You’ve done stunt work for films in both the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes, which means, like me, you have no allegiance to either camp. You get paid to do your job, and I get paid to do mine.
That’s where the similarities between our careers end. I could never complain that my job is hard, but it is at its easiest when the films I review are really good, or really bad. It’s a joy to get to either celebrate or excoriate a film. It doesn’t even feel like work. But if a film is only mediocre, that’s when I wish I had a double. Writing about a film that I’ve all but forgotten by the time I get to the parking lot is a wasted effort. Especially when it’s a film like Aquaman, which is going to make a ridiculous amount of money regardless of what I, or anyone else, have to say.
And yet, here I am, toiling away for the benefit of all three people who want to hear what a middle-aged white woman thinks about a superhero movie. Though, having Jason Momoa shirtless and dripping wet for most of the film means that women, middle-aged or otherwise, are kind of a target audience here. Unfortunately, since Aquaman has only two (two!) female characters in its entire cast, there’s not much for us to identify with. Momoa’s wet shirtlessness can only carry one’s interest for so long.
On a dark and stormy night, Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna, washes up injured on the shore in front of a lighthouse. She’s in exile from Atlantis for refusing to marry against her will but falls for the mortal who rescues her. They have a son, Arthur, but when he is small, Atlanna is kidnapped back to Atlantis. Arthur believes she was executed but grows up to learn the ways of the undersea world, while living on land. When we meet him in the present day, he has just bested some submarine pirates, and is approached by Amber Heard’s Princess Mera, who has come from Atlantis to persuade him to return with her to stop his half-brother, King Orm, from starting a world war with the surface dwellers, AKA humankind.
If that last paragraph sounds like a Mad Lib, it’s because Aquaman is more simulacrum than cinema. It is a collection of predictable tropes doused in neon CGI, supporting a plot as bloated as a whale carcass rotting in the sun. Any excitement audiences expected from director James Wan, who has helped reinvigorate the horror genre with The Conjuring series, will wonder if perhaps his success is limited to blood baths and jump scares. Aquaman has none of the dry wit, inventive imagery, or confident pacing that made his previous films so refreshing. Worse still, it’s only two (two!!) female characters’ motivations are to support Arthur in his begrudging attempt to overthrow his half-brother’s maniacal plans. Classic Fighting Fucktoys – Strong Female Characters (ugh), who are hypersexualized, can hold their own in the action sequences, are designed to appeal to the heterosexual male gaze, and step back to the cheerleader role once they’ve elevated the hero to an exalted status.
This is merely the most disappointing of Aquaman’s issues, many of which are only tolerable thanks to Momoa’s charmingly bro-tastic performance of a reluctant hero who seems like he would rather be pounding beers and getting more tattoos. I can’t say I blame him, considering the stale fight choreography, repetitive narrative structure that feels it’s necessary we visit all Seven Kingdoms of the Sea (yes, even Kingdom of the Brine), lame jokes that don’t land, unintentionally funny moments that made me snort laughing (Patrick Wilson’s King Orm calling himself “Ocean Master” with a straight face, and honest-to-God sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads), all of which occur before a visually underwhelming backdrop that at best felt like a video game, and at worst looks like discarded scenes from Avatar that Cameron forgot in the Avid for Wan to find.
Aquaman is dull piffle that feels like it should have come out ten years ago when fluorescent CGI jellyfish, a Pitbull cover of Toto’s Africa, and a line that reduces Amber Heard’s character to her hair-colour (“Redheads…you gotta love ‘em”) wouldn’t have felt so uncomfortably retrograde.
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen superhero films like Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, and Wonder Woman surpass expectations to create exciting characters and worlds that critics and audiences have received with gusto. In addition to being Gal Gadot’s stunt double, you’ve also worked as Brie Larson’s double for the upcoming Captain Marvelfilm. You get to play two (two!) ass-kicking women who stand front and centre in their stories and their movie posters, unlike the characters you stunt doubled for in Aquaman, who got swept up in an underwhelming undertow.