Thursday, December 21, 2023

Chaos dominates a sinking ‘Aquaman’


 I wasn’t expecting much from Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom. I got even less.
 That’s not to say that the movie is in any way sparse. Quite the opposite. Director James Wan, who directed the better 2018 version of Aquaman, has stuffed his late-year extravaganza with CGI battles, zapping light flashes, and a variety of plot intricacies torn from the DC Comics universe.  
   Earth-shaking stakes emerge, and DC Comics remain less portentous than some of their Marvel rivals, but still....
 Wan’s action sequences are plentiful but crowded to the point of chaos and I wondered whether the movie wasn’t in the grip of an incoherence caused by the force theorists have dubbed “accelerated comic-book expansion.”
  Some quick updates: Arthur/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is now married. He and his queen/wife (Amber Heard) have an infant son. 
 Arthur experiences the joys and frustrations of parenthood. But turning Aquaman into a loving father seems more like sketch material than a full-blown movie.
  Not to worry. As King of Atlantis, Aquaman can’t be a stay-at-home dad. His father (Temuera Morrison) handles baby-sitting chores allowing the plot to kick in.
  The story pits Aquaman against Black Manta/David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a villain who plans to poison the earth and its waters. Manta wants to avenge the death of his father. To do so, he needs a mega supply of a toxic substance called orichalcum, which he must recover from The Lost City. 
 Aquaman’s estranged  brother, Prince Orm (Patrick Wilson), turns up. The feuding siblings must join forces to stop the world from being destroyed. Orm is the serious one. Aquaman seldom loses his desire to kid around. They exchange banter, too little of it amusing.
  All of this receives an environmental gloss. Can the eco-conscious denizens of Atlantis join with surface people to reverse global warming? Resistors on both sides say “no.”
  It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that the movie tries to land a hopeful end-of-picture punch.  No point sending holiday audiences home with anything less than idealistic sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  Nicole Kidman again shows up as Aquaman’s mother.  I mention her because … well… she’s Nicole Kidman.
  Although clear in its outline, the story plays second fiddle to the movie's chaotic action sequences, blasts of color that turn the movie into a noisy light show that, at least for me, neither dazzled the eye nor made me care about an outcome that never seemed in doubt.
   It’s a credit to Momoa that he emerges from the movie with his likability intact. 
   Partly that’s due to Momoa’s ability to convince us that Aquaman needn't be taken seriously and partly it’s because The Lost Kingdom may be as inoffensive as it is messy.

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