There’s a lot about Aquaman that would­n’t have ever been pos­si­ble in the past. Creating a world of un­der­wa­ter peo­ple (and mak­ing it be­liev­able) is a film­mak­ing feat, but ul­ti­mately Aquaman left me un­der­whelmed.

The di­a­logue in much of this film feels un­nat­ural and stiff. A movie like this re­quires a lot of ex­po­si­tion to ex­plain the Atlantean mythos, and un­for­tu­nately it’s painfully ob­vi­ous in many scenes. Instead of es­tab­lish­ing the Atlantean peo­ple, their pol­i­tics, and be­liefs as se­ri­ous stakes, the poorly writ­ten di­a­logue makes much of it feel straight out of a badly writ­ten chil­dren’s book. Sadly, Aquaman is full of fan­tas­tic ac­tors who did their best with what they were given.

The score is all over the place. Some mo­ments have a beau­ti­ful sweep­ing or­ches­tra, and oth­ers have jar­ring elec­tronic mu­sic. More con­fus­ingly, some scenes are scored with songs that don’t mesh with the tone of the film. Even a Pitbull song makes an ap­pear­ance, which made me won­der if we were in 2010 all over again.

The story is also bogged down by a big CGI mon­ster fight, which in­volves thou­sands of crea­tures that you’ve been given zero rea­sons to care about. Unfortunately, this is a trap that many su­per­hero films fall into, hav­ing huge ac­tion set pieces with­out any thought of how they con­tribute to the nar­ra­tive. In fair­ness, the work done to make these crea­tures come to life is amaz­ing, but a waste.

It’s not all bad though. The cos­tumes are pretty great, and see­ing Aquaman in his tra­di­tional out­fit is a sat­is­fy­ing mo­ment. Black Manta’s suit (as ridicu­lous as it might seem to some) is straight out of the comics.

This film also nailed the me­chan­ics of be­ing un­der­wa­ter. I don’t know how they did it. The way the hair flows, the sound of voices, and the body move­ments make you be­lieve this is all hap­pen­ing in the ocean, in­stead of in front of some green screen on a sound stage. That is unimag­in­ably hard, and I’d as­sume one of the biggest rea­sons we’ve never seen a live-ac­tion adap­ta­tion of Aquaman un­til now.

The Black Manta sto­ry­line is a high­light. Arthur’s de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the char­ac­ter is clearly wrong, and the re­al­iza­tion of his mis­take set up this clas­sic ri­valry per­fectly.

In the end how­ever, Aquaman is a dis­ap­point­ing film that does­n’t do jus­tice to the rich source ma­te­r­ial. Regrettably, it’ll leave most peo­ple think­ing the char­ac­ter is just as lame as pop­u­lar me­dia has made him out to be.

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