Sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads, and they still managed to screw it up

Aquaman. My favorite comic book as a kid, about a guy who can breathe underwater and talk to fish. I was looking forward to this movie, and the trailer had some promising hints…like when, as a boy, Aquaboy is being bullied in an aquarium and all the fish come to the glass and intimidate the bad kids by staring at them. That’s the Aquaman I wanted to see, where the power was all about communication and cooperation with marine creatures.

That’s not what we got. It’s another fantasy movie about a muscle-bound lunk getting his way. I had so many problems sitting through this crap.

  1. Jason Momoa can’t act. He’s big and hairy and flippant, but that’s it. There’s zero chemistry with the love interest that’s shoe-horned in — we’re never given any reason why Mera would find him interesting or attractive, other than that maybe she’s shallow and only interested in his hunky body.
  2. What is his superpower?. He seems to be a wet superman. Early on, he’s shot by what looks like a hand-held cannon with exploding shells — they knock him down, but all he says is “ow” as he gets back up. Yet later he’s pierced by a trident through the upper chest and shoulder (it’s only a flesh wound of course, he’s all better a few minutes later). His vulnerability fluctuates as the plot requires.
  3. Everyone is superpowerful. It gets to be a bit much. There’s a scene in the trailer where Mera and Aquaman casually jump out of an airplane flying over the Sahara Desert — they fall thousands of feet, hit the sand with a bit of a whoomf, and then walk on to their destination. Later, there are a couple of literal cliffhangers, with Mera rescued from falling into a chasm by Aquaman, and I’m just thinking — let her fall. She’ll bounce. There are no stakes here.
  4. The plot is a pathetic scavenger hunt. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s a grand macguffin that will allow him to defeat the bad guy, and the hero has to follow a trail of clues around the world to find it. It’s the laziest plot device ever.
  5. The writers are too lazy to maintain even that thin thread of a plot. Step 1: Go to ancient cave in Sahara Desert, use widget to find map to Sicily and another widget. Step 2: Go to Sicily, use Widget #2 to spy two islands in the Mediterranean, then, aww, fuckit, this is boring. Skip islands. Steal fishing boat, putt-putt straight to the end boss to fight over macguffin.
  6. The world is tiny and weightless. How do they get from the middle of the Sahara Desert to Sicily? They just do. Walk, maybe? They take that stolen fishing boat to the Trench Kingdom, which is presumably somewhere deep in the Western Pacific. So…Sicily, through the Straits of Gibraltar, south to the southern hemisphere, round the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean, north along the coast of South Asia…takes maybe most of the afternoon, and next thing you know their boat is being overrun by toothy Lovecraftian horrors. There’s no sense of place. It’s just The Ocean, you know, that single address.
  7. The villain is boring. It’s a white man who thinks he deserves to be King of the Ocean, so he can kill all the land-dwellers, for some reason. He has all the super-powers Atlanteans do, but his special talent is being able to open his mouth really wide and yell into the ocean. By the way, everyone is white in this movie, except the black human bad guy pirate, whose superpower is being very angry and wanting to kill Aquaman. OK, diversity is served by the merpeople, and the crab people, and the Lovecraftian horrors. If you identify as a slimy giant-eyed fanged monster, this is the movie that will finally give you some representation.
  8. Once again, medievalism. Atlantis is an advanced, super-technological society, ruled by kings, where only those with royal blood can grasp the macguffin, and kingship is established by trial by combat to the death. Fuck you, Wakanda. Black Panther had some virtues that allowed me to overlook the comically silly political system, but Aquaman doesn’t. Also, in Atlantis, miscegenation carries a death sentence. No wonder it’s so white!
  9. The bad guy is on a pointless quest. He’s trying to unite the multiple undersea kingdoms so he can get the title “Ocean’s Master” and then destroy the puny terrestrial humans. But early on, before he unites them all, he does a magic something that inundates coastlines with a huge tidal wave that throws all military ships up on the beach, and also flings all of the human’s garbage back up onto the land. Besides making Boyan Slat look even more ridiculous than he already is, that demonstrates immense power that we land lubbers can’t match. I surrender already. I, for one, welcome our new aquatic overlords.
  10. There are really only two women in the movie. There’s Aquaman’s mother, who is snatched away early in the story and fed to the Trench Horrors for breeding with a hoo-man. There’s Mera, another super-Atlantean princess, whose main role is to have flaming red hair and be Aquaman’s sidekick. She fights people, provides occasional bits of exposition, and is used by her father as a tool for dynastic marriage, but otherwise makes no contribution to the story at all. Strangely, neither Mera nor Aquaman’s mother have the kind of royal genes that would allow them to grab the magic macguffin — I guess it also senses Y chromosomes, or penises, or something. Maybe if it were an engulfing macguffin rather than a pointy stabby macguffin they could have been more useful.
  11. The physics is unbelievable. Water isn’t treated as a medium that might affect movement in anyway — poorly streamlined things just barrel through it with no effect. Also, they use whales as transport animals in Atlantis, and to fight deep in the ocean. Wouldn’t they be frequently rising to the surface to, you know, breathe?

