The Move Guru: Jason Momoa best part of ‘Aquaman’
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
Screenplay by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall.
Story by: Geoff Johns, James Wan and Will Beall.
Based on characters created by: Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris.
Directed by: James Wan.
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Dundgren and more.
Grade: Two stars.
“Aquaman” would seem like a better movie if it had come out this past January.
To be fair, it’s not terrible. Jason Momoa is constantly engaging, even when he’s given bad dialogue and the rest of the movie has some interesting moments. In fact, you could successfully argue that it’s one of the better movies within the DC Universe, though outside of “Wonder Woman,” that’s not a high bar to clear.
The problem is that “Aquaman” tells almost the exact same story that “Black Panther” did back in February, and “Black Panther” told it so much better. Whether it’s the dialogue, story structure, characterization, interpersonal relationships or the hidden fantasy kingdom’s wardrobe, everything in “Aquaman” feels like a mediocre rough draft in comparison. It’s made me admire “Black Panther” even more than I did before, but that’s not doing “Aquaman” any favors.
The movie is set after “Justice League,” though there’s barely any reference to the events of the earlier movie, so it’s easy to be confused about that. We get some back story explaining how Aquaman became prince of an underwater kingdom he’s technically forbidden from entering, a kingdom that is now run by his evil half-brother. They’re about to wage war on both their fellow undersea brethren and all of us on land and Princess Mera comes to the surface to ask Aquaman to reclaim his crown. If he finds a magical triton and defeats his brother, both land and sea will be saved.
No Favors from Script
If there’s a reason to watch this film, it’s Jason Momoa. He’s consistently the most interesting thing on screen, bringing enough emotion and humor to the role that even the less-than-stellar dialogue goes down far more smoothly than it should. He’s great with the lighter moments, and when the movie veers into pure melodrama he almost manages to make it work. Hollywood needs to put this man on the Dwayne Johnson career path, stat.
The rest of the cast tries, but the script does them no favors. Temuera Morrison is warm and likeable as Aquaman’s father, and Amber Heard imbues Mera with as much dignity, intelligence and fighting skill as she possibly can. Her fight scenes might even be better than Momoa’s, which are already pretty entertaining. Her and Momoa’s performances are the only reason the romance works even a little.
Overall, the CGI is a mixed bag. Some of the backgrounds were pretty cool, even through the underwater filter they threw on everything. Some of the outdoor Atlantis scenes almost justify the use of IMAX, and I hope one of the special features on the blu-ray will be a short Atlantis travel documentary. The movie only gave us glimpses, but they were detailed enough to be worth exploring.
When it comes to moving the humans through that CGI environment, however, “Aquaman” isn’t nearly as successful. During some scenes it seems like the filmmakers didn’t understand basic physics, leaving people looking less like they’re jumping and more like they have rockets in their feet. It makes the CGI look shoddier than it is, and ultimately distracts from everything else the movie is trying to do.
In the end, it’s not a bad movie. But I’d rather be watching “Black Panther.”
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.