AQUAMAN – FROM LAMEST COMIC STRIP SUPERHERO TO AQUADUDE!!

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.

 

THOR: RAGNAROK – EXACTLY WHAT IT SHOULD BE

The wise and ancient Greek aphorism "Know thyself" which was said to hang in the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi can apply to many things, even to movies. Movies of a particular genre are best when they adhere to the rules of their own known Universe. A romance should have long gazes and lovers who overcome obstacles. Horror movies should have jump scares. Disaster flicks should feature near misses and heroic self sacrifice. And movies based on comic books should bear the irreverent broad strokes of plot and illustration from which they originate.

Suffice it to say that Thor: Ragnarok understands its pedigree and is abundantly familiar with its own inner workings.

The premise, obvious from the title, is another in the line of adventures featuring Thor, Son of Odin and god of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth). Here he seeks to prevent the foretold, Ragnarok, the fiery destruction of Asgard, his home world.

SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Thor’s goal is complicated by Loki (Tom Hiddleson) who is hiding in the guise of Odin.

SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE THOR: RAGNAROK TRAILERS

Thor is also hindered in his quest by Hela, the goddess of death, (Cate Blanchett) and by The Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum) who conscripts him into a gladiatorial competition against Hulk (Mark Ruiffalo).

This is a movie which THANKFULLY does NOT take itself too seriously. The colors are bright, the tale is full of creatures and fighting,    narrow escapes and changing alliances, spaceships, and the most unexpected cameos in the strangest places and characters which are WAAAAY over the top.

Jeff Goldblum’s Grand Master appears often as a hundred story hologram to his city which is imagined as the world’s biggest gameshow.

Hiddleson brings back Loki, the favorite Avenger Universe character one loves to hate in all of his snarky, clever, quipping, never-quite-absolutely-sure-what-he’s-going-to-do-next, ever so fun unpredictability. And every once in a while you get the feeling he is the only sensible adult in a room of idealistic children.

Anthony Hopkins reprises his role as Odin – first, in a comic turn, as Loki pretending to be Odin, then as the real Odin bringing to bear all of Hopkins’ Odin’s gentle dignity as a king and father.

Cate Blanchett’s Hela sports long dark hair which, when she brushes it back with her hands become enormous imposing deer antlers – a look, (much like Jason Isaacs’ ridiculously tall beaver hat adorning his Colonel Tavington in The Patriot), which only the likes of a great actor such as herself could sell as frightening.

As a side note, it is interesting to consider that Blanchett also played Galadriel, another extremely powerful supernatural being – the Queen Mother of the elves in Lord of the Rings who, when offered the Ring by Frodo gave a terrifying vision to Frodo should she accept:

"In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!"

But who then musters heroic self restraint and refuses ownership of the treacherous Ring.

"I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel. "

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeell just imagine if Galadriel had hungrily embraced the proffered ornament, eagerly put it on her finger, crushed Lord Sauron between her greedy fingers then you would get an idea of Hela – the flip side of Galadriel.

  And Blanchett has a Hela-va (think about it) good time munching on this role. She chews scenery, mows down soldiers, blows up castles and mews theatrically about being so very unappreciated in magnificent anti-hero finery. Hela is a worthy counterpoint to Thor’s beautifully strutting, splendidly self-aware position as the hero of the story.

But the story is not nearly as Wagernian as you might think, as characters, in very human fashion – make mistakes, trip, run into walls and annoy each other.

The screenwriters manage to run right up to that line in the sand between parody and affectionate homage and occasionally even plant one foot on either side. But they keep the ebb and flow between the comedy and genuine tragedy balanced as skillfully as a sword juggler at a PT Barnum circus.

Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what it should be: a live action comic book, brought to a gloriously larger than life by its director Taiha Waititi a New Zealand born child of both Maori and Jewish heritage, who also plays a wry rock monster gladiator named Korg.

Thor: Ragnarok is a perfect example of its kind. Like a two hour Disney ride it leaves you awash in eye-popping breath taking images, gentle humor which makes otherwise grandiose heroes familiar, and a plot which will carry you along like the Kali Rapids River Ride at Disneyworld. Thor: Ragnarok is, at turns, funny, heart-wrenching, heroic, endearing and ridiculous in only the way a comic book hero can come alive.

So grab your popcorn, turn your brain off and let Thor: Ragnarok take you on one of the most entertaining rides of the year. Had they been part of the same mythology, Thor: Ragnarok would have made Apollo proud.

