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Nobody’s going to “Aquaman” for the metaphors. And to be fair, nobody put metaphors in “Aquaman.” Yet when a set of plastic six-pack rings drifts past the camera, you do wonder whether it’s a nod to pollution or a wink at Jason Momoa’s fitness.
Momoa is why some of us are going to “Aquaman.” He’s in one poster with his smoky eyes peeking out of some water. One hand’s gripping a trident. The other’s going “hang ten.” (He’s half native Hawaiian.) But none of that surf humor and none of that hotness are really anywhere in this movie. It’s just two and a half years — sorry, two and a half hours — of oceanic screen savers and hair that won’t stop undulating so we know when we’re underwater.
Aquaman’s been dragged out of DC’s Justice League. His pals include Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and his movie is as mediocre as the latest versions of theirs. Maybe “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Shape of Water” have set the bar too high for marine absurdity, but your local aquarium has a stronger sense of wonder than “Aquaman.”
It does get off to a good, romantic-comedy start, though. Nicole Kidman washes up wounded, more or less, at the Maine lighthouse of Temuera Morrison. He nurses her. She slurps up his goldfish. And Kidman gets closer to Daryl Hannah in “Splash” than you might have thought necessary.
Anyway, here she’s Atlanna, the superpowered queen of Atlantis. He’s Tom Curry, a civilian hunk in flannel. Together, they have a kid named Arthur Curry, whose ability to talk to marine life makes him Aquaman. And, after a quick, home-demolishing battle, Atlanna is dragged back to Atlantis, leaving adult Arthur bitterly certain that the Atlantan power structure has killed her for her sexual amphibiousness.
What ensues isn’t a search for her or a plot for revenge. It’s a film that seems obligated to be a movie about an Arthur — the wrong one! There’s a nice, beery scene that lets Momoa sulk at a bar with Morrison in a way that calls to mind Dudley Moore’s miserable heir who drank himself silly in “Arthur.” A whole movie of that would have been something. Instead, we get the tired old, other Arthur, a plebe destined for royalty, who, here, is put on a quest to find some long-lost trident that will help prove him King of Atlantis. Because he doesn’t want the job, the movie saddles him with Mera (Amber Heard). She’s some water warrior who doesn’t want to see her home ruled by Arthur’s power-drunk, younger half brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson). So she has to keep shoving Arthur into heroism.
There’s no joy or wonder to behold, just comic-book movie blah-blah. All these larded-on extra characters and this extraneous plot leave you with the sense that nobody trusted Momoa to carry more of this thing on his own. Has nobody seen this man’s shoulders! He does get saddled with romantic silliness and lots of “half-breed” put-downs. And, in its way, the movie treats him accordingly, like he’s 50 percent bouncer and 50 percent something that you’d get with a Happy Meal.