There’s something rotten in the state of Atlantis—and it ain’t the fish people of the Fisherman Kingdom. Folks! Aquaman flat-out stinks.
If you’ve seen any other, uh, “films” in the DC Extended Universe, this probably isn’t a surprise. While Disney/Marvel churns out bangers with superhuman ease, the folks at Warner Bros. appear totally unconcerned with making good movies (Wonder Woman aside). And when a shit sandwich like Suicide Squad grosses almost a billion dollars at the box office, why would they be?
Critics are often accused of pretentiousness when they pan a comic book blockbuster, but trust me when I say that I wanted to like this movie. Aquaman has endured decades of weak nerdlinger jokes, and who can help but root for an underdog? Casting Jason Momoa as the Aquatic Ace was a perfect move, as it shed Super Friends assumptions in favor of something modern and undeniably badass. And yet....
The most apparent problem with Aquaman is just how much stuff the filmmakers crammed into its seemingly endless 143 minutes. It is impossible to summarize this movie concisely, but here goes:
Aquaman opens with Arthur Curry, our eponymous hero, explaining the circumstances of his birth. His parents were star-crossed lovers, his father, Thomas (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse keeper, his mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), an Atlantean royal. They created a “half-breed” baby, which didn’t sit well with Atlantis’ king. So Atlanna returns to Atlantis to keep her family safe, promising to one day return at sunrise. Then she’s killed.
Flash forward. The Aquababy is an Aquaman. He searches the seven seas for people in distress, like a group of Russian submariners being attacked by a high-tech pirate named David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). After thwarting the baddies, saving the crew, and wrecking a nuclear sub, Aquaman dips, refusing to help Kane’s pirate dad, who became trapped during their fight. Thus, an archenemy is born.
At the bottom of the ocean, archenemy two is plotting to unite the seven kingdoms of Atlantis. Who’s this? None other than Aquaman’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), a full-blooded Atlantean who hates Arthur, humanity, and sensible fashion choices. If Orm can unite the seven, he’ll pick up the super-dumb bad-guy title of “Ocean Master” and be able to wage war on humanity. Some of the other Atlanteans aren’t too keen on this idea, so they entreat Arthur to return to Atlantis and claim the throne for himself. While Orm enlists kingdoms to fight for him, Aquaman goes on a quest for an ancient trident that will help him defeat his brother.
There’s also a second love story and quite a few flashbacks tying the different plot lines together. Aquaman mostly just bounces from scene to scene, with an occasional explosion and some failed attempts at Thor: Ragnarok-type humor.
We aren’t finished. The movie is riddled with clichés. Future lovers accidentally touching hands in a moment of fear, the bad guy opting for false flags and genocide instead of sharing renewable energy science, the shocking reappearance of—spoiler!—Aquaman’s mom, who is repeatedly and emphatically said to be dead. Don’t get me started on the issues with the trident quest—that storyline has more holes than a fisherman’s net.
The real bummer with Aquaman is that underneath its plot and visual excesses lies the foundation for multiple good movies. If only WB hadn’t crammed the entire mythology into what could have been the first of many Aquaman outings. Chalk this one up as another L for DC.