Two hours and twenty three minutes is a long enough time to ponder just how perfect Jason Momoa’s casting as Aquaman is. Of course, his few minutes in “Justice League” and the two and a half minute trailers for “Aquaman” made that clear in a less Bollywood-length span.
But it’s also time enough to contemplate how Warner Brothers, custodians of the DC Universe and famed within the industry as the class act of Hollywood, where talent flocks to be coddled, indulged and showcased in posh Golden Age of Hollywood productions, can’t seem to manage that Marvel Studios touch.
You’d think that if Christopher Nolan isn’t available, they’d poach Jon Favreau or Kenneth Branagh to direct. They’d hire teams of script analysts to judge screenwriting talent fit to cook up a decent version of the “origin story,” one at least as good as “Wonder Woman,” which wasn’t terribly original, but worked and was directed by Patty Jenkins with a light touch.
Maybe it’s just the source material, I was thinking, well into the second hour of this senseless undersea quest/brawl/stunt and effects spectacle. Too many DC stories are of “chosen ones,” with only the least interesting Marvel origin (“Thor”) having that un-American “to the manner born” entitled-to-lead ethos.
Which is why I suggested hiring “Thor” director and Shakespearean Branagh. Brits get that whole royalty thing. But never mind. The deft director of “Saw” and “Insidious” will have to do. Only he doesn’t.
“Aquaman” introduces the myth, of the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman), on the lam and washing ashore in Maine where she falls for a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and makes little future King Arthur (Curry), a “half-breed” boy who can swim like a fish and talk to the fish and fend off bullies with the help of his pals with fins.
Yeah, you saw the trailer. You know the aquarium scene’s punchline.
Years later, that queen’s other son (Patrick Wilson) is hellbent on becoming “Ocean Master,” making the various other undersea realms (“Realm of the Fishermen,” “Realm of the Trenches,” etc.) subservient to Atlantis.
Then, he can teach those polluting, killing land-dwellers (us) a lesson for the ages.
Only his flaming redheaded intended (Amber Heard) isn’t having it, and sets off to fetch man mountain Arthur (Momoa) from his life of fighting pirates, saving Russian submariners (Make Atlantis Great Again?), flipping his long locks and swilling beer to take his “rightful place” on the throne.
Arthur has his hero’s quest — several, actually — which takes him and Mera (Heard) from the Sahara to assorted undersea kingdoms, extant and extinct, a tidal wave to survive, gladiatorial combat to endure, a second villain (pirate Black Manta, dully played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to fend off and the counsel of the wise “vizier” Vulko (Willem Dafoe) to consider.
He never has to deal with Mera’s compromised undersea king dad (Dolph Lundgren in red hair and beard, quite cool).
Momoa’s magnificent build, flowing hair and swagger are put to good use throughout. Those who only know him from “Conan” (he was young and not as interesting) and his TV work on “Game of Thrones” and “Red Road” have missed him growing into this funny, brooding self-mocking Hawaiian hunk. Indie films like “Road to Paloma,” “Sugar Mountain” and “Wolves” have readied him for this sort of stardom.
His promotional appearances for the film have included performing a Maori/Polynesian “haka” chant with his boys.
But aside from the odd, well-timed bit of swearing and the occasional one-liner, he’s given too little to play with here.
“Ask the sea for mercy,” he spits at the murderous pirates.
“Heads up, We’ve got BOGEYS on our six!” he shouts at Atlantean undersea pilot Mera in one chase.
“What does that even MEAN?”
Director James Wan and the many-handed script just keep piling up new settings, clever effects such as the watery hologram King Orm (Wilson) used to communicates with the hapless (and misplaced for most of the movie) Black Manta.
The tidal wave suggests Warners is ready to do the Hollywood remake of the Norwegian films “The Wave” and “The Quake” (now in theaters and much better than this).
Is it the ongoing presence of “Superman” mis-director Zack Snyder on these productions that gives each this incurable case of elephantiasis? Because “Aquaman” has that usual DC bloat about it, too much attempted, a movie not trimmed (in the script stage) into its best, most coherent story, sharpest jokes and most important confrontations.
The funniest sequence is the battle royale the king and Arthur fight in front of all of Atlantis, where Arthur’s disqualifications for the throne are listed — “land-dweller, likes beer.”
The best joke here is a throw-away, the TV commercial playing when Arthur’s dad rescues his wounded mom in Maine. It’s 1985, and the TV ad is for the late British funnyman Arthur Treacher’s fast food franchise, “Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips.” Is that where they got Arthur’s name?
“Aquaman” is already an international blockbuster, so perhaps they’ll do better by Momoa next time. A tip for Warners, though. If you’re making a movie about fish, think “poached” not deep fried. Steal yourself some Marvel talent if you want to give this guy a chance.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman
Credits: Directed by James Wan, script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall. A Warner Bros. release.
Running time: 2:23