Verdict: Ocean-going nuttiness
A loopy combination of superhero movie, Bond film, the legend of King Arthur, David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and for those old enough to recall ITV’s World Of Sport, the Saturday afternoon wrestling from Brent Town Hall, Aquaman is like the weirdest dream you will ever have.
It is also at least 25 minutes too long, thereby accomplishing the neat trick of being both a blast and a bore.
It begins with Nicole Kidman, looking even more airbrushed than she did the other week on Graham Norton’s sofa, washing up on some rocks next to a lighthouse.
She is Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, but she’s not too grand for a spot of inter-species romance.
She duly settles down to a life of domestic bliss with Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), the lighthouse keeper, and soon they have a son, Arthur.
Arthur, as if you need telling, is otherwise known as Aquaman, and this sixth instalment of the so-called DC Extended Universe is the first time he has carried a movie on his own [File photo]
He grows up to become the kind of hairy tattooed hunk who, had he not been heir to the mighty underwater realm of Atlantis, might well have ended up grappling with Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy on World Of Sport.
Arthur, as if you need telling, is otherwise known as Aquaman, and this sixth instalment of the so-called DC Extended Universe is the first time he has carried a movie on his own.
He is played by Jason Momoa, who could probably carry a Range Rover on his own. Momoa was even born in Hawaii, for heaven’s sake, and looks as if he has been waiting all his life to be cast as Aquaman.
By the time Arthur/Aquaman reaches maturity — and boy, what maturity! — his mother has left the lighthouse and returned to look after her deep-sea interests. But there’s a brouhaha brewing in the briny.
It is also at least 25 minutes too long, thereby accomplishing the neat trick of being both a blast and a bore [File photo]
Atlanna is sent into exile, presumed dead, which leaves her younger son, Arthur’s half-brother, in charge.
He is a peroxided rotter called Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is in league with a grumpy king called Nereus (Dolph Lundgren). Orm is determined to unite the seven underwater kingdoms and declare war on the ‘surface world’.
Until now, Orm has just been strutting around beneath the waves mobilising his troops, or if you prefer, flexing his mussels.
But, contrary to the advice of his vizier Vulko (Willem Dafoe, no less), he is bent on war as revenge on humanity for polluting the oceans.
That doesn’t sound entirely unreasonable if you’re half-man, half-fish, but Aquaman can’t let him wreak havoc, and predictably needs only a sacred trident (guarded, even more predictably, by a fearsome sea monster) to stop him.
The other King Arthur had his Excalibur, and this Arthur has his giant golden pitchfork.
There is also some love interest, of course, in the form of Amber Heard’s flame-haired warrior Mera, King Nereus’s daughter [File photo]
All this is stretched out to well over two hours, but it’s easy enough to see why director James Wan was swept away on a tide of his own ambition.
After all, why not have an entirely pointless but impressively filmic excursion to the Sahara desert, if your whopping budget (a reported $200 million) extends to it?
And there are some truly exhilarating action sequences, including a chase across the terracotta roofs of a picturesque Italian town that looks rather like Wan’s audition to direct a Bond film.
Atlantis, too, is gorgeously realised. If Las Vegas remodelled by Donald Trump were plunged underwater, and we live in hope, this is what it might look like.
There is also some love interest, of course, in the form of Amber Heard’s flame-haired warrior Mera, King Nereus’s daughter.
The script, by Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, works hard on the jokey banter between her and Aquaman, and for that matter between Aquaman and everyone else, which in truth feels a little forced, like a DC movie trying to emulate a Marvel movie. But there is plenty here to admire and enjoy. Too much, really.
If only Dafoe’s wily vizier had whispered ‘less is more’ into the director’s ear.
Mortal Engines (12A)
Verdict: Dystopian nonsense
Mortal Engines is another crazy fantasy, set well over a thousand years in the future. It is based on Philip Reeve’s dystopian novel for young adults about cities that come to life and eat each other, in a bonkers expression of ‘municipal Darwinism’.
First on the menu in this ‘age of the great predator cities of the west’ is a small Bavarian mining town, which presumably tastes of bratwurst, and is gobbled up by a voraciously greedy London.
Mortal Engines is another crazy fantasy, set well over a thousand years in the future [File photo]
The basic set-up could hardly be madder, but at least there’s an old-fashioned goodie and baddie.
