DC Comics’ new waterlogged epic is all at sea as its relentless special effects fail to compensate for deplorable dialogue.


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a fish. The year that began with The Shape of Water (13 Oscar nominations) culminates, sadly, with a misshapen turkey. Or fish. Actually, Aquaman is the best of both, a half-breed who belongs to the deep and to the surface world, the product of “the love that should never have been.” Yes, the dialogue is that terrible. “Life, like the sea, has a way of bringing people together,” our hero intones as his story begins on a dark and stormy night before he is born. During an unholy tempest, Thomas Curry, Arthur’s father, a lighthouse keeper, finds an unconscious young woman in a silver catsuit washed up on the rocks. Carrying her indoors, he tends to her wounds, gives her a cup of tea and asks, “So, who are you?” To which Nicole Kidman replies, deadpan: “Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis.” Like Daryl Hannah in Splash, she wreaks a bit of havoc before settling down in the surface world. She hurls a trident at the television showing an episode of Stingray (what else?) and eats a fish out of the aquarium. Then Tom and Atlanna get all cuddly and produce Arthur, the future king of the big drink.


It would be easy to pigeonhole Aquaman as King Arthur meets Splash. However, the film spreads its net far and wide, incorporating elements of everything from Star Wars to Pinocchio. It is a rousing visual spectacle but the tone is all wrong. For the first unbearable hour, it builds up its Origins story with a pompous straight face, ear-splitting violence and unspeakable script (“I am bringing the wrath of the seven seas with me”). Beneath all this is a message worth exploring. Tired of all the pollution and plastic dumped in their midst, the denizens of the blue planet rise up to wreak revenge on the surface dwellers, activating some destructive rising sea levels (Donald Trump take note). Then, when the young and future king has morphed into the adult Jason Momoa, the film makes a sudden gear change. Amber Heard (the ex-Mrs Johnny Depp) plays Mira (presumably named after the shower accessory company) and it is she who asks Arthur to help stop the war of the worlds. Then, during one of their initial underwater scrapes, Arthur mutters, “shit happens.” Without warning, the film has become one big joke.


The most effective scene, before all the eye-wateringly expensive CGI kicks in, is when the young Arthur (Kaan Guldur) communes with the big fish at a Boston aquarium. All at once  the boy comprehends his destiny and his powers dumbfound his fellow classmates. Superhero movies work best when our own world is allowed to interact with the fantastical – and common-or-garden human reaction shots can do wonders. Then, when Aquaman and Mira flee to higher ground to evade the wrath of Arthur’s hawkish half-brother Orm (a squeaky-clean Patrick Wilson) things get really stupid. For some reason, they end up on a plane flying over the Western Sahara and Mira decides to jump out without a parachute, followed by Arthur. Luckily, they land on the soft cushion of a sand dune. Of course, in real life if anybody fell out of an aeroplane and even landed in water, the impact would kill them. But then nothing makes sense in this film.


From the hyperventilating music of Rupert Gregson-Williams to the weak banter between Arthur and Mira, Aquaman is a dumb, mind-numbing experience. By the end, well into the third hour, I was promising myself to check out The Little Mermaid at the earliest possible opportunity.




Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Ludi Lin, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park, Graham McTavish, Michael Beach, Leigh Whannell, Kaan Guldur, Otis Dhanji, Kekoa Kekumano; and Voices of: Djimon Hounsou, John Rhys-Davies, Julie Andrews.


Dir James Wan, Pro Peter Safran and Rob Cowan, Screenplay David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, from a story by Geoff Johns, James Wan and Will Beall, Ex Pro Deborah Snyder and Zack Snyder, Ph Don Burgess, Pro Des Bill Brzeski, Ed Kirk M. Morri, Music Rupert Gregson-Williams, Costumes Kym Barrett.


Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Films/The Safran Company/Cruel and Unusual Films/Mad Ghost Productions-Warner Bros.

143 mins. Australia/USA. 2018. Rel: 12 December 2018. Cert. 12A.