Movie review: Aquaman is a psychedelic fairy tale and wild visual ride

Aquaman is the superhero origin story re-imagined as a psychedelic fairy tale.
Aquaman is the superhero origin story re-imagined as a psychedelic fairy tale.PHOTO: DC COMICS/WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Superhero action

Aquaman (PG13)

143 minutes/Now showing/3.5 stars


The story: Lighthouse keeper Tom (Temuera Morrison) finds an injured woman on the shore. After she is revived, they fall in love and have a son, Arthur. She is Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), a queen from an undersea kingdom, and she tells the boy that he will one day unite the worlds of the land and sea. Arthur (Jason Momoa) later rejects his claim to the throne of Atlantis. Still, his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), seeking the throne, sends men to kill him.

This is the superhero origin story re-imagined as a psychedelic fairy tale, an excuse to take science-fiction thriller The Abyss (1989), an Indiana Jones-type hunt for buried treasure and giant scoops of Lord Of The Rings-style mythology and stuff everything into a blender.

If the result sounds like a mess, that is because it is. But everything is just coherent enough to hang together as a story and the visuals are spectacular. The scale of things here - the battles between undersea kingdoms, the species of fantastic beasts - beats anything seen in the more character-driven Wonder Woman (2017), another DC Comics superhero flick.

There is about an hour of good material here in the bladder-trying two hours and 20 minutes of its run time, which is a fairly decent ratio. 

Director James Wan (Insidious, 2010; Furious 7, 2015) is a people pleaser. He stands in contrast to the major DC Comics director, Zack Snyder, who took charge of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017) and turned them into saggy, bloated studies of power and sacrifice.

 
 

No such Snyder sanctimony here, thank goodness. Viewers get lashings of bright colour and best of all, Wan understands how large-scale action scenes work, especially in 3D. 

There is an opening fight between Atlanna and Atlantean soldiers in Tom's lighthouse that tells viewers that this movie is going to be different. The camera swings around in a 360-degree arc before flying up to the ceiling to look down. The effect is astonishing, but best of all, the viewer can actually see the action, instead of the usual blur.

Wan, born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, does not seem to care about snarkiness or acting cool, nor does he let actors showboat, an attitude that doomed Suicide Squad (2016).

Momoa, Kidman, Wilson and others are there to service the script, even when it gets cheesy, and it does get cheesy indeed, but the film's warmheartedness and clarity of purpose win out in the end.