A two-and-a-half-hour toy commercial is about the extent of the ambition of perhaps the most generic, unoriginal comic book movie since...honestly, the last DC one. The effects are an undeniable step up from the absolutely appalling standard of the hastily rushed out Justice League, but sadly the writing hasn’t improved any.
Jason Momoa returns to his role as Aquaman to shepherd us through a series of tensionless, studio-mandated action scenes as Arthur Curry, perhaps the least plausible, least interesting and worst dressed superhero around. I would go into the plot but I’m not going to bother, it’s basically Black Panther except if Killmonger and Black Panther had their roles reversed, otherwise it’s beat for beat with extra action to pad it out and a bit of painfully obvious How to Train Your Dragon 2 in there as well. The film consists of one random set piece after another with little seg-way or breathing room. There is scarcely any character development, the exposition is shamefully tactless and the action lacks the slightest sense of drama or tension. I remember reviewing Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and saying that when Baloo and Bagheera fought, it felt like an argument rather than a fight, here, it’s unambiguously just a fight, put there because they needed to hit some kind of action beat every ten minutes. As a result, no less than three times, characters enter a room, exposit to one another only for the scene to end abruptly because an action scene literally crashes into it. Leaving us to sink lower in our seats as characters trot the high seas Pirates of the Caribbean sequel style looking for a series of MacGuffins. It's a step by step and by the numbers as filmmaking gets.
The characters are all barely there, Arthur is swaggeringly macho and overcompensating for having to call himself Aquaman, Amber Heard as boring love interest Meera is doing her best Scarlett Johannsson impression (it’s genuinely distracting how often I forgot this character wasn’t actually Black Widow from the Marvel films) and Patrick Wilson has to do little more than keep a straight face while donning increasingly absurd costumes and referring to himself as “ocean master” and credit to him, I couldn’t have done it. Only Willem Dafoe manages to escape with some dignity, collecting a paycheque in a thankless mentor role, simply by playing Willem Dafoe, having enough inherent gravitas to make it through unscathed.
The one thing I will praise is the visuals, certainly, most of the designs look ridiculous and more than once I stifled a laugh when I saw what a character was wearing, seriously, there’s a dress made out of jellyfish! But if I were a kid, I would want toys of some of this stuff, also about one action scene in five is a little fun, there’s a scene about 90 minutes in where director James Wan gets to flex his horror muscles and it’s actually slightly intense and the climax is appropriately epic, in an Attack of the Clones sort of way. But beyond the clear effort put in by the second unit, there is nothing to commend this shallow assemblage of rip-offs of better movies.