Critics, huh? Doncha just hate them? Bunch of arty-farty elitists who think THEY know so much more about films than we do. And yet their views have so little in common with the rest of the world, as critical pannings of Final Destination, Pirates of the Caribbean (the original), and Mr & Mrs Smith prove.
But I get it, I really do. It's the difference between your average wine drinker. “Yeah: that's OK. I'll take two” and the connoisseur. “Mmmm: hints of strawberry with lashings of brylcreem!” It's not that critics are WRONG, so much as they see films through different, often jaded eyes. Well, if you'd just watched 12 films in five days and were now faced with the latest outpouring from Adam Sandler, you, too, might be a bit jaded.
All of which is a long way to explaining why films like Aquaman are “difficult”. Not artistically. For this is a superficial film with not much going on below the surface...no matter how many fathoms deep you dive.
But my suspicion is that for a lot of audiences it will prove a perfectly passable way to spend a couple of hours. In much the same way that a Big Mac is a perfectly acceptable way to plug the meal gap between trains....but maybe not quite right for Christmas Dinner.
There is next to nothing new about Aquaman: indeed, if you watched Black Panther, you have most of the plot already. It begins with a bit of back story: Maine lighthouse keeper, Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescues Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), princess of the underwater nation of Atlantis. Because Atlanna, fleeing an arranged marriage to the King of Atlantis, has washed up on Thomas' shore like so much beached tuna.
They fall in love and the result – shortly before a bunch of dry-suited guards turn up to whisk her back to Atlantis – is Aquaman, who will later grow to be the young bastard prince, formerly known as Arthur (Jason Momoa). No, no comment on his attitude: rather, the fact that he is not legitimate means that despite being the first-born Prince of Atlantis, he has no hope of winning over hearts and minds and ascending the throne until he does something truly exceptional and heroic.
Because (here's where we segue into Black Panther): fast forward 30 years and Atlantis is now ruled by blond, blue-eyed King Orm (Patrick Wilson). Oh, alright: not blue-eyed. Because one way you can spot an Atlantean is that their eyes gleam an unnatural colour. But the trope is there. Orm is not just fed up with the way the surface dwellers have been messing up the oceans – and there, he has a point – but is much given to rants about the inferior species living up top.
As heir to a secret civilisation and technology that appears to outrank all of humankind by decades, if not centuries, his rants need to be taken seriously, especially after an underwater incident that you just KNOW he set up in the first place. Ranged against the oncoming war is “faithful” court vizier, Vulko (Willem Dafoe in brilliantly sneaky mode) and Princess Mera (Amber Heard) for the Peace Party.
Also bringing on the action later in the film is pirate turned supervillain Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). As villains go he is not especially memorable. His presence does little to advance the plot – but it does allow for some impressive pyrotechnics in a village in Southern Italy.
The only person who might stop the war is Arthur/Aquaman and he is really not keen (being much happier quaffing tankards of ale in some northern fishing community to getting involved in court politics). A bad case of superhero imposter syndrome!
All changes, when Orm's first hostile act involves the (witty) notion of sicking up thousand of tons of the rubbish that man has been pouring into the oceans: several large battleships and even larger piles of plastic rubbish. Yay! Even the bad guy has more sense of social responsibility than most of humanity!!!
Then it's eyes down for a pretty standard superhero romp. Aquaman challenges Orm. Fails. Survives. And sets off, with Mera on a quest to find a fabled golden trident which has been hidden somewhere in the Lost Sea for centuries.
Where is the Lost Sea? Er, no-one knows. Because it is lost!
The CGI effects are impressive. The underwater pyrotechnics, as two former Atlantean kingdoms square up for war pretty good. And slowly, grudgingly, Momoa transforms from thug-about-town to real regal pretender.
I did not mind this film. In fact, had I watched it ten, fifteen years back, at a time when the superhero genre was nowhere near as nuanced or sophisticated as now, i'd have been impressed. But then was then and now is now. Aquaman is a far from bad way to pass a couple of hours at the cinema, and audience reaction has backed that up.
But as critical work, I am afraid that on this one – as not always – I am with the wider critical world. It's not up there with the recent Marvel output. Nor even the latest DC film output, to whose stable Aquaman belongs.
It's an OK film released in an age when we have become used to far more than just OK. But if you like superheroes, you'll probably like Aquaman. And if you want a break from mince pies and an excess of family over the Christmas hols, you could do worse.