Film review: Aquaman

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, December 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews the new film Aquaman.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Critics have done a lot of hand-wringing during the last 10-plus years about the way superhero movies have grown to dominate the big-budget film business. It’s like some amorphous comic book blob is subsuming every other genre. For western fans, we have superhero westerns. For sci-fi fans, we have superhero sci-fis. For serious war drama fans, we have serious superhero war dramas. I’m really waiting for someone to nail the superhero romantic comedy.

AUDIO: You are part of something deeper. You are the bridge between land and sea. Take your rightful place as king.

Enter Aquaman, the latest contender to arise from the DC universe. It offers something that suddenly seems revolutionary—a superhero movie for…comic book fans.

AUDIO: Of course it’s not working. It’s been sitting here collecting dust since before the Sahara was a desert. Before the Sahara was a desert. You do your best thinking when you’re not thinking at all. Alright, now hold still. Hey. What are you doing? We need water and you’re the closest source.

Nearly every exaggerated, day-glo frame feels like it was pulled from a hand-drawn panel. You can practically see the words BLAM! and POW! hovering over the fight scenes. And it’s not just the visuals that make Aquaman feel like it was tailor-made for folks who could be extras in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. From the vague mythic references to the bizarre crustacean tribesmen to the bonkers backstory, this movie was designed for people who are thrilled by classics like Excaliber or Clash of the Titans. That is, us old-school geeks.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t offer some fun for normal people as well.

It’s clear that after all the grimness of Batman v. Superman and Justice League, Warner Brothers’ finally learned from Marvel that unless your name is Christopher Nolan you can only take a guy wearing a cape so seriously. And in this case we’re essentially talking about a fish-man. Why wouldn’t you have some fun with that? Actor Jason Momoa certainly does.

AUDIO: What? Shouldn’t we have written it down first? I memorized it. Didn’t you? Oh, yeah. Totally. What did it say? “Something, something trident.”

Momoa possesses the same talent as Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson for uttering a bad pun with a wink that makes the campiness feel like a feature instead of a bug. Is a lot of the dialogue terrible? Definitely. But it’s also maybe meant to be. Or so Momoa’s grin suggests.

When he’s not punishing pirates on the high seas, Aquaman lives a low-key life as beach bum Arthur Curry. Arthur’s language and beer-drinking make him a dubious role-model. And parents should note that the PG-13 rating includes a bit of both as well as some monster-like sea creatures. But his disinterest in self-promotion is refreshing. Remember the good old days of alter-egos instead of just egos? Also a nice throw-back: tanned and brawny as he is, we don’t have to sit through any displays of Aquaman’s prowess with the ladies. That is until his love interest strides ashore begging him to stop his half-brother from waging war on the land-dwellers. It’s also clear his parents were good role models in fidelity.

Because it doesn’t make as many concessions to mainstream appeal, there’s a healthy number of people who see most of today’s superhero hits that won’t care for Aquaman. And it’s a shame that some of the movie’s excesses, like two battle sequences that are as unnecessary as they are long, drag it down like an anchor. You have to really like watching one musclebound meathead pummel another not to get burned out by the end of the two-and-a-half-hour run time. The same goes for the main subplot. Even if it does set up the Aquaman sequel, it still should have been thrown overboard to ensure we want to see it.

Aquaman is not as streamlined in the fun department as his studio rivals Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy. But having an undisciplined, uneven sort of appeal somehow fits Aquaman and feels like a step in the right direction for DC. Maybe after this he can teach his buddies Batman and Superman a little something about hanging loose.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Momoa in a scene from “Aquaman.” 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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