AQUAMAN – FROM LAMEST COMIC STRIP SUPERHERO TO AQUADUDE!!

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF AQUAMAN REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Super cool and buff version of Aquaman/Arthur Curry who must challenge his bellicose brother Orm for the underwater Kingdom of Atlantis to prevent a war with the human race.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid-teens and up for some language, a great deal of cartoon violence which might be scary for younger children, the topic of adultery and a LOT of cleavage.

LONG TAKE:

When I was growing up, Aquaman was arguably the lamest superhero on the block. Justice League re-presented Jason Momoa (the ill-fated Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones  as a long haired hard-drinking rockstar/biker-dude Aquaman and it WORKED! This watery super hero has all the battle finesse of the Hulk and the smart aleck attitude of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. He was fun to watch and the highlight (with Gal Gadot’s long cameo as Wonder Woman) of the otherwise fairly anemic Justice League movie. This new installment to the struggling D.C. Universe reestablishes Aquaman’s origin as a comic book hero.

The bright vibrant colors, a complex but nonsensical plot, the ooh aah largely unexplained but visually exciting weaponry and pseudo technology, thecharacters with semi-magical abilities, the scene-chewing hammy handed acting from even the likes of  an over-breathy Nicole Kidman, and the posturing dialogue all underscore the comic book source material.

The story begins as Queen Atlanna (Kidman) of Atlantis flees an unwanted arranged marriage with a king we never meet. Wounded but still pretty battle-feisty she washes up on the shore of a lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry, (Temuera Morrison) with whom she falls in love. Several years later, she has born Tom a son, who they name Arthur, purportedly after the hurricane raging about them at the time, (foreboding anyone?) but obviously as a nod to Camelot, one of the many derivative references used to cobble together the script. Atlanna is soon forced, for the sake of her baby and his father, to return to Atlantis. The Once and Future King Arthur, (of the ocean not Camelot), is trained periodically by visits from Vulko (Willem Dafoe).

Fast forward to Arthur’s Biblical 33rd year and a war is set to break out between the about-to-be-blindsided human race and Queen Atlanna’s younger and legitimate son, Prince Orm (Patrick Wilson, mostly known for supernatural scariest like The Conjuring and Insidious series), who blames his mother for having brought shame to their family by bearing a half-breed bastard with a human. Orm strives to bring Unity to the nine Realms of Asgard, I mean the Seven Kingdoms under the ocean. He also wants revenge on the human race for the human waste dumped into the ocean. (Can anyone say Captain Planet?) No mention is made, of course as to: how the Atlantians and their hordes of sea critters handle their bathroom issues any differently, the fact that the dumpage is biodegradable, that the ocean is incredibly vast, Atlantis is pretty darn far from any coastal areas, and the other six realms don’t really seem to have any bone to pick with the human race. Sounds like Orm simply has mommy issues and brother envy to me.

Princess Mera, (Amber Heard, mostly eye-candy in previous films such as The Playboy Club and Magic Mike XXL) the daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren, as the rough tough guys in Rocky IV, Creed II and The Expendables franchise – keep in mind this man has a chemical engineering degree!), seeks Arthur out to stop the war by encouraging Arthur, the eldest son, to take his place as the rightful King. Arthur is reluctant as he aligns himself with humans and seems sure Atlantis is a nice place to visit but doesn’t want to live there. He is also mad about the fate of his mom … but I won’t give any spoilers here.

Mera and Arthur set out to find a special Excalibur-like Trident whose power is so strong it will not only defeat baby brother Orm, but bring all the realms together in a peaceful coalition. The rest of the movie is taken up with so many quests, including: duels, long treks through wastelands, battles with armies of inhuman monsters, underwater labryinths, and lessons in humiility, that Hercules’ patience would have been put to the test.

The whole thing is a big, bloated, but ultimately fun hoot. I can see why it was a huge hit in China. A lot of time is spent in meaningful stares, posturing in action figure stances, and dramatic appearances. There were times when the stilted language, bright colors and poised settings made it easy to envision the comic strip frames each scene could have been inspired by.

