Justice League Aquaman
dir James Wan
prd Rob Cowan, Peter Safran
scr David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Will Beall
with Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish
release UK 12.Dec.18; US 21.Dec.18
18/US Warner 2h23
Underwater chat: Momoa, Heard and Dafoe

wilson kidman morrison
Batman v Superman (2016) Justice League (2017)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
aquaman A cheeky, corny tone goes a long way to making this action fantasy bearable, because the bare-basic script very nearly sinks it. It's a bit clunky, with over-designed cartoonish action and a constant rush to vicious-but-eerily bloodless violence. But Jason Momoa shines in a lighter-hearted role, and filmmaker James Wan fully embraces the plot's increasingly ridiculous gyrations.

The son of Atlantis' Queen Atlanna (Kidman) and lighthouse keeper Tom (Morrison), Arthur (Momoa) enjoys taking on villains like nasty pirate Manta (Abdul-Mateen), but has no interest in his destiny as the ocean's One True King. Then hot babe Mera (Heard) appears, taking him Atlantis and the man (Defoe) who trained him as a child. He also meets half-brother Orm (Wilson), who has earth domination on his mind with the help of Mera's father King Nereus (Lundgren). Some globe-hopping ensues to find the magical trident that will confirm Arthur's power. And Manta reappears seeking vengeance.

The film has a colourful, deliberately digital design that never tries to be realistic. This means that the more comical or fanciful moments unapologetically draw the audience into the goofy atmosphere. And there are exhilarating set-pieces and amusing gags along the way. This makes the urge to massacre anyone not on your side ring scarily false. It also exposes how paper-thin the script is, merely adding obvious environmental nods to the superficial, exposition-heavy dialog.

So it's particularly pleasing that Momoa has discovered his light side. Self-deprecation suits him, making him snarky and sexy in his scenes with Heard. The trite romantic touches are harder to take, but both actors play them well. And thankfully Heard is a strong figure on her own: she certainly doesn't need a man. Wilson struggles manfully under the weight of being the blindly cruel antagonist, and Abdul-Mateen has it even worse as disposable super-villain (he unsurprisingly pops up in the mid-credit sting). Meanwhile, Kidman and Morrison quietly steal the film with the most tender story arc.

Aside from a script that can't be bothered to peer under the cool-looking surface, this is a relatively entertaining bit of mindless entertainment. Wan never tries to make it look like more than a flashy animated romp, even if the costume and production designers seem to be taking it far too seriously. A little more edge and fewer murky effects sequences would have helped bring the much more involving character moments into focus. Because inky underwater action is much more compelling with added personal drama.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 12.Dec.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall