The sixth in the DC Extended Universe movie franchise, “Aquaman” is fun, but it’s also a bit much. It ranks below “Wonder Woman,” above “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman” and somewhere in the middle with “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League.”
“Aquaman” takes a cue from Marvel movies like “Iron Man” and “Ant-Man,” starting with a B-level hero. Less is at stake, so more fun can be had.
Jason Momoa — who also played the character in “Justice League” — looks nothing like the clean-cut, blond hero in the old “Super Friends” Saturday morning cartoon, and he gets to break all the rules.
He rescues some sailors from a hijacked submarine and asks them to hurry up; he’s missing happy hour.
Momoa, once a glowering, monosyllabic lump playing serious roles (in the dreadful “Conan the Barbarian”), was allowed to be funny (in “The Bad Batch” and “Once Upon a Time in Venice”) and became likable. His humor pops out here.
Director James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious,” “The Conjuring”) an exceptional genre filmmaker — one of the few that understands movement through three-dimensional space within a two-dimensional image — is also good.
Yet after his foray into the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, his films have rambled on for well over two hours. While “Furious 7” and “The Conjuring 2” never felt too long, “Aquaman” does.
In the story, written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a tale by Wan, Geoff Johns and Will Beall, Aquaman, a half-breed known as “Arthur,” is born to an Atlantean queen (Nicole Kidman) and a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison). Realizing her child is in danger, the queen returns to Atlantis, where she is presumably executed.
Meanwhile, her other son, Orn (Patrick Wilson), wants to unite the undersea kingdoms and declare war on the surface dwellers. If Arthur can challenge him to the throne and take over, he can stop the war. But first he must solve ancient puzzles and secure a powerful trident, said to be a legend.
An Atlantean princess, Mera (Amber Heard), commits an unforgivable act to help Arthur. But a new villain, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is bent on destroying our hero.
Scenes between Arthur and Mera are quite lovely, but interrupted by explosions. The screenplay must have had the line “suddenly, they are interrupted by an explosion” copied and pasted randomly several times throughout.
The crushing number of explosions, fights, crashes and smashes, often with a screen full of combatants, drags down the film. It’s wearying. A long fight in Sicily isn’t thrilling, but causes concern over the damage done to a sweet little seaside down.
A final, busy underwater melee has so much information darting around the corners of the screen, viewers may want to close their eyes.
This penchant for overt destruction is a leftover signature of Zack Synder, who directed the first, and worst, of the DCEU films, and remains on board as a producer.
Another of his annoying touches — characters dropping from great heights and landing in a “cool” pose, like a super runway model — is here, too, repeatedly.
A cameo from another Justice League member, say Ezra Miller’s goofy Flash, would have been helpful, but there’s no such luck.
End credits promise more Aquaman. If that’s the case, let’s hope what’s next has fewer explosions, battles and attempts at coolness, and more Jason Momoa and James Wan, who actually are cool.
Two and a half stars
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall
Directed by: James Wan
Running time: 2 hours, 23 minutes