On the plus side, if there is one, it’s a pretty movie, in a garishly over-cluttered CGI way. And, uh, that’s all I can think of.

No, really, I’m racking my brain, and there’s nothing to commend this incoherent mess with a star whose charisma rests entirely in his pecs.


  1. says

    You are clearly the wrong sexual orientation to fully appreciate Aquaman. Plot? I don’t need no stinking plot. Could Momoa take his shirt off more often, please? (LOL, mostly in jest. I found bits of the plot … unconvincing.)

  2. HidariMak says

    Considering that Rotten Tomatoes couldn’t even give this move an equivalent rating as the recent Alien movies, I’d be surprised if you actually did like it. That Wonder Woman movie showed DC how to make a better film, but it’s not like DC to actually learn from their cinematic mistakes.

  3. microraptor says

    HidariMak @3:

    That would require DC to care first. And the fact that they keep hiring Zack Snyder shows they clearly don’t.

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    thank you for reading the next paragraphs
    Mamoa reportedly revealed himself to a personal misogynist with his backstage abuse of his female costar.
    [I think a previous posting talked about it, so I’ll reiterate here] He tore up the book she was reading between takes, with so-called explanation, that she was not paying enough attention to HIM, between scenes.
    It’s nice to know he can’t get a pass on this with a good movie under his belt. Which so often used as lame excuses by other douches.
    thank you for reading my stream-of-thought

  5. raven says

    So…Sicily, through the Straits of Gibraltar, south to the southern hemisphere, …

    If they are going to the Trench Kingdom in the West Pacific, wouldn’t they just go through the Suez canal, the Red Sea and then you are there?

  6. says

    I know I’m an outlier but I wish the whole superhero movie genre would dry up and blow away. It’s just stupid, to me. It’s particularly sad that people have to cheer wildly for WW and Black Panther – which were pointless bash-ups full of ridiculous plot-holes spackled together with sticky cheese dialogue. “WW did not suck as badly as Batman VS Superman!” is not a recommendation! Stop paying to see Star Wars and superhero movies, or Hollywood is going to shovel another 20 years of that mindless bilge-growth at us. Every Transformers movie is funded by those “not so awful” superhero flicks. Hollywood’s addiction to superhero blockbusters is what’s helping kill it, as viewers turn to interesting serialized productions from outside the studio system. I blame Star Wars.

    (Disclaimer: obviously that’s my opinion. You are welcome to disagree.)

  7. robro says

    You’re missing the point. Per Variety it’s global take in 3 weeks: $1 BILLION.

    When your target audience is adolescent boys, and your release is in the doldrums of winter, then the sophistication of a consistent and sensible story line is irrelevant. Also, the target audience isn’t looking at Amber Heard’s hair color.

    Just stumbled on the best line? “Show off. I could have just peed on it.” Imagine the thrill coursing through the audience’s veins at that line.