There’s no hanky-panky, although Atlanna lives with Arthur’s father out of wedlock, eschewing her obligations and fiancé. Arthur, in turn, spends most of the movie having “managed to get his shirt off” (thank you Galaxy Quest). There are a handful of minor profanities, which parents of minor children might not want repeated, and topics of war, adultery, and murder which parents might deem inappropriate for younger children. So, honestly, not much worse than your average Grimm’s fairy tale.

The CGI in the early scenes with Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison is pretty creepy. While not Tron: Legacy-level disturbing nor Henry Cavil’s Justice League Superman-mustache ridiculous, it’s distractingly noticeable. And CGI Willem Dafoe, in the training scenes, looks cut directly from a high-quality video game.

The music is darker and more ominous than it should be for a kids’ superhero movie, but then the topics of adultery, murder, treachery, betrayal, and incitement of global warfare are all pretty dark topics as well.

The character of Arthur / Aquaman is the highlight of the show, with his genial, protective giant personality, who rarely takes anyting completely seriously. With the size of Drax, the impulsive nature of Peter Quill, the fighting skills of Gamora, and the snarky attitude of Rocket, his D.C. hero is almost the entire Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy crew in one.

The bright vibrant colors in almost every scene clues you, right away, that we are here for a comic-book good time. And, ultimately, what do you want? As I have admonished before in other blogs about similarly themed movies: this is not Hamlet, or Chekov. It’s a superhero movie. Enjoy.

 

JUSTICE LEAGUE: DC v. MARVEL – It’s a COMIC book not Kafka…..so be nice

SHORT TAKE:

Justice League is an amusing and entertaining excuse to unite the DC comic book characters into their version of Marvel's Avengers but requires some parental supervision because of two short but poorly chosen off hand political and anti-Christian polemics which should require discussion between younger viewers and their parents.

LONG TAKE:

Writing an origin story isn’t easy. You have to deal with a lot of exposition and expectation all while trying to find a new way to tell an established or sometimes even cliched story line. Sometimes it works spectacularly well – like the Chris Reeves’ Superman or this year’s Wonder Woman. Sometimes not so well, like Wolverine or Eric Bana’s Hulk. And when you’re trying to do a team effort that issue becomes exponentially more difficult.

Such is the challenge facing Justice League, especially when three of the characters have only appeared in cameos in Batman V Superman: Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra "Fantastic Beasts" Miller), Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason "Drogo from Game of Thrones" Momoa).

The premise is that Bruce Wayne/Batman, in the wake of Superman’s untimely demise, has discovered that the void left by his super-colleague is attracting very ugly aliens called parademons who look an awful lot like larger flying version of the dwergers from Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing.

To prepare for the invasion by the parademons master, Steppenwolf (super villain, not the ‘60's band) who seeks to remake the world in his own image, Bruce and Wonder Woman/Diana set out to recruit other supers.  Bruce to seek the Flash and Aquaman, Diana to convince Cyborg. All three of the newbies have troubled pasts (Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman can put their baggage in the closet with the steam trunks from the traumatized Batman and grieving Wonder Woman) but eventually agree, only to find out that their considerable combined efforts will not be quite enough to even create a stalemate with Steppenwolf.

A nice little theme of not putting your light under a bushel, of being able to overcome your fears of failure or worse, dread of the responsibility in leadership, is interwoven in the storyline, but only as light embroidery, not as sustaining warp and woof of this cinematic costume quality fabric.

Other reviewers have complained the story felt disjointed and somewhat disconnected. By necessity this is what happens when you try to introduce three major players into a five "man" mix with a story intended to propel them together and still try to keep the movie less than 15 hours long. A few things have to be cut and you have to edit down a bit.

