A lighthouse keeper finds a magic girlfriend who turns out to be the outcast queen of Atlantis, and they have a child, Arthur. The lad receives secret training from another Atlantean and becomes a superhero who angers a high-tech modern pirate who now seeks revenge. Meanwhile, the half-Atlantean's half-brother is looking for him because he's trying to unite the Seven undersea Kingdoms and start a war with the surface world because we pollute the oceans but then Arthur and his half-brother's betrothed end up going on a videogame version of an epic quest because he has to find a magic trident that can only be taken by the One True King and dear Neptune if they had just picked one or two plots and developed them DC might have had a good film and let's not even get started on the World Inside the Earth's Core and a guest-appearance by "I Can't Believe It's Not Cthulhu!"
The only thing missing is a scene where Aquaman battles a giant kitchen sink.
Aquaman (2018) is DC Comics and Warner Brothers' latest attempt to build a cinematic universe to challenge Marvel and Disney's highly successful one. It's better than some of their previous efforts, but I doubt Marvel/Disney are feeling much concern.
It's not a terrible film, certainly. Aquaman deluges its audience with impressive CGI and action sequences. Indeed, it's something of a visual effects fan's wet dream. Undersea kingdoms, strange creatures, mass destruction: it all takes place on a grand scale. Mind you, audience members shouldn't think about too much about the logic of any of it, because that flounders. Why would Atlanteans ride cool-looking aquatic steeds when (1) they can move faster without them and (2) they have super high-tech ships?
A bigger problem: the visual trickery hopes to distract us from the far better film that could have existed if they'd given us fewer stunning set pieces.
Occasionally, that better movie surfaces. The interplay between Arthur (Jason Momoa) and his father(Temuera Morrison) works quite well. When Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) head on their quest, they channel a kind of adventure serial/Indiana Jones/Romancing the Stone story, dangers and clues and quips. We don't get enough of these scenes, however, so there's nothing to ground the film. The rest of the cast can't overcome drift-wooden writing, and so we're left with submarine echoes of the Star Wars prequels, good actors playing half-realized characters who spout uninteresting and often ridiculous dialogue while standing against cool backgrounds.
None of the film's labyrinthine plots receive adequate development, and tonally, the film is incoherent. The plot feels like a multi-level videogame, and if I were inclined to play such games and were, in fact, playing such a game, I'd probably think this was a pretty good one.
But this is not a videogame. It's a movie.
On the few occasions it succeeds at being an underwater Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok, it works. The filmmakers needed to approach it that way. It wouldn't have been any less original, and it would've been far more enjoyable.
In the end, we have spectacular chaos that plays like highlights from four seasons of the world's most expensive superhero TV show. And once again, we're left wondering why DC encounters such difficulties building from beloved characters the kind of successful cinematic experiences Marvel crafted from less well-known ones.
Directed by James Wan
Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, and James Wan
Featuring characters created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris
A Cast of Thousands, including, but not limited to:
Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman
Amber Heard as Mera
Willem Dafoe as Vulko
Patrick Wilson as King Orm
Nicole Kidman as Atlanna
Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta
Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry
Ludi Lin as Captain Murk
Michael Beach as Jesse
Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin
Graham McTavish as King Atlan
Tainui Kirkwood, Tamor Kirkwood, Denzel Quirke, Kaan Guldur, Otis Dhanji, Kekoa Kekumano as various younger Arthurs
Julie Andrews as Karathen (voice)
John Rhys-Davies as Brine King (voice)
Djimon Hounsou as King Ricou (voice)
Andrew Crawford as Brine King and King Ricou (mo-capture)
Sophia Forrest as Fisherman Princess
Natalia Safran as Queen Rina