Holiday movie review / ‘Aquaman’ (M) ** and a half

“Without all that CGI fat, ‘Aquaman’ would have been much less unbearable.” Reviewer DOUGAL MACDONALD isn’t rapt.

IN preparing to create a screenplay for this DC Comics production directed by Malaysian-Chinese Australian-trained James Wan, I conjecture that writers David Leslie Johnson and Will Beale might have known about a short comic music-hall song in which the singer tells how his “father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light/and he slept with a mermaid one fine night;/and from this union/there came three/a porpoise and a porgy and the other was me”.

“Aquaman” fairly qualifies to be the “me” of the song. He’s the progeny of lighthouse-keeper Tom (Temuera Morrison) and the beautiful Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washed ashore on the rocks below the lighthouse. As Arthur, the fruit of their passion played in adulthood by Jason Momoa, he gets borne to the underwater world where his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) declares him to be a bastard and sends his troops to locate and destroy him.

Ho hum. Haven’t we heard this story before? Or something very like it. Telling it (including closing credits) takes 143 minutes. Too long, too much CGI, as if James Wan had given the key to the lolly shop to the technical team and told them they could play there as long as they wanted. The film’s only issue is that Arthur must find the golden trident (shades here of Greek mythology interpretations of Poseidon the god of the seas, intermingled with the Arthurian legend of Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone) and use it to do battle with Orm.

This escapist underwater actioner fantasy is no more far-fetched than all those outer-space ones that began with “Star Wars”. Arthur finds an ally at court in Vulko (Willem Dafoe) the adviser whom Orm might prefer to have removed but cannot afford to be without his wise counsel. And Mera (Amber Heard) a pretty woman with a flaming red wig takes a shine to Arthur.

The dynastic conflict is jam-packed with aquatic monsters mostly behaving badly. Visually they resemble most extra-territorial monsters that movies have foisted on an uncritical public in the last half-century. Aquatic animals are no different from terrestrial ones – form follows function. Those in “Aquaman” do not comply with that rule – or any other.

“Aquaman” ends with a strong portent of a sequel. Sequels seldom meet the expectations generated by their precursors. That’s kinda sad ‘cos without all that CGI fat, “Aquaman” would have been much less unbearable. James Wan made his name in 2004 directing the horror movie “Saw” and following it with five sequels as producer. Right now, he’s a hot-ticket item in the US with seven films currently in production. Enough yet.

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