While Justice League isn’t as lighthearted as Guardians of the Galaxy nor near the apex of the genre that is  The Avengers, or Wonder Woman, it’s an engaging enough flick. And isn’t that good enough?! I mean, come ON, it’s a live action comic book!! If you want Shakespeare then you could watch…..well, OK Branagh’s Thor….

But seriously, there are at least four compelling reasons why I liked Justice League and can forgive them a lot of plot and presentation weaknesses because of them:

1. We get the return of Wonder Woman in a vehicle which did not require a three year wait as many other sequels are glacially cranked out. It was very nice to see Gal Godot don the Amazonian one piece and watch as she balletically beats up bad guys again.

2. DC has managed, as with Wonder Woman, another transformation I would never have thought possible. As a kid Aquaman was on the top of the list for the lamest of super heroes. Mostly a Ken doll who could hold his breath for a very long time he didn’t even make a blip in my Superman-loving radar. But in Justice League Aquaman is a whiskey swilling, tatooed, long haired Norwegian-ey good ole boy who looks like a wrestler and acts like a rock star. This guy is just fun to watch as he exudes the kind of joy battling parademons we haven’t seen since Woody Harrelson’s delightful walking dead killing spree in Zombieland.

3. We see the return, albeit in cameos, of Jeremy irons as Alfred, JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, and Cyborg's father Silas Stone played by Joe Morton, whose pedigree with sci fi dates back a lot further than you might think – through a stint on Warehouse 13, to a key role in the Terminator franchise all the way back to 1984's quirky sci fi indie Brother from Another Planet.

4. And most importantly, which reason would have been enough to get me to see this movie all by itself……..well……I’m not going to tell you, but you’ll know it when you see it.

That being said, there are also three reasons I have to take exception to, which are largely unrelated  or at least unnecessary to the story or comic book characters per se:

1. GLOBAL WARMING PROPAGANDA:

Bruce shoehorns a throw away comment to Aquaman about global warming as though it is an established fact rather than the cock and bull fantasy of environmental wackos who want an excuse to tyrannically limit First World progress into the 21st century in order to feather their own Al Gore-jet flying coffers.

2. ANTI-CHRISTIAN CHEAP SHOT:

Lex Luther takes a gratuitous stab at Christianity which I, for one, didn’t appreciate. Granted, he is a bad guy, but his comment stepped right over offensive into blasphemy. When a statement is so over the top that it shocks you out of the suspension of disbelief it does nothing to promote the storytelling either. It neither served the plot or character well nor will endear it to any Christian audience members, and was just plain rude. I continue to be annoyed by the singular targeting of the Judeo-Christian faith by a Hollywood which used to produce movies like Going My Way and Schindler’s List.

3. As I have alluded to in the earlier part of this post there is an awful lot of derivatives, echoes and dopplegangers between the two rival comic book universes DC and Marvel. Along with the ones I have already mentioned like parademons, there is Steppenwolf (DC comics) who looks a LOT like a combination of the fire demon Surtur who appears at the beginning of Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel comics) and Thanos from Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel). Further Steppenwolf’s goal is to bring together three "mother boxes" (DC) which are not explained well but when glowing look like red versions of  the blue Tesseract from The Avengers (Marvel), and when joined will reshape the Earth with tentacle transformers made of Element X (DC) which look an awful lot like the tentacles from Thor: The Dark World set loose by the Dark Elf Malekith from the Aether (Marvel).

See what I mean? After a while they all kind of blend together. In addition, the are a LOT of other counterparts in each world. I have made a short list below of the most noticeable ones. (And the years they first appeared in order to put to rest any debate about who predated whom. In short – DC and Marvel took turns being "first".)

DC vs Marvel

For the most part Justice League is an airy simple romp. Lots of cartoon violence, super powered heroics, and over the top demonic bad guys. Bringing the "old band back" is a hoot to watch and like the first Star Trek movie, or the first waffle off the griddle, they are entitled to "warm the pan up," so to speak, for future efforts. Besides, they should be able to pull off pretty much anything now that they have Wonder Woman and………you'll see.