THE OCEAN — The first scene of a movie is like the first line of a book: If done right, it will set the tone for the rest of the story.
I got a pretty good idea of what to expect from the opening scene of “Aquaman” when a lighthouse keeper risks his own life in an attempt to make sure the shutters of his windows are open — during a horrible storm.
The logic made no sense to me, but I was willing to keep my mind open to a deeper meaning if it were to appear later in the movie.
Nope. It was never revisited or made sense, nor did it resolve itself anywhere else in the movie. That summed up the entire “Aquaman” experience.
This is not to say the film was all bad. There are a few areas where the movie excelled, but many where it did not. Here's a rundown of what worked and what didn't in this movie.
The imagined worlds are inventive
There is a lot to be said for the amount of work that goes into dreaming up and creating an imaginary world filled with previously nonexistent creatures.
The people who designed and executed the look of this film did a fantastic job with creating hundreds of new sea creatures to populate the expansive environments. Everything from weaponized seahorses to sharks with lasers on their heads was included in this film. The battle scenes were massive and required a lot of biological fodder.
Usually, my one big complaint about imaginary worlds is they seem too sterile and boring. The underwater worlds of Atlantis were anything but. Each environment was unique and beautifully thought out.
However, there were some areas in costuming where it was obvious the filmmakers either ran out ideas or time to execute a well-thought-out suit of armor or wardrobe.
The cinematography is beautiful, occasionally
This compliment applies to only a few scenes out of many, but there were times when it felt like I was witnessing something special as the action sequences unfolded.
One scene that comes to mind is a shot split between open air and underwater as Aquaman dives from a ship to the bottom of the ocean. In this scene, he is being chased by uncountable numbers of mean-looking sea creatures to the ocean floor.
It was a beautifully conceived scene that filled the whole screen and gave a sense of depth and darkness to the ocean. While this and a few other scenes stood out, there were many more that fell short or just did not work at all.
At 2.5 hours, “Aquaman” definitely pushed the limits of what I was comfortable sitting through. The film had a lot of political story to tell which got rather boring in a lot of places.
To fill in between the more boring scenes there were a lot of slow-motion shots of Jason Momoa whipping his long hair around "Little Mermaid"-style every time he turned toward the camera.
The casting is confusing
I don't often have a problem with casting decisions, but this time I was completely baffled by some of the choices.
The big one that stands out to me is the decision to cast Patrick Wilson as the younger brother to Jason Momoa. Not that Wilson couldn’t act like a younger brother, but there is just no way he could ever not look like a middle-aged man.
Wilson is 45 years old and has been associated mostly with roles where he is that age or older. He has a very mature screen presence and trying to play him younger did not work.
Probably a good chunk of the special effects budget for "Aquaman" was spent on CGI to make Wilson look younger. The technology was used to make a lot of the actors look younger throughout the film as well, which doesn't work very well.
The dialogue doesn't work
There's a lot at stake when you are making a big budget movie and you don’t want to lose your audience to flowery dialogue or anything else that will require a lot of thought.
But there is a point when a watered-down script becomes insulting.
If a film is telling a common story, it shouldn't be restricted to repeating common cliches in dialogue or lazy script writing. There are more scenes than I can count in "Aquaman" where I rolled my eyes as joke after joke fell flat.
There's so much untapped potential
I have said it before, but I prefer the DC Comics Universe over the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of quality and depth of the superhero bench.
I like the darker side of DC and there is a ton of potential just waiting to be released. Films like the “The Dark Knight” tap into this perfectly. But for most of the other DC universe movies, it feels like a dark color palette and a shallow storyline is all they can come up with.
“Aquaman” does not have the depth to make it a great movie. Instead, it skims the surface of what a DC superhero movie can be.
The action was exciting at times, and the story was robust but that isn’t enough to emotionally invest in what should be an exciting character and story arc.
"Aquaman" is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. Check KSL.com later this week for a parents content guide for the movie.