DC just can’t seem to establish any sense of consistency in its cinematic universe, and with this latest entry in the canon, it doesn’t do anything to dispel the conclusion that it’s missing the target at least as often as it hits it.
The story opens well enough, with a gothic fairy tale about an underwater princess who flees her Atlantian home and arranged marriage, falls in love with a land-dweller, bears him a half-human, half-Atlantian child, but then is dragged back to her Atlantian home to be tortured and killed by her furious would-be husband.
Fast forward to the present day, and said child is a powerful “meta-human,” able to breathe underwater, talk to fish, and perform various water-related feats of derring-do. Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, does set out on the occasional waterborne mission to serve humanity, but more often than not he’s happy enough drinking with his dad, reminiscing about the good old days and staring meaningfully into the camera while his signature heavy metal riff shakes the speakers.
Enter Curry’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), now king of Atlantis, on a mission to destroy humanity as revenge for its own destruction of the marine ecosystem, and also to destroy Aquaman, who he holds responsible for his mother’s death. Orm has his own arranged bride, Mera (Amber Heard), and she’s not so keen on her betrothed plans for war. She prefers her chances with Aquaman, so like Orm’s mother before her, flees Atlantis and joins Aquaman on his quest to claim the throne of Atlantis.
In truth, what we’re given is more a traditional hero’s journey than a standard super hero flick. Aquaman’s success depends on tracking down the fabled Trident of Atlan to defeat his brother, so the pair embark on a trans-global quest to solve clues and find the mystical relic, with Mera acting as the brains to Aquaman’s brawn.
It's part Romancing the Stone, part The Da Vinci Code, part Sinbad, and all comes across as a bit of a straight-to-video, eighties swords and sorcery tale, and highly derivative. If a long-haired, hard-drinking, heavy metal super hero with a popular DIY tool for a weapon and a troublesome brother to deal with seems to sound a bit Thor, that's because it is, but although Aquaman the comic book outdates Marvel's Thor by a couple of decades, the film version can't help but feel like a poor copy.
It's not without its high points – James Wan delivers some stunning underwater visuals, and the action sequences are blistering and well-choreographed, if a little too frequent. Most of all though, the film is let down by a script that could have been written by a GCSE drama class. The characters are poorly developed, the dialogue is stilted, and although we know Momoa can do one-liners brilliantly – his comic interludes were one of the high points of Justice League – here, they're just cheesy. The serious environmental undertones of the story, meanwhile, are utterly skimmed over. We're not asking for Kyoto Treaty: The Movie, but some debate over whether the wholesale slaughter of a species is the appropriate response to their ignorance and lack of education might have added some depth.
I didn't hate Aquaman, though at close to two-and-a-half hours it was beginning to outstay its welcome when the credits finally rolled. As a life-long DC fan, though, I wanted to love it, and what could have been a tidal wave of a movie ended up as more of a damp squib.