‘Aquaman’ Proves DC (Still) No Match for Marvel

Boy, movies like “Aquaman” make you appreciate the MCU all the more.

No, the latest DC Comics saga isn’t “Suicide Squad” terrible. Not even close.

Still, watching “Aquaman’s” clanky attempts at humor and childish plotting puts things into perspective. How do the Marvel overlords get it right again and again?

We all know Jason Momoa gives Aquaman a pulse (and pecs). His modern take on the hero made “Justice League” more than just a mediocrity. So it’s a shame to see his first solo vehicle, powered by the great James Wan, sink.

Aquaman - Official Trailer 1 - Now Playing In Theaters

“Aquaman” reveals how Arthur Curry AKA the Aquadude, came to be in the first place. An Atlantis queen (Nicole Kidman, enjoying another film with CGI de-aging) swam ashore one day, nursing some serious wounds. A lighthouse worker (Temuera Morrison) rescued her, and they subsequently fell in love.

He likes long walks on the beach. She prefers to be 20,000 leagues under the sea. Opposites attract, and they have a child named, wait for it, Arthur.

That back story is so perfunctory it might as well have “rough draft” stenciled on the screen.

From there we learn an Atlantis kingpin named Orm (Patrick Wilson, egregiously miscast) wants to unite the underwater realm. Why? To smite humanity for its random attacks and water pollution, natch.

That leaves Hera (Amber Heard, out of her league) to seek Arthur out. He’s got royal blood in his veins, and he could challenge Orm and prevent a global war.

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Aquaman’s bro shtick felt both odd and invigorating in “Justice League.” This wasn’t the stiff hero we watched in Saturday morning cartoons.

That attitude doesn’t mesh nearly as well here, especially given the wooden dialogue all around. The comic relief bits, and it’s kind to label them as such, would take a dozen re-writes to come close to any MCU clip.

Paul Rudd’s quip from the “Avengers: Endgame” trailer trumps anything you hear in “Aquaman.”

Marvel Studios' Avengers - Official Trailer

Modern super heroes aspire for something better than Bang! Pow! Zoom! They offer complex back stories, thoughtful metaphors and shared universes that are actually worth a Comic-Con geek’s time.

Think “Wonder Woman,” a movie superior in every way to “Aquaman.” The latter cops to its comic book roots, but it isn’t smart enough to wallow in “Flash Gordon”-level silliness.

The film introduces us to a second villain, a yeoman-like threat named Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). His sleek suit grants him considerable strength, but his paint-by-numbers motivation renders him inert.

The film’s third act is a crush of CGI overkill unlike anything in recent memory. Individually, the visual elements are marvelous. Together, it’s nauseating and, worst of all, dull.

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What director Wan does right, and miraculously so, is realistically staging so many sequences underwater. We watch Momoa’s hair undulate as if carried by the waves. He and his colleagues speak in a way that reflects their watery surroundings without making them unintelligible. That formula could have backfired in spectacular fashion.

Instead, it’s arguably the film’s signature triumph.

Those victories are few and far between considering the film’s inelegant sweep. “Aquaman” will make serious coin, of course. If “Venom” can turn a profit, it’s insane to bet against any superheroic figure, no matter how puny the creative results.

HiT or Miss: “Aquaman” is the hero we need in a film that doesn’t deserve him.

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