle And No Substance'

Aquaman
Credit: Warner Bros.
Credit: Warner Bros.

Aquaman
Produced by Peter Safran, Rob Cowan
Directed by James Wan
Written by David Leslie Johnson, McGoldrick, Will Beall
Featuring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, William Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Nicole Kidman 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Can Aquaman save the DC extended universe or is it a remnant of Warner Brothers’ past? As Arthur tries to find his place in the world – so does Aquaman as a DC movie. Is it too late for this fish boy – I mean fish man, to have his own film? Aquaman is a visual treat that blends the beauty of land and sea, but fails to deliver a strong narrative to fully embrace this theme to make its mark at DC Entertainment and the superhero genre as a whole.    

After watching the Aquaman trailers, my biggest reservation was that the excessive use of CGI would bog down the film, but I’m happy to report that this wasn’t the case. The CGI truly brought the wonders of the sea to life, and allowed the audience to feel like they were seeing Atlantis through Arthur Curry’s eyes. The action sequences were also a huge highlight with its creative use of fluid combat, even if the film seemed to rely more on action than its character stories.

Credit: Warner Bros.

This leads me into the movie’s biggest weakness - I never felt invested in Arthur’s hero journey because the film never takes the time to build these characters into more than bad asses. Yes, we get that Aquaman has been the object of many jokes, but this movie seems to overcompensate for that. We never experience Arthur’s struggle when he has to choose between his two lives. It never felt like he was becoming king because he wanted to save the land people. It’s mentioned as more of a throwaway line than used as a character motive. It was a struggle to see him as a hero after the events of his first encounter with Black Manta. He never contemplates his wrongdoings - simply externalizing it. Optimistically, maybe they are saving that for a sequel?

Aquaman has such a rich history, and one of this film’s biggest deficiencies is that it attempts to fit all of this history into one movie. The narrative was overstuffed, and because of this it also seemed like the story didn’t have much to say about any individual character, even Arthur himself. But the character that suffers the most from this is Black Manta.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Black Manta is one of Aquaman’s biggest enemies and debatably one of DC Comics’ greatest villains, and his story appears to be an afterthought. While Yahya ABdul-Mateen II's acting was commendable, his role itself seemed extraneous. If he were completely written out of the film most of the story would’ve been kept intact. So why was he here? To set up for a sequel. Then why didn’t the film do him justice and just save the character for the next movie? Is it because the franchise doesn’t have enough faith that they’ll be successful enough to warrant a sequel?

Another lackluster aspect of the film is the “love” story between Mera and Arthur. Amber Heard and Jason Momoa do have strong chemistry, but the script never gives them that much to do, past punching things together. The strongest element of the script is actually the love story between Arthur’s mother and father. I wish they had more screen time than they did because I felt more invested in their story compared to any of the other characters.

Credit: Warner Bros.

If you are looking for a visually stunning film with little else then Aquaman is worth the watch. Narratively, it’s a by the numbers action flick that’s oblivious to how tedious it becomes with its long run time. Overall, Aquaman is all spectacle, and no substance.   

Aquaman opens in North American theaters December 21.

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