If I were to sum up Aquaman with one word, it would be “mediocre”; not because it’s a mediocre movie, but it is a movie that is 20 years late. Similar to Shane Black’s 2018 The Predator, it is a 90s property but where Black wanted to give us the most 90s action movie not released in the 90s, James Waan wanted to deliver the most 90s Saturday morning cartoon movie that’s not a cartoon and not in the 90s.
That’s not necessarily what makes Aquaman mediocre, because that premise has been brought to fruition; Aquaman is over-the-top in every conceivable way. Jason Momoa is excellent in his portrayal of this goofy and winking portrayal of the character, while James Waan directs the shit out of this movie with his use of vibrant colors and vivid imagination on what Atlantis would look like on the big screen. Furthermore, the action scenes were exhilarating to watch; from the impressive, stylish use of one-take scenes, alongside CGI elements, to full blown chaos on the screen, Aquaman not only delivers on its 90s cartoon premise but it also utilizes its massive budget for some truly entertaining sequences.
Where it falters, is in its inconsistent use of the villains and the type of story it wants to tell. Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen are obviously all in on their portrayals of 90s cartoon villains, but they never quite meshed well with the rest of the movie; their scenes felt divided from the rest of the movie and made each moment the movie focused on them, feel like a wasted opportunity or part of a different movie. As far as the story is concerned, you’re obviously not going to have poignant character moments or a deep narrative, but the things you do want to have (witty one-liners, goofy moments, etc.) are not really there; sure, there are great moments (an octopus made me burst out laughing), but it was more misses than hits for me.
What stands head and shoulders above these issues, is the flimsy romantic subplot they cram into the story; again, Amber Heard and Jason Momoa are not the problem here, as they are both acceptable. It isn’t necessarily James Waan’s fault either; this feels like someone watched the movie (or it was screen-tested for a focus group), and then decided that Aquaman had to have a romantic interest of some kind, so they wrote on a napkin some hasty, flirtatious dialogue and threw it in last minute.
All of these issues may not sound as bad to you, but Aquaman was never going to be anything more than a goodish action B-movie for me, and these issues bring it down to mediocre. In my opinion, 90s action stuff that simply wants to be that without anything new or interesting about it (unlike movies such as Brawl in Cell Block 99), have to compete with an oversaturated market filled with risk-taking movies and creators trying new things, so safe (if not done perfectly) feels like a wasted opportunity; also, they made the stupendous decision to have a cover of the song “Africa” done by fucking Pitbull, which made me cringe so badly that I heard my own body aching from the destruction of iconic pop music by terrible rappers.