The former is Hester Shaw (Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar), an orphan scarred both figuratively and literally by life, and more especially by evil Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), a twisted archaeologist who also murdered her mother.
The story chronicles Hester’s tireless quest for revenge, but to believe in it, you have also to believe in the notion of ‘traction cities’ and ‘static cities’ being pitched against one another in mortal combat. And I didn’t, frankly.
Still, the involvement of Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson, who was co-writer and producer, helps to explain the grandeur of some of the special effects, and the outlandish design choices, which have the law-enforcers of the far-off future dressed like Victorian policemen.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (PG)
Verdict: An endurance test
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is another disappointment, a monumentally long Marvel animation which is at least 30 per cent less witty than everyone involved seems to think it is.
It riffs on the idea that anyone ‘lucky’ enough to be bitten by a radioactive spider can be Spider-Man — not just Peter Parker — and our upwardly mobile hero is mixed-race schoolboy Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), son of an African-American cop and a Hispanic nurse.
But if ever a film could be described as being pleased with itself, this is it. At only a whisker under two hours, it feels like an endurance test long before the end [File photo]
A strong voice-cast also includes Hailee Steinfeld as the girl of Miles’s dreams, Mahershala Ali as his uncle, Liev Schreiber as his evil nemesis, and Nicolas Cage as a black-and-white Spider-Man from the world of Forties film noir.
There are some nice touches — such as a cameo from Spider-Man’s creator, the late Stan Lee, in cartoon form — and the actual animation is often wonderful.
But if ever a film could be described as being pleased with itself, this is it. At only a whisker under two hours, it feels like an endurance test long before the end.
Verdict: Claustrophobic drama
More than 125 years since she (allegedly) slaughtered her father and stepmother with an axe, Lizzie Borden remains one of America’s most notorious killers. On this side of the Atlantic, however, I’m not sure how much is really known about her.
Lizzie fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge, but somewhat prejudicially, in that it depicts its title character as a woman quite understandably driven to the end of her tether.
It is a slow-moving, intense, rather claustrophobic drama, but with two enthralling performances at its heart.
Whether all this is an accurate telling of the Lizzie Borden story I’m not sure, and I don’t suppose the filmmakers can be sure either [File photo]
Chloe Sevigny plays Lizzie, and Kristen Stewart the family’s Irish maid, Bridget. The empathy between the pair grows and even becomes sexual, as they are driven together by their loathing of Lizzie’s rich, tyrannical father (Jamey Sheridan).
He regularly rapes Bridget and there is some suggestion that he has abused Lizzie, too.
A controlling, joyless bully, he presides over an utterly wretched New England household filled with women who fear him, though Lizzie is the only one who dares defy him.
Sevigny doesn’t make her particularly likeable, although there is no doubt where this film’s sympathies lie.
The Borden menfolk (not just Lizzie’s father, but also his brother) are irredeemably nasty, almost panto-like in their villainy, while the women are all depicted as victims, even though Lizzie is given good reason to hate her stepmother (Fiona Shaw).
Of course, there is hatred, and there is savage murder. The film presents the latter as a downright reasonable consequence of the former, to the extent — spoiler alert for readers outside the United States — that it feels like a relief when Lizzie is acquitted.
Whether all this is an accurate telling of the Lizzie Borden story I’m not sure, and I don’t suppose the filmmakers can be sure either.
But as a depiction of stuffy New England society in 1892, and of a crime that belonged very much to its time and place, it’s worth seeing.
Bird Box (15)
Verdict: Good cast, daft plot
From the miserable past to an even more miserable future, the Netflix film Bird Box is set in a post-apocalyptic America where something is compelling people to kill themselves. If they don’t see it, whatever it is, then they stay alive.
The Netflix film Bird Box is set in a post-apocalyptic America where something is compelling people to kill themselves [File photo]
Sandra Bullock leads a decent cast, which also includes John Malkovich and Tom Hollander, but this horror-thriller is rarely scary and only fitfully suspenseful, largely because the being behind all this malevolence is never seen by us, either.
Despite Bullock’s best efforts as, blindfolded and shrieking ominous warnings, her character rows two young children down a mist-shrouded river, it all becomes just a little bit silly, puncturing the suspense altogether.
This year’s rightly-acclaimed film A Quiet Place covered similar ground much more memorably.