    Oh, and the hint of sequels is strong in this one. It’s in development.

  8. weylguy says

    A reminiscence: I grew up on DC comic books in the 1950s, and Aquaman was featured regularly (either in Adventure or Action comics). I recall one story in which Aquaman was stranded on a desert, near death from a lack of water, when he spotted an old abandoned Model T. He found some water in the radiator, and although it was unfit to drink he splashed it on and revived himself. I remember thinking that was damned clever.

    The science in these comics played a huge factor in my becoming a scientist. Too bad that the puerile and inane plots in today’s films can’t inspire new generations to pursue something better than mindless, distracting entertainment.

  9. says

    This is about the quality I expected from an Aquaman movie starring Momoa.

    I watched JL and thought that Aquaman’s characterization wasn’t. I am not at all surprised to learn that he can’t act even when given more lines, more attention, more opportunity to do something other than grunt, grab, and hit.

    Then again, I don’t really expect he did much other than grunt, grab, and hit even when given 100 minutes of screen time.

  10. says

    Marcus Ranum @ 7:

    Every Transformers movie is funded by those “not so awful” superhero flicks.

    Speaking of Transformers, I saw Bumblebee recently and enjoyed it because it was everything the other films in the Transformers franchise weren’t, in that it didn’t seem to actively despise its subject matter, or its audience. It wasn’t particularly original (it felt a lot like The Iron Giant to me– not that that’s any bad thing) but I dug the 80s nostalgia and the emotional core of the thing. And the protagonist was a young woman, which will probably send the Internet peanut (penis?) gallery still freaking out over the size of the new She-Ra’s bosoms into new paroxysms of whiny rage. I doubt it will have the impact of the other films in the franchise as it was made for a fraction of their budgets, but I hope it does well enough for it to stick in the craws of the fanboys.

  11. Ragutis says

    I really don’t mind these superhero or the Star Wars movies. Better than the recent gore/horror trend. Not everything has to be Dr. Zhivago or Schindler’s List. Popcorn munchers are fine with me, although I admit many could be done better. Like maybe involve the writers of the source material more, or at at least some. The writing in comics has improved dramatically in the last couple of decades, and there’s several really good writers doing Star Wars books (and comics). Now, I understand that a lot of these stories/arcs may be hard to condense into >2hrs of film time, but give it a whirl at least. Let Peter Jackson or Guillermo Del Toro have a crack at it.

    As for the whale thing, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t comment on just how egregiously distorted that may be, but many whale species can stay underwater for rather long periods of time. I’m pretty sure that Humpbacks can go around 45 minutes (though they tend not to) and Sperm Whales have been known to spend around 90 minutes hunting squid way, way way down in between breaths.

  12. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    The Momoa thirst factor was probably a big part of its success.

  13. says

    In defense of Black Panther’s political system: 1) the film heavily implies the succession by combat is a largely a ceremonial deadletter not an actual thing that happens with regularity. It was only the extraordinary set of circumstances that made the fights happen. I wish this plot point was made clearer. 2) there is no reason to think advances in technology are inherently tied to advances in social structures. The USA has a lesser political system today than it has had in 50 years or so.

    I haven’t seen Aquaman because the guy claims to look like that without working out which you know lol.


    Everything is paid for by the superhero/serial storytelling. Any film you have liked released in the last few years even vaguely by Hollywood only exists because of the MCU/Star Wars and the like. It has always been the case. Back in the 30’s-40’s the serial storytelling cheap crap was probably worse. If MCU/Superheroes aren’t thing fine whatever but please don’t act like they somehow worse than say the Blondie films, all 28 of them.

  14. Matt G says

    I remember Momoa from the Stargate Atlantis series. He obviously hasn’t taken acting lesson since then.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mike Smith @15:

    I haven’t seen Aquaman because the guy claims to look like that without working out which you know lol.

    A couple minutes googling reveals that he did work out for Aquaman, and that since then his “not working out” has been rock climbing. Linky.

