Sunday 20 January 2019

Aquaman review: 'It’s silly stuff, awash with clumsy CGI, daft beyond compare'

2 stars

Aquaman
Aquaman
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

With all due respect to the DC cinematic universe, it’s very much the poor relation of the Disney/Marvel behemoth, and while its films always cost a lot of money, they rarely seem to make much.

Wonder Woman is the franchise’s glowing high point, but more typical of the DC output are the deadly dull Batman vs. Superman and the positively stinky Justice League. Aquaman is the sixth instalment, and at least promises some of the wry humour that so distinguished Wonder Woman.

Aquaman was introduced to us briefly during Justice League, as a long-haired, beer-swilling super-lout with a tenuous connection to the lost kingdom of Atlantis. In this film, we get his backstory.

Born Arthur Curry, he was the result of an unlikely union between a lighthouse keeper and, well, a fish-woman. Maine keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) is standing on his front porch one evening when he spots a figure on the shore. He rescues a beautiful, unconscious woman who displays immense strength and kinetic energy when she wakes. She is Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), Queen of Atlantis, a sophisticated undersea kingdom that men don’t know exists. She’s wounded, and as Thomas slowly nurses her back to health, they get frisky, and young Arthur is the result.

This inter-species idyll is rudely interrupted by an Atlantan attack, and Atlanna is forced to return to the depths to face the music. So Arthur (Jason Momoa) grows up big and strong but both fish and man, and eventually takes to the water to battle the forces of aquatic evil. But he wants nothing whatever to do with Atlantis until one of its inhabitants comes looking for him.

Mera (Amber Heard) is a princess from a neighbouring undersea kingdom, and arrives on shore to warn Arthur that his half-brother Orm is about to declare war on mankind because of its destructive impact on the oceans. He’d get my vote, but Arthur is persuaded that only he can stop massive loss of human life, and journeys to Atlantis with Mera to face the sibling he’s never met. 

It’s silly stuff, awash with clumsy CGI, daft beyond compare. Sea men ride into battle on strangely compliant sharks, while dextrous octopuses accompany them on bongos. The fine line between who can breathe on land as well as in water baffled me, as did the simmering rivalries between the various undersea tribes, one of which seemed to be an unfortunate union of humanoid and crab.

Aquaman is an adventure without an anchoring character or idea, and suffers from the plodding stolidness of its lead actors. Mr. Momoa might look impressive, but he’s not much good at acting, and Amber Heard is stiff as a board as his fishy love interest. It starts off decently enough, but whenever the action drifts between the waves it gets overwhelmed with CGI, and becomes very hard to follow.

Nicole Kidman almost convinced me she was an under-sea queen, but Patrick Wilson is miscast and badly made-up as Aquaman’s screechy half-brother, and none of the other characters stand up to close inspection. The jokes fall flat, the story’s feeble and predictable, and the film’s 143-minute length would test the patience of a halibut. Not for me folks, and I like swimming.

(12A, 143mins)

Also releasing this week:

Paul Whitington: 'If you're not a spider-fan, you will be now' The House that Jack Built review: 'Good, bad, pretentious, reprehensible, sometimes hard to watch' Mortal Engines review: 'An awful mess'

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