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Front Page - Friday, December 28, 2018

Critic's Corner: Special effects fail to rescue shipwreck that is ‘Aquaman’

The general public might view “Aquaman” as the latest superhero movie in a never-ending procession of superhero movies. Good battles evil, beings with god-like powers pummel each other silly without doing any actual harm and, along the way, the sound and light show aims to dazzle even the most jaded eyes.

Having seen “Aquaman,” I believe it’s actually an experiment by DC Comics to determine just how cheesy a superhero movie can become before it loses its audience.

Based on the tepid reaction of the audience at the screening I attended, they pushed the envelope a tad too far.

The story alone is a test of your tolerance for silliness. The film revolves around the titular Aquaman, who was born to a human father and an Atlantean mother, and his struggle to save humankind from the genocidal plans of his Atlantean half-brother, Orm.

That doesn’t sound too goofy until you add the mash-up of ancient mythology (Aquaman must battle a giant leviathan to acquire an antique trident) and tacky sci-fi weaponry (suits of armor that fire blasts of lava-red plasma from the eyes). A great drinking game would involve downing a shot every time your jaw drops from the sheer level of audacity on the screen.

Unless you’ve seen “Aquaman,” you’re not aware that I’ve done you a great service in boiling the story down to a couple of sentences. If only director James Wan (“The Conjuring” and “Furious 7”) and his slew of credited writers had done likewise. Instead, they built an elaborate back-story for the film and delivered it in the most ham-fisted manner possible.

Another great drinking game would involve taking a swig every time someone stops to explain a chunk of the back-story. This might put even the booziest of viewers under the table.

Characters who are locked in combat even take the time to explain their weapons to each other, which seems pointless. If you’re going to reduce someone to atomic particles, why bother telling them how? Just get on with it.

Despite all of the cumbersome exposition, the writers seem to have left out important details. For example, why is Orm angry at the surface world? If I followed “Aquaman” correctly, humans are unaware of the existence of the Atlanteans, and Atlantis sank due to the folly of its leaders.

There are a few shots of tidal waves washing trash and boats ashore as a warning to humanity that Atlantis is about to rise again, but I don’t think Orm is an environmentalist.

Adding to viewers’ woes, some of the actors seem painfully self-conscious while delivering their lines. Thankfully, this issue is confined to the secondary cast, as the actors who fill the primary roles hold it together while saying things like, “I could have just peed on it.” (Aquaman says this after an Atlantean woman draws water out of his pores to activate what is essentially an ancient flash drive.)

If the story doesn’t turn out to be your thing, there’s the sound and light show. This is where “Aquaman” deserves credit. For all its outlandishness, the film is gorgeous and visually imaginative.

The massive battle scenes are too messy for my taste (there’s too much going on to see all of it), but the establishing shots of the various realms of Atlantis and the creatures and machines that fill those places are nearly worth the price of admission. If someone put together a highlight reel of these bits, I’d pay a few times over to see it on an IMAX screen.

While watching “Aquaman,” you might think Jason Momoa, who plays the lead role, is a special effect, too. But no, he actually looks like that.

I can’t imagine an actor better suited for the role of Aquaman. Not only is he a mountain of chiseled muscle, his shoulder-length hair looks great underwater, and his eyes always look ready to fire blasts of lava-red plasma.

Hell, if I looked like Momoa, I’d burn all my shirts. But that’s not the only reason he’s perfect for this role. Any actor who can shoulder this much silliness and look like he’s having fun is doing something right.

In the end, that’s the key to enjoying “Aquaman.” Wan and company knew what kind of film they were making, and held nothing back. If that sounds like a good time to you, don’t let this snarky review keep you from seeing it.

Someone has to pay for DC Comics’ $200 million experiment.