THE MUMMY – LIVE ACTION COMIC BOOK FUN

SHORT TAKE: The Mummy is a live action comic book – the trial run for Universal’s new Dark World franchise. It ain’t Shakespeare – or Wonder Woman – but it’s a lot of ridiculous fun.
MY TAKE:
When I was a 5 year old there was no such thing as iPods, DVDs, Nintendo, Gameboys or even cell phones. So when our family traveled in my dad’s Oldsmobile from New Orleans, LA to Disneyland in 1964, in order to keep his youngest child (me) occupied, whenever he stopped for gas he’d go into the station and buy a copy of every age appropriate comic book he could find. I must have read a hundred Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and Wendy the Good Little Witch magazines. So I’ve always had a  soft spot for comic books.
Jump forward 53 years. My husband and I went to go see The Mummy – a movie 118 years in the making. No kidding. 1899 was the birth year of possibly the very first movie about a mummy – a silent short called Cleopatra’s Tomb directed by George Melies – the same auteur who directed 526 silent shorts, including the famous A Trip to the Moon
So how does our trip to see The Mouse in 1964 connect with 2017’s  The Mummy? Well…I was puzzled by my own reaction to The Mummy. While I love a well done scare fest, I usually spend a good deal of time watching it through my fingers and feeling creeped out and looking underneath my car before I get in it in the parking lot. But despite The Mummy being full of staggering mummies, zombified victims, living sandstorms, and other monsters (I will not now name for the sake of spoiler prevention), I came out of the movie feeling like a bouncy kid. I suddenly realized The Mummy is not actually a horror movie – it is really an extremely well done, well plotted, well performed live action comic book!
Wisecracking, never to be taken completely seriously leading man with flawed motives, vivid images, wildly outrageous developments:  massive flock of birds taking down a military plane, a mysterious cavern found by chance by two mercenaries, the dead being brought back to life as the mummy’s slave, a pit hiding a terrible secret under a pool of mercury, an underground secret science lab full of enough sparking and exploding electric tubes to swell the heart of Kenneth (1931 Frankenstein prop master) Strickfaden, evil incarnate in the form of a beautiful scantily clad tatooed woman. The Mummy throws in homages or outright supporting spots to a number of other monster stories.
I can picture the comic book panels to almost every scene in the movie.
It has all the tongue in “shriek” of Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing, John Landis’ American Werewolf in London, the troll in the bathroom scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and  Goosebumps – the movie about RL Stine’s fictions coming to life. No matter how much they amp up the scare factor you just can’t take it seriously enough to be disturbed.
SPOILERS FOR NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS – ESPECIALLY EGREGIOUS AS THESE SPOILERS REVEAL “PUNCH LINES”
And how CAN you take a movie seriously when the lead, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) has a quippy argument in a woman’s bathroom with his recently deceased best friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) on whether Nick was justified in shooting Chris just because Chris was trying to stab everyone around him after he had been zombified by the Mummy Princess Ahmanet???
And somehow the terror value is (intentionally) lost when Ahmanet has Nick held down by her zombie minions and is preparing to stab him with a ritual knife. See –  as she pulls his shirt up and rakes her fingers down his torso …. Nick starts laughing because he’s ticklish!!
OK – SPOILER FREE REST OF REVIEW!!!
The above mentioned scenes come within an inch of opera buffa or even outtake qualities but fit nicely with the tone of the rest of the movie.
And it makes sense because apparently Universal is starting its own franchise of “Dark Universe” films of which this is the golden nail in the railroad track. I can foresee it entirely possible to put all these worlds: DC, Marvel, Dark Universe within each others’ reach. And OH what mash ups are possible.
And why not! Within the last 118 years there have been mummy link ups with everything from Laurel and Hardy to Sherlock Holmes. AND, while we’re at it – why not the Hulk with Frankenstein or Dracula with Batman or Creature from the Black Lagoon with Aquaman? There really is no reason not to – if you can write a good enough plot and theme to go with it. If the scriptwriters can create the masterpiece that is Wonder Woman, then I suspect not even the sky’s the limit.
From Cleopatra’s Tomb to this year’s The Mummy, there have been over 402 films with a mummy theme – entries ranging from Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chan, Scooby Do and the Three Stoogesto the iconic Boris Karloff 1932 classic entry The Mummy, to the Brandon Fraser semi-parody Mummy franchise. There have been mummy movies with Sherlock Holmes, Abbot and Costello, and even Tom Baker’s Dr. Who! There have been mummy movies which have been frightening, suspenseful, and comic – sometimes a combination and sometimes unintentionally one or the other. And there is one my husband and I have determined we MUST see sometime soon called Bubba HoTep about an Elvis impersonator in a nursing home who thinks he’s the original and a black man convinced he is JFK dyed black by LBJ as part of a failed assassination attempt.The two team up to save their fellow residents from a shambling resurrected mummy – which makes some kind of sense because a mummy has a fighting chance against elderly which it would not have against more fleet of foot younger potential victims……I am SO not kidding. This is a real movie. Though I suspect NOT for the kiddies or the easily offended – so be advised.
Obviously, this is not a topic to be taken very seriously. But I digress.
BOTTOM LINE: There are a HUGE variety of mummy movie options. Many even with the name The Mummy. THIS The Mummy with Tom Cruise is fun and entertaining, though not for younger kids who might not be as amused as the more jaded of us by cliched over-the-top monster scenarios. Those who are panning this Mummy I think just don’t get it. The Mummy is not intended for introspective thoughful watching. It’s simply a comic book hoot. And that’s a wrap. Mums the word. Go home now – your mummy’s calling you.