‘Aquaman’ Dives Deep into Atlantis but Forgets Plot

“Aquaman” effortlessly enlivens the grand kingdom of Atlantis, investing the audience in a classic hero’s journey that traverses the world and the seven seas. Directed by James Wan, “Aquaman” clocks in at a hefty two hours and 22 minutes. Time initially flies by, jumping from event to event, but as the conclusion approached, I found myself wondering how the movie would come together in such a short period of time. With fight scenes flawlessly transitioning to comedic moments, the movie succeeds in gripping the audience’s attention in a world where magic exists alongside the advanced technology of a long-forgotten kingdom. The film builds on the DC Extended Universe, expanding on previously introduced heroes that increases the overall diversity of the superhero lineup.

The characters were memorable, leaving me excited for characters such as Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), to reappear on screen. Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa, is a strong-willed, true-to-himself, hero to his brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson), whose fierce nationalism comprises the main conflict of the movie. The team of Aquaman, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) and Vulko (Willem Dafoe) play to each others’ strengths. Aquaman is fiery, bold and quick-tempered, while Mera is level-headed in stressful situations, adapting on the fly as Vulko’s carefully drawn-out plans seemingly fall apart.

In contrast to the impressive cast of characters, the plot is cliched. The main conflict — a war between the surface world and Atlantis — is introduced early in the movie, but before action is taken to resolve this dispute, a large amount of additional backstory is introduced. As the movie progresses, and the journey to keep the peace between the surface and Atlantis begins, some major ground needs to be covered; a resolution is nowhere in sight. This causes some of the film’s progression to feel rushed, including the development of the relationship between the main heroes.The cinematography is high-quality, along with the animation of the actors’ armor and weapons in close-ups.

The strength of the movie comes from how the characters interact with one another and the development of their relationships. Late into the movie’s progression, however, new characters that have little-to-no impact on the story are introduced, which weakens these strong connections. Similarly, the fight scenes are choreographed to make it feel as though audience members are watching from five feet away: each blow can be felt, and the debris flying towards the camera made the audience visibly flinch. While the fighting looked true-to-life up close, it began to look more computer-generated from a distance. This effect, however, was not seen during moments in which the camera angle was perpendicular to Aquaman and Princess Mera swimming into the deep ocean. Of all the perspectives, this cross-section view near the climax of the film is the most interesting, as it communicates everything that happens in the space surrounding the protagonists, such as the sheer amount of creatures surrounding them and the direness of the situation they’re in.

The film uses parallel structure to communicate a multitude of actions occurring in single moment. For example, when Aquaman and Mera fight a squadron of enemies in different places across a city, the audience does not lose track of where they are. Earlier, we see Vulko, a trusted adviser to recent rulers of Atlantis, train Aquaman through his childhood; these flashbacks are interrupted by present-day conversations with Princess Mera about Atlantis, all with smooth transitions as Aquaman dives under water or as the camera pans around his head.

The audience is occasionally left with an overload of information that lacks context. Over time, this information falls into place, but there are times where the pieces don’t fit together or hit a dead end. This confusion is seen with David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and the backstory behind his pirate squad during the film’s introduction. The backstory establishes a large rivalry that isn’t as featured as heavily as is anticipated, and it is resolved weakly in the set-up of a potential sequel.

Overall, “Aquaman” is filled to the brim with action and lore, but prioritizes that over forwarding the plot, giving the audience more information about the world than the progression of the story. Anyone seeking two and a half hours of mindless entertainment might want to look elsewhere, but “Aquaman” is an excellent choice for someone looking for a witty adventure involving kicking butt and the lost kingdom of Atlantis.

Grade: B