    Haven’t seen the film, but what I’ve seen of his acting hasn’t been that bad. Anyway, American standards of acting are just weird, IMO. De Niro and Streep, OK, but Brando and Dean? Ye gods, ham poisoning.

  16. hemidactylus says

    Not motivated to watch new movies. Probably wouldn’t see this one anyway. Missed most of Marvel onslaught except one crappy Iron Man travesty that insulted the Black Sabbath song, one Avengers where Hulk body slams the troll Loki (cool), and some of the Thor movies because Natalie Portman (sorry…what was I saying?).

    My favorite recent superhero movie franchise is Denzel in the Equalizers. The Russian nightclub scene is apt enough retribution for Nov 2016. Seriously though how can’t that be a superhero movie? If Iron Man were more like that with Sabbath in background I would own the DVD. Maybe that’s why the Bale Batmans were bestest. I did see Aflac in his showdown against Ubermensch and he wasn’t as bad as I expected. Give me Jason Bourne doing parkour or Zoe Saldana in frickin badass Colombiana anyday. Or Gina Carano in Haywire or that movie where she destroys a Caribbean island because they fucked with her husband (shades of Taken). Real superheroes are more believable, gritty, and morally ambiguous than the Manichean Marvel kind replete with actual superpowers.

  17. mykroft says

    I know enough about science that I can recognize when movies get it wrong. Sometimes I’ll remark about it to my wife (she’s more the humanities type), but unless the movie is total crap I usually am still able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the movie. I go there to be entertained, and usually I am. Guess I haven’t gotten old and grumpy enough, as my wife and I both enjoyed Aquaman.

  18. says


    Hey thanks for the same story I posted. Also Brando has more BAFTAs than Oscars so it isn’t just Yanks that like him. Dean has the same exact numbers of nominations for both groups so yeah. I think that is more of personal than cultural.

  19. hemidactylus says


    I saw Salt in theater and it was OK but didn’t leave lasting impression. But she was also a more mundane superhero. I am captivated by Michonne the zombie slaughtering Samurai as much as Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog the mob hitman. Like Dexter the affable serial killer he had a code. Or better yet badass Lt. Castillo in Miami Vice who also embraced bushido.

    Walking Dead may be decaying like its zombies but has superheroes (Rick, Carol, Michonne, Morgan, Jesus). Rick is gone. Jesus’s death scene against the newfound skinjob Whisperers was hardcore as tragic fight scenes go. Morgan went on walkabout. Madison from the Fear spinoff was probably most flawed badass of them all.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mike Smith @23: I didn’t see your #18 before posting #19.


    he hasn’t worked out in over a year despite his appearance not changing.

    If you actually read the article, he says he hates working out, but loves rock climbing. Ergo, he does not consider rock climbing to be working out. It is, however, excellent exercise, which would explain “his appearance not changing”.

    It’s also cute that you think the circle jerk Oscar and BAFTA awards for best actor are actually about good acting.

  21. nathanieltagg says

    After seeing Aquaman with my 10-year-old, I had a few random thoughts.
    First, he loved it.. but it was instantly forgettable even for him.
    But second… I felt exactly as I did as a 12-14 year old who was reading his Green Lantern DC comics. “Isn’t this all a bit over-the-top an inconsistent? Everything is just so super that really nothing is super anymore”. (And then in high school a friend loaned me his giant boxes of Classic X-Men and that’s when I started liking comics for real.)

  22. says

    I watched this yesterday, and while I was apparently more entertained than PZ I did wonder if Mera was simply manipulating Arthur. There was some hamfisted attempts at chemistry between the characters but the big kiss before the final battle made me chuckle. It seemed out of character. Here, go beat up Aryan Nation there and I’ll grind on you a little.

    Also why would a regular steel blade go ‘doink’ on his chest and ‘Atlantean steel’ goes stabby stab? It’s like Aquaman’s kryptonite.

  23. marcoli says

    I cannot be surprised that Aquaman sucked.
    Anyway, do try to see BirdBox on NetFlix. A very good horror story with a strong female lead. I thought it exceptionally good.

