Aquaman is the long-awaited sequel to that episode of The Office where Gareth wonders if there will ever be a boy born who can swim faster than a shark.
For those not already familiar with Aquaman (Jason Momoa), he’s a half human, half fish whose mother (Nicole Kidman) was Queen of Atlantis, but he was born and raised on land by Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison). Now grown to full scale, he must return to the original Atlantic City to reclaim the throne from his crazy brother (Patrick Wilson) who plans to take the title of First Sea Lord and destroy humans for what they’re doing to the oceans.
To do this Aquaman joins forces with love interest Mariana Trench (Amber Heard) and travels the world and the Seven Seas looking for something. More specifically the Magical Trident of Such-and-Such, which can only be claimed by the true king. Aquaman’s powers include super-strength, dominion over sea creatures, and spending as long as he likes in water without turning into a prune.
This is arguably the high watermark of the DCEU to date, since it actually has all the basic requirements to pass as a film and avoids the total obviousness of Justice League. But it’s still a template story, with obvious plot points and weak characters. In fact the only thing with depth is the ocean they inhabit.
For some reason our hero is written as an idiot who seems to just be along for the ride, with Mariana telling him what to do and spouting non-stop fantasy guff. The performances are underwhelming, with the uncharismatic Momoa lacking chemistry with Heard as the pair fail to bring emotion to the ocean.
Dolphin Lundgren’s turn as Mariana’s father is forgettable and even Willem Dafoe can’t save it with his underwritten Nuidis Volvo. The highlight is Wilson who gives a solid performance doing a hokey Loki, clearly understanding what it’s all about.
The best thing about the film is the gleeful technicolor excesses of its many action scenes as Warner Bros. splash the cash. There are fishmen riding seahorses, crabs firing lasers, and lava which apparently doesn’t boil water, as the Atlanteans take on the Kingdom of the Brine and the Ethel Mermen.
It’s suitably grand in scale and occasionally manages to be genuinely impressive with the quality of its visuals. If this is all you’re here to see you’ll have a whale of a time. And if you want to see Willem Dafoe riding a shark in S+M gear, it’s really the best out there.
Unfortunately it suffers from being overstuffed to the point of boredom. With a lengthy running time, it’s easy to zone out, and when you’re jolted back to life by a loud action scene it feels like waking up in a cold bath. The result is a film which is exactly as bad as the trailer made it look.
So why did we watch this inevitably terrible film a month after it came out? To experience 270° cinema at Cineworld’s Screen X.
In Screen X the film is projected on the front screen as usual, but the walls to the left and right also show additional footage for various parts of the film.
It’s a clever effect, since the film was only produced for the one screen, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out how it was done. I reached the conclusion that it must involve digitally copying and extending bits of existing footage, supplementing it with CGI where necessary. However it’s done, it’s done cleverly.
Whether it adds anything is another story. If a director chose to point the camera in one direction it’s probably because that’s where the most important stuff is happening. Indeed, seeing what’s happening off the screen risks impeding the cinematic storytelling, and I wouldn’t be surprised if directors and cinematographers hate it.
But because the front is where all the information is, you’re not really meant to look at the sides. In fact they’re often out of focus, designed to increase your level of immersion rather than provide you with additional information (and possibly also to make it less obvious where extra footage has been CGId in).
I could see it working well for the right film, where it’s made with that in mind, and it’s certainly better than the gimmicky 4DX. But at present it faces the perennial problem of adapting films to new formats, which is that it tends not to work that well. So it suits Aquaman perfectly then.