Aquaman might be on the upper end of the DC universe, but that really isn’t saying much at all. A bloated, meandering narrative that doesn’t do anything particularly well, the film is an easy skip.
My recurring thought throughout the film was, how could anyone think Aquaman demands the same running time as Mulholland Drive? What depth could there be to explore? Turns out, not much. It feels as if the movie is padded out, which is usually something people do when they’re struggling to meet a minimum.
Aquaman does a phenomenal job revealing everything it’s going to be doing wrong in its opening act. We begin with Aquaman’s parents meeting, because this is an origin story that apparently requires us sitting through the birth of the hero. You see, Aquaman is the child of both land and sea, a fact the film will remind you of in what feels like every scene. But, just in case you won’t figure that fact out through dialogue, the filmmakers delay the actual plot so they can show you that, yes, Aquaman really is half-Atlantean.
This opening is followed by a scene of young Aquaman being bullied while casually talking to fish in an aquarium. Which, yeah, you look kind of dumb, kid. He’s clearly old enough at this point to realize no one else does anything like this.
The movie sends a shark to his defense, banging against the glass until it cracks. But even with this dangerous creature, there’s nothing quite as nonthreatening as fish at an aquarium lining up in Aquaman’s defense, safely on the other side of some glass. Do you really want to start a superhero flick by drawing attention to how very specific and in most cases useless the hero’s powers are?
In addition to simply being a dumb scene, it’s entirely unnecessary. The rest of the film takes place twenty years later; if we don’t already know what Aquaman’s powers are going in, it’s soon going to be shoved in our faces. Why waste so much precious time here?
When we finally get to adult Aquaman finally doing his thing, he’s just kind of there. He beats the crap out of some pirates, not saying much of anything and giving awkward mugs to the camera when things go his way. He’s simply ‘generic superhero stand-in #33.’ He’s just doing something heroic, with no context to why he’s doing it or even who he is; we know his backstory, but we don’t really know him, and we don’t really gain any meaningful knowledge about him during this sequence.
Making this moment worse is the introduction of one of the future supervillains of the work. He’s a pirate working alongside his father! And his father has this hamfisted speech about a knife that belonged to the grandfather that he’s now giving to his son! So of course the father’s going to die and the son is going to swear revenge. In addition to being the most generic supervillain archetype, this plot point really goes nowhere during the film. His entire character arc could have been cut without changing much if anything about the narrative; whatever he actually needs to do for the plot to get going could just as easily have been background information.
The movie continues into adventure territory, with some semblance of an actual narrative finally popping in after Aquaman drags its feet for the first half hour, but there’s not any particular moment that feels worth mentioning.
Even on a visual level, which is usually of some appeal in even the most generic superhero films, Aquaman largely fails. The costume design is laughable, so many close-up shots look like the actor is simply inserted over a backdrop, and most of the action sequences aren’t very compelling due to the film having to balance fighting with swimming.
Ultimately, Aquaman is simply subpar at pretty much everything it attempts, made worse by dragging itself out endlessly. The only thing that makes it a better than average DC film is that it doesn’t have a lore we collectively care about enough that it can desecrate.
2 out of 5 Stars