Aquaman – Movie Review – Stunning visuals, lacklustre script.

I figured now would be the appropriate time to mention that James Wan is one of my favourite filmmakers. He’s come a long way since making Saw. He’s directed some of the most well made Horror films of the past decade, with the first and second instalments of the Insidious and Conjuring franchise. He also showcased his talents for blockbuster filmmaking when he was in the directors chair for Fast & Furious 7. James is the key reason behind my anticipation for Aquaman. I was fairly confident he would deliver something impressive.

This story follows Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) who along with Mera (Amber Heard) must recover an ancient trident, in order to thwart his half brother’s plan to launch an attack on the world.

Allow me to dive straight into the deep end (terrible pun, I know) and say that Aquaman is visually spectacular! Atlantis is stunningly realised with fantastic visual effects that make the underwater environment a true wonder to explore. Each kingdom in Atlantis has it’s own distinct and detailed aesthetic, which helps further immerse you into this underwater fantasy. James Wan’s directorial style translated very well to this sprawling epic, his action sequences were stunning to witness, especially when he goes handheld with the camera and starts shooting long takes of action. There’s plenty of sequences that are thrilling to watch due to the manner in which James manoeuvres the camera. One sequence in particular that features some creatures named The Trench was very exciting. During this sequence James flexed his horror tendencies, utilising the darkness and the creatures in an effective and pulse pounding manner. The third act is incredible to look at, so much is occuring on screen, but Wan manages to orchestrate the large scale underwater battle with a level of finesse that many directors wouldn’t have. It’s chaotic but in the best of ways. He is also responsible for creating one of the best hero vs. villain showdowns in recent memory. Everything from the characters and their costumes, to the setting in which the showdown took place was incredibly visceral. I was stunned by how great that final sequence was.

I want to give credit to the hundreds and maybe thousands of conceptual artists who contributed greatly to the vision of the fantastical elements. There’s some wonderful architectural designs within Atlantis and a large array of underwater creatures that we witness through out the film, it’s all very creative from a visual standpoint and it’s certainly one of the highlights.

Where this film truly stumbles is in the script which is penned by Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson McGoldrick. It’s clear to see how much they struggled to balance all the plot threads and ideas into one cohesive narrative. As the story progresses it quickly becomes apparent that there is simply too much going on. This results in the film jumping location from scene to scene and that really starts to affect the overall pacing, which was already hurt by the fact that the run time is too long anyway. Most of the narrative casualties lie within the second act which is messy. In fact it’s during this act where the film lost me a little, I started to become bored. It doesn’t help that the story is rather predictable too, which meant the prolonged Indiana Jones style quest started to drain the momentum out of the film. Another issue I have with the script is it’s inconsistent with it’s own rules. At some stages it is clarified what Atlanteans can and cannot do above the surface, yet later on things occur that contradict those rules, and no explanation is given as to why those rules seemingly no longer apply. I think the script needed at least one more draft to trim the fat and tighten up the narrative as a whole.

I actually thought all the performances were good for the most part. Jason Momoa’s charisma made him entertaining to watch, and whilst he did attempt to show more of Arthur’s inner conflict as well as his self doubt, it failed to materialise through the performance. I actually blame the script for failing to provide an adequate amount of material for Jason to make those moments more effective. If the story was more focused then the hero’s journey would’ve been more fleshed out. Amber Heard was fine as Mera, there’s not anything to really dislike about her performance but there’s also nothing to praise highly about it either. I liked what Patrick Wilson was doing with his portrayal of Orm, the Ocean Master. He certainly elevated the material that was on the page, and the potential was there for him to be a very interesting villain if his motivations were fleshed out even further. Nicole Kidman managed to leave a lasting impression despite not having much screen time, she portrays Arthur and Orm’s mother Atlanna. The biggest disappointment in terms of the performances came from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who serves as the films secondary villain, Black Manta. The first scene in which we see Yahya worked really well and set his character arc up nicely, but then I began to notice fairly soon after that, that he wasn’t given much of a purpose within this story. His dialogue was quite bland which lead to Yahya’s performance feeling one note.

Certain elements of the musical score worked quite well but I don’t remember most of it which is saying something, but the biggest musical sins come in the form of the soundtrack of songs selected for certain scenes. There’s a number of musical choices that did not fit with the scenes at all. One example being a scene in which we see Black Manta making his suit. That’s a moment that should feel impactful and should build anticipation, but instead the song choice in that scene completely ruined it. I also found myself rather disconnected and uninterested in the big action set piece (Shown in the trailers) featuring Black Manta that is set in Italy. Once again the music selection made the sequence less impactful than it should’ve been. That sequence actually plays better in the trailer than it does in the film. There’s also moments during the second act in which the musical score adopts a really playful sound that makes it sound like something from a mediocre comedy. During these sequences the film shifts to a tone that is far too whimsical and simply didn’t work for me.

Overall Aquaman has a number of issues but my god is it visually spectacular. The only reason that makes this film worth watching is the spectacle. The script struggles but despite that Wan manages to conjure up (another bad pun) a sometimes thrilling fantasy epic, that features some stellar visual effects work.

★ ★ ★

(3 Stars out of 5)

– T. Graham.

Aquaman – Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lungdren and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

Directed by James Wan.

Now showing in Cinemas.

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