Review by Tim Robins
Release date: 14th December 2018 (United Kingdom)
Director: James Wan
Aquaman finds himself caught between a surface world that ravages the sea and the underwater Atlanteans who are ready to revolt…
The Review: Aquaman is the best Ray Harryhausen movie Ray Harryhausen never made. It delivers a lot of the same pleasures of the master animator’s fantastical adventures and a lot of the problems, too: uninspiring performances and a quixotic plot. But as a monstrous, tentacled thing burst out of the ground, I finally felt that I had ‘got’ the spirit of the movie., even though the script kept telling me that I was watching a less than inspiring Hannah-Barbera cartoon.
The character has long been a part of the DC Universe and was one of the few superheroes to survive through the 1950s. His back-story has been fretted over through DC’s interminable crises and reboots. Originally, much like Batman and Superman, he was the product of science and just plain hard work and, like his fellow crime-fighters, was the kind of clean-cut, square jawed good guy who any Forties’ and Fifties’ boy was expected to aspire to be- minus the camp orange and green costume.
The film credits Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris as co-creators, although a shout should go out to 1940’s artist Luis Cazeneuve and 50s artist Ramona Fradon, who also brought the early character to life on the comic book page.
Today, Aquaman has become the kind of figure that a lot of boys are sadly struggling to become due to an unfortunate mix of 24 hour gyms, Instagram aesthetics and steroid abuse. The character, as rebooted by Peter David and reworked by various crises, rebirths and chronologies is therefore ideally represented by Jason Moma – although the character hardly makes any sense. Publicity stills and trailers would have you believe that Arthur Curry, Aquaman’s alter ego, is a barrier reef brawling, sweaty, gym-body with all the attitude of a particularly asserted ‘puffer fish’. But just when you think you can’t put up with another quip snarled from his raggedy facial hair, he suddenly starts explaining bits of Roman history, knowledge gained, we are told, from sitting on his mother’s knee and listening to legends of Atlantis.
The plot doesn’t entirely work either. In fact, it felt that a lot had been cut out from the film, even though it runs to two hours thirty minutes. The over arching conflict is supposed to be between the sea and the land. But, apart from a few references to killing whales or dumping plastic in the ocean, and a miscevious thought that David Attenborough might be revealed to be the film’s ‘Big Bad’ , this conflict is totally sidelined by Curry’s half brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) who is trying to unite the disparate under sea kingdoms and by Aquaman’s quest for the trident of King Atlan (Graham McTavish). There’s also a throw away personal conflict between The Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Aquaman who failed to save the sea pirate’s father.
(There is a lot of dead fathers and missing mothers goings on in the story, but it only becomes Freudian when focussing on who’s got the biggest and strongest Trident and which one will get to rise (fnar, fnar!) from the deep).
None of the characters make much of a connection with each other or the audience and that includes the loving relationships between Tom Curry (Temurea Norrison), Aquaman’s Dad and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and between Aquaman and Mera (Amber Heard) his squeeze from another dimension (in the comics at least) . Alas, some of the cast are ill served by their CGI costumes; Wilson is rendered the fey, elfin Legolas from The Lord of The Rings and poor old Brian Blessed is unrecognisable (and in some places un-credited!) as a crab-king. However, Blessed’s casting is a nice nod to one of the film’s spiritual forebearers, Flash Gordon.
Aquaman’s real stars are the designers and animators who have bought the various undersea kingdoms from out of the depths of the DC Universe. At times, Aquaman charts a difficult course between an adult fantasy drama such as Game of Thrones and Bedknobs and Broomsticks; scenes with a drum playing Octopus, and vicious fighting Sea horses don’t drag the film under but contribute to a outrageously fantastical undersea world.
This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen and is by no means a “bellyflop” that The Guardian would have you believe.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for the Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’
• For an excellent feature on Ramona Fradon, who drew Aquaman throughout the 1950s, check out this article on vulture.com
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