Atlantis: An underwater city where crabs don’t sing and flounders don’t talk but crocodiles have flippers and seahorses are the size of camels. 

Amnesty Bay: A coastal town where scale-clad queens wash up on rocks and stocky lighthouse keepers help spawn muscle-bound Momoas with the power to overthrow corrupt rulers and talk to fish.

Put them together and you’ve got the gist of James Wan’s Aquaman

Aquaman borrows heavily from Geoff Johns’s New 52 stories but steeps itself in the cheese of ’60s and ’70s DC. It’s all very fun and exciting, even if it never leans hard enough into its absurdity or its profundity to gain an identity. The film moves from the Trench leaping onto a boat amidst a terrifying storm to Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master screaming for allegiance as he rides his flippered crocodile through a horde of crab people. It’s all incredibly confusing for anyone wanting to latch on to either of its chief aspects. 

Jason Momoa is a convincing Aquaman whose powers and mannerisms could’ve easily been hammed-up to serve a more retro DC feel. It often seems as if that’s what Momoa wants for the character, but the crew seems more cautious about going all-in on the cheese. Regardless of what the “correct” answer is here, Wan and company seem conflicted about which Arthur Curry they want to depict, and the absence of a solid vision for the character absolutely comes across at nearly every turn.  

Momoa’s nonexistent chemistry with Amber Heard’s Mera strains what could’ve been an organic, believable romance and single-handedly makes every scene they share deeply uncomfortable. Neither are terrible intrinsically, but put ’em together and watch the fireworks sputter. 

Villain-wise, we’ve got two major players: Wilson’s Ocean Master and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta. Both are passable antagonists but neither are likely to stick with viewers for long. 

Ocean Master is a goddamn enigma. He’ll spear a potential ally through the heart with his trident but imprison a guy guilty of high treason. Where I come from, villains with tempers that spectacular don’t leave decent characters alive for any reason. 

Black Manta’s arc is predictable and fraught with secondary villain cliches, but the character’s sleek design and fighting prowess make him an undeniable delight to watch (in combat). 

The film is surprisingly respectful to its source material but it needed to pick which influence it was going to stick with and build a story around that. However, a film so brazenly indecisive about its own nature can’t be expected to make such decisions. 

Take away all the undersea nonsense and you get a beautifully human struggle of a man yearning for belonging. Aquaman has a soft spot for its eponymous hero that’s evident in its quiet moments of somber reflection and less so in its overproduced, special effects-soaked action sequences. The film is 95% Atlantean fuckery and 5% emotional intelligence, a predictable ratio that nevertheless disappoints.  A film that could’ve been something special quickly devolves into DC blowing hot, shameless loads all over popcorn bucket-bearing audiences for two hours. It could be worse, though. Momoa could have a body with the complexion and consistency of cookie dough and I could be a good film critic. Silver linings are important. 

VERDICT: Underneath all the shlock and shit, Aquaman is a kind-hearted movie with just enough humor and charm to warrant at least an initial viewing. It’s trying so desperately, so fervently to communicate something that, in its current state, it’s not capable of conveying. That’s a kind of beauty that needs recognition and attention rather than derision. Tear the rest of the movie apart, but leave this the fuck alone. It’s good stuff, and it’s the kind of honest, earnest filmmaking that will push DC forward.