In the second and third seasons of HBO's Entourage, lead character Vincent Chase starred in a big-budget, James Cameron-directed Aquaman movie. Although this fictional film ended up becoming a massive hit, the show treated the idea somewhat jokingly, like Ha, ha, who would ever make a movie about this lame superhero? (That's the program's take on him, not my own.) Now, more than twelve years later, we've actually gotten Aquaman, although it's directed by James Wan, not James Cameron. No joke here -- together with Wonder Woman, it's another example of DC getting a handle on how to adapt its non-Batman/Superman heroes to the big screen.
Jason Momoa plays Aquaman, also known as Arthur Curry. He's half-human, half-Atlantean. As a child, his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) was torn from his lighthouse-keeper father Tom (Temuera Morrison) and forced to return to the underwater world she abandoned. Still reeling from this, he long ago turned his back on that side of his heritage.
The adult Arthur receives a visit from Mera (Amber Heard), who informs him that his step-brother, the evil King Orm (Patrick Wilson), has a plan to become the supreme leader of all the sea's kingdoms. This will be very, very bad. After some convincing, Arthur agrees to help prevent it from occurring. First, he must find a rare trident that will hopefully give him the power to defeat Orm.
Willem Dafoe plays his trainer Vulko, and Dolph Lundren is Nereus, the king of one of Atlantis's many tribes. Then there's Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an enemy from Aquaman's past. Orm enlists his help in trying to get rid of Arthur.
I don't know if I'd say that Aquaman is a great movie in any conventional sense, but it's most definitely an enjoyable one. Wan and screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall have decided to go for broke in the crazy department. Perhaps realizing that Aquaman is a weirdly-conceived superhero to begin with, they have crafted a work in which you never really know what you're going to see next. There's no point trying to describe any of it, except to say that when Dolph Lundgren riding a giant seahorse is the least bonkers thing in a movie, you know it's taking you to some outrageous places.
There is a hypnotic quality to all the insanity that is difficult to resist because it's presented so enthusiastically. The kingdoms of Atlantis are colorful and sleek. Aquaman encounters various creatures, some of which resemble actual aquatic life and some of which most definitely do not. The action sequences start with a few basics, then pile on additional elements that come out of nowhere, yet surprisingly work within the context. It's almost as though the film wants to keep you continually off-guard so that it can delight you with the succession of rabbits it pulls out of its hat.
Jason Momoa has been the lead in other films. In Arthur Curry, though, he finds a character that allows him to showcase his charisma to its fullest degree. Because of the overall tongue-in-cheek quality, the actor gets to earn laughs with humorous line readings and occasional sarcastic dialogue. With the subplot about Arthur's mother, he gets to demonstrate a little emotion. And with the abundant action scenes, he gets to prove his chops as an A+ badass once again. Momoa may not resemble Aquaman on the pages of the comic books, but shaping the role to fit him was an inspired idea.
Visually, Aquaman is stunning, with an elaborate undersea world created. Heard, Kidman, and Dafoe all deliver good supporting performances. The story is a bit all over the place, and the 143-minute running time is on the long-ish side. While not the best superhero movie by a longshot, enough works to deliver the kind of escapist entertainment that we all crave every once in a while.
out of 4
Aquaman is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. The running time is hours and 23 minutes.