Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
There’s something gleeful, almost lightfooted, in the tacky gigantism of “Aquaman.” Director James Wan rejects the would-be seriousness and most of the cynicism that characterize Marvel’s superhero films in favor of kitsch and can-do cheeriness. Like the “Fast & Furious” movies and the recent products of Luc Besson, it feels like it was made for an outer-caste audience. It’s garish, high-spirited, silly; while watching it I repeatedly thought of Bollywood or the ‘80s output of Golan and Globus. Aesthetics aside, Wan and his team (at times the movie seems about 85% animated) display proficient action chops; several battle scenes, including one set atop the rooftops of a backlot Italy, are more coherent and certainly more ingenious than anything I’ve seen in a recent blockbuster. And there are some wowzer images: I especially enjoyed a shot of our heroes descending into the sea, the surrounding waters illuminated in blue and red, as thousands of gargoyle creatures swirl above them in a vortex, as they might in a vision of hell painted by Tiepolo. The screenplay, credited to David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, provides Wan with a formidable obstacle course of locations, epochs, and fantasy cultures. Wan and editor Kiki Morri’s means of overcoming those obstacles becomes the raison d’être of the movie. The deftness with which all of this material is handled, and the buzz of overstimulation that it inspires, are what hold your interest. While star Jason Momoa manages to intermittently project some bravado, his costars struggle with the demands of miming the faces of CGI fish people. But even this has its pleasures: Who can resist the sight of Willem Dafoe riding a shark? Wan seems to know that in a movie like this junk performances can be part of the fun. Whenever the performances droop, he gives the actors a dramatic entrance; it rejuvenates them a bit, and puts their ridiculousness on a pedestal where it can be gawped at in a manner appropriate to the proceedings. Nicole Kidman, playing Aquaman’s mother, and a black secondary villain are the movie’s only heavy-spirited elements. The latter is entirely unnecessary; he feels grafted onto the story for future payoffs.