  24. says

    @25 Rob

    First it is very annoying that I have to spell this out didactically but here it goes. I did read the article and was perfectly aware that he claims to have done a lot of rock climbing to explain why he still looks like he does. This claim is, to be blunt, bullshit. It is not possible to retain peak body builder form by merely rock climbing and I simply do not believe he has only rock climbed. In any case this particular argument bores me. I have multiple other reason to not see the film, the least of which is it looks stupid.

    Second, I would appreciate it if you didn’t put words in my mouth. I didn’t claim anything about the goodness of acting by awards given out by various groups. I simply claimed, and this is rather obvious, that being given an award implies a group of people like the performance (or person). It is immaterial to me if Brando is a bad actor (or not). His appeal simply wasn’t limited to Americans in the way, say, John Wayne was. It is bizarre to me that you think your personal distaste for him somehow means Americans, and only Americans, have “just weird” standards of acting. Besides the BAFTA’s he won awards for individual performances and/or lifetime from Cannes (France), Donatello (Italy), Fotogramas de Plata (Spain), Jussi (Finland), and a few odd ball international film festivals, like Tokyo International Film Fest (Japan) . Moreover, he plays a critical role in The Godfather which is ranked by international academic bodies like Sight & Sound as among the greatest films ever made; given how central Vito is to that story a performance that is generally dislike would have prohibited the film from making that sort of list.

    Now as you seem to be the sort of person who requires stuff spelled out, I am not saying Brando is a good actor because of the above. I am claiming a lot of people who aren’t Americans like him as an actor. These are not remotely the same thing. I generally find him hammy and apart from Godfather/Streetcar/Waterfront most of his performances are quite bad, with Dr. Moreau and Mutiny on the Bounty especially being terrible. But I am not so solipsistic to think my personal (dis)taste dictates how an entire culture or group of people think about something as individualistic as acting.

    Ditto Dean but less so because his death cut short his career and his international expose wasn’t as widespread.

  25. Matrim says

    I just saw it. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either, but it was easily the second best DCEU film. I put it on par with a low-to-middling Marvel film. I probably won’t see it again, but I don’t feel cheated. I’m not sure why you singled out Mamoa’s acting, his performance was uninspired, but serviceable, there were way, WAY worse performances to criticize. Most of the shortcomings of this film fall squarely on the director and the writers. James Wan is a hack, and Dave Johnson is possibly worse.

    “Why did grenade go boink but trident go stab?” Uh…because Atlantian weapons are designed to kill Atlantians? “Wet Superman” is a pretty fair description of his powers. He’s very strong, very durable, can swim super fast, and talks to sea life. Also, for the record, Mamoa isn’t white.

    My big questions are “why do Altantians bother with mounts and vehicles most of the time when they already can swim faster than anything the use in the film without tiring?” And “How did Arthur get tattoos? His skin is largely impenetrable.” That last has actually been a plot point in other Aquaman media. There was a time he was poisoned on the surface and treating him was nearly impossible because they couldn’t give him an IV or injections.


    Mamoa is native Hawaiian on his dad’s side, German and Native American on his mom’s side.

  26. lanir says

    Jason Momoa was well cast as a hunky, overconfident pretty boy who’s dumb as a box of rocks.

    Amber Heard was convincing as being quite a bit more clever than the main character. Wish they’d done more work with the dialogue though.

    Nicole Kidman portrayed awkward lines and sudden character attachments with no explanation very well. To the extent these made any sense at all, it was entirely due to her acting ability I think, the writing was awful. Oh, and she got saddled with every cheesy “woman at the mercy of some asshole guy” trope possible.

    This was never going to be a great film but with some better dialogue it would have been one where you cared about the characters. Instead it cracked a few jokes but mostly fell flat, introduced character changes with almost no transitions and by the end the only thing that sticks with you are the action scenes and visuals.

  27. John Harshman says

    And let’s consider that below 200 meters the ocean is completely dark. I’m assuming that’s not what it looks like in the movie. Too bad, probably would have been more interesting.