ALL is not well in DC Comics’ “extended universe”. Ben Affleck’s depressed Batman and Henry Cavill’s dour Superman have been put out of their misery and Wonder Woman 1984’s release date has been pushed back to summer 2020.
At least least the producers of this struggling franchise have learned a lesson. They’ve realised that like Marvel’s flaxen-haired Norse God Thor, DC’s hulking man from Atlantis shouldn’t be taken too seriously. So for his first solo adventure, he’s been kitted out with salty quips and paired with Amber Heard’s fellow Atlantean Mera for some screwball comedy.
Sadly, while Marvel recruited talented comedy director Taika Waititi for Thor’s brilliant last movie, DC have turned to horror maestro James Wan. The Conjuring director keeps things moving but seems a little out of his depth when fishing for laughs.
At times, it’s hard to tell whether he is even trying to be funny. At key moments in the fight scenes, Momoa tosses his hair in slow-motion like he’s in an aftershave commercial.
Is this deliberately naff, or just naff? That question surfaced again when Aquaman headed to the Sahara Desert to retrieve a magical trident. Here the unbelievably cheesy musical queue is Toto’s Africa. I smiled but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to. Perhaps we should call this confused grin the Wan Smile?
Thankfully, the plot is a little more straightforward. Aquaman is born Arthur Curry, the half human, half fish person love child of Nicole Kidman’s Altantean queen Atlanna and Temuera Morrison’s lighthouse keeper Tom.
Arthur is brought up on land by his dad after Atlanna is impelled to return to her underwater kingdom by fishy stormtroopers.
When we jump forward a couple of decades, Arthur has become pirate-fighting superhero Aquaman. Then Atlantean princess Mera (Amber Heard) surfaces to persuade him to take the Atlantean throne from his half brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) who has just declared war on the land-dwellers.
As a civil war rages under the sea, Arthur heads to the desert to claim the Lost Trident of Atlan, while being pursued by a human mercenary called Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ) who is in cahoots with Orm.
I wished the dialogue was sharper but Momoa and Heard do have a certain knockabout charm.
“The climatic battle is suitably epic, but it feels like you’re watching a cut-scene from a video game.”
The long sections under the sea are completely different kettle of fish. DC may have taken tips from Marvel, but they’ve learned nothing from the Star Wars franchise.
For the successful 2015 Star Wars reboot , JJ Abrams anchored the fantasy in reality by abandoning the CGI look of the prequels for old-fashioned physical sets.
Here huge battles are staged on elaborate computer generated backdrops. As nothing looks real, it’s almost impossible to connect with Wan’s huge Atlantean cast.
A large proportion of its $ 200 million budget must have wasted on plonking Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren on top of armoured sharks and giant seahorses.
The climatic battle is suitably epic, but it feels like you’re watching a cut-scene from a video game.