Following in the footsteps of the overhyped Wonder Woman was always going to be tough, but at least DC’s previous offering was an encouraging step in the right direction. Sadly, to misquote Disney, it’s not better down where it’s wetter, and take it from me, Aquaman is another DCEU misfire. What begins as a promising action fairy tale – which sees injured Atlantian queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) wash up on the earthly shores, fall in love with lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Tuemera Morrison) and raise the rightful heir to the throne Arthur (Jason Momoa) – very quickly becomes another bloated superhero story that lazily apes everything Marvel has already thrown our way. Every beat feels like a maladroit rehash of the MCU’s Thor and Black Panther, from the Shakespearean undertones to the arena fisticuffs for the throne, and DC show once again that they’re still out of their depths compared to the competition. You’d think the studio would have learned a lesson or two by now and made sure the script was waterproof. Instead, they’ve settled for a metronome-predictable origin story with more clunky attempts at zingers than you can wave a trident at.
Leaving the studio comparisons aside, not even Hawaiian hunk Momoa manages to give the film enough mileage to save it from director James Wan’s insistence on gauche corniness, risible slow-motion zooms, and a videogame construction that at one point features a Mortal Kombat-style stat chart before a dramatic battle. Many will give these elements a pass because of their colourful and campy aspirations but the reality is that any tongue-in-cheek self-awareness Aquaman initially teases is rapidly cast aside for uninspired CGI tedium.
But even these elements are a minor nuisance compared to the main offender here, for which there is no excuse: the music. Rupert Gregson-Williams generic original score, laughably laden with bombastic “dun dun duuuuun”s, is one thing; but there’s a special place in cinema hell for the person who greenlit the howlingly bad song inserts. From Depeche Mode’s “It’s No Good” mismatched with a montage of a villain tooling up, to the inclusion of Roy Orbison’s ballad “She’s a Mystery to Me” to illustrate the lustful awakenings between the titular hero and Amber Heard’s Ariel-like love interest Mera, it’s all a cringe-inducing mess. By far the worst offender, though, is Pitbull’s “Ocean to Ocean”, an excruciating remix of Toto’s “Africa” that provoked audible derision in the screening I attended.
Aquaman | Directed by James Wan (US, 2018), with Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman. Starts December 20.
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