Given the uneven quality of its DC Extended Universe entries, Warner Bros. comes pretty close to giving its target comics audience what it wants in this adaptation starring Jason Momoa and Nicole Kidman.
Aquaman consists of extremely elemental dialogue exchanges surrounded by a flood of waterlogged action sequences. Like Wonder Woman, this one is considerably boosted by the appeal of the actor playing the title character, in this case likable hunk Jason Momoa, promoted to leading man after previously appearing in more limited scenes in 2016's ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and last year's ‘Justice League’.If you want a real movie with real characters using something beyond a third-grade vocabulary, on or near water, ‘Aquaman’ will be a very trying two and a half hours. The laws of physics are meant to be broken, characters make easy-to-understand statements rather than have conversations, and the resemblance to a video game is more pronounced than is any kinship with real movies made before this century.
However, Aquaman is so elemental in its tall-tale telling and its concentration on royalty and the overriding significance of battle that it feels closer in nature to myth than do most comics-derived epics. This is arguably what works in its favor in comparison to most Warner Bros./DC features other than those by Christopher Nolan. Even as it indulges its technical wizardry, the film is most rooted in its scenes of greeting, farewell and the clashes of titans in the ancient sense.
Lying beneath the waves, among other things, are Atlantis and its citizenry, who can talk and move and scheme and fight just like people and superheroes do on the surface. It's a monarchic world, one lorded over by King Orm (Patrick Wilson), looking mean and dashing, with a vast army at his disposal, although Arthur has underwater kin himself in the person of royal counsel Vulko.
Amid his vast oceanic tour, Arthur joins up with scarlet-haired beauty Mera (Amber Heard, rather one-note), the princess of another ocean district presided over by King Nereus. Arthur and Mera make a fine-looking pair, although it takes quite a while for anything to percolate between them, she being all business and he being pretty chill about everything unless really pressed.
There are innumerable action sequences in ‘Aquaman’, as if pulled out of a hat on cue to sate the appetites of the gathered masses. The majority of the time, the action set pieces seems quite arbitrary, no doubt because they are, dictated by the requirements of the format rather than by some organic, intrinsic narrative necessity. This saddles the overlong film with a ponderous, grinding feel, one driven by a sense of obligation more than the glee of inspiration.
Given this, one is grateful to have Momoa for company. Unlike some strutters who can't hide how delighted they are to show off their trainer-honed bods, Momoa wears his superb physique casually and his take-it-or-leave-it, devil-may-care attitude makes the narrative's long haul much easier to bear. It's hard to intuit from this sort of film what else the actors in them might be capable of - Henry Cavill has since shown abilities never hinted at in his Superman outings - but Momoa holds center screen easily and has a lightness that counterbalances his size very nicely.There is scarcely a scene in Aquaman that couldn't have benefited from the fun sense of wit and surprise that Momoa delivers more or less on his own. Kidman supplies short-lived warmth and gravitas as Aquaman's mum, while Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has a side role as a vengeance-minded fighter. Technically, the film is everything its fan base wants and expects, and the underwater setting imparts a sometimes enchanted feel that at least distinguishes it from most other superhero epics.