DC still can’t get it right. The company that Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee (RIP) referred to as the “Distinguished Competition” is looking neither distinguished nor competitive these days, as its efforts at cinematic world-building continue to fall woefully far behind those of Marvel/Disney. James Wan’s Aquaman seems to have learned the worst lessons possible in the wake of Zack Snyder’s pitiable Justice League, proving to be just as obnoxious but at least twice as dumb. If this is an indicator of things to come for the DC extended universe, you can count me right the hell out.
Like Alex Proyas’ regrettable 2016 misfire, Gods of Egypt, Wan’s Aquaman displays an unendurable overreliance on green-screen backdrops and excessively shinycomputer-generatedd effects that might have looked cutting-edge a decade ago. But Aquaman had an extra $20 million to play with and two years of technological advancements over Gods. There’s simply no excuse for a film this expensive to be so visually incoherent and aesthetically unpleasant.
As for the narrative, it’s largely what you’ve come to expect from films of this sort, running down a rough origin story and invoking a nebulous threat from an interchangeable adversary hellbent on the destruction of the world. This time it’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) facing off against Orm (Patrick Wilson), a usurper to the throne of Atlantis. Also, he wants to murder all us surface dwellers for some reason. I can’t remember exactly how many superhero movies with nearly identical storylines I’ve seen at this point, but I know it’s more than enough to stop caring what happens. Oh, the hero saves the day? Wake me up for the post-credit sequence. Or don’t, whatever.
Riddled with potholes and risible dialogue, the script by Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick is almost as unwieldy as the latter’s name, and the direction, courtesy of The Fast and the Furious franchise veteran James Wan, is possibly the worst of his career. But the cast is also uniformly bad here and wouldn’t have fared well had they the benefit of a better project. Despite star Momoa’s best efforts, he’s playing a character that nobody’s ever cared about — and not without good reason. Nichole Kidman makes some inexplicable choices in her portrayal of Atlanna, deposed Queen of Atlantis and Curry’s mother, exacerbated by some particularly bad CGI de-aging that doesn’t do her any favors. Amber Heard’s performance boasts the emotional range of a sea urchin, and her chemistry with Momoa is somewhere south of nonexistent. But hey, how many times have you had the opportunity to see Willem Dafoe on the big screen playing Vincent Van Gogh and an underwater Yoda/Miyagi in the same week? Merry Christmas, Asheville.
With all my gripes about the quality of Aquaman — and it is offensively bad — I probably would have given it something more closely resembling a pass were it not for that 143-minute running time. Let’s break this down: That’s very nearly 2 1/2 hours. Now, compared to some people, my time doesn’t cost that much, monetarily speaking. But it is worth a lot to me personally. If we take as a given that the traditional average running time is roughly 90 minutes, that makes Aquaman close to 60 percent longer than your average movie. When you make a film that long, you’re not giving me more movie — you’re asking for more of my time. Is Aquaman worth 60 percent more of your time? It’s obviously your call, but I’d say any argument in the affirmative doesn’t hold water.