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.

 

ADRIFT – WASTED OPPORTUNITY

SHORT TAKE:

Wooden cookie cutter rendition of the harrowing real life experiences of Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp lost at sea for 41 days after being caught in Hurricane Raymond, missing every opportunity to reveal any eternal truths.

WHO COULD SEE IT:

Any older teen and up who enjoys a disaster/endurance movie. Some language and a non-sexual full nudity female scene. No point in scaring younger kids with the genuinely frightening hurricane scenes in this vapid soap opera disaster movie.

LONG TAKE:

The famous classic – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – a man marooned on an island – is ultimately about his spiritual conversion from a materialist and slaver, disobedient to both his Earthly father and his Heavenly one, to a devout Christian. His external trials make him suceptible when faced with internal struggles as well, to turn to God and the Bible. Only in his newly redisovered faith does he find the peace and contentment he had sought and becomes a better man as he comes to appreciate God's love and know he is under his Creator's watchful eye even when apparently desolate and alone on an island. The island represents Crusoe's spiritual aloneness and, much like in Groundhog Day, (which comparison would make a great blog for another day), he is not rescued until he learns true altruism and his place in God's plans.  He accepts his massive and repeated tribulations as a reading on the Bible tells us in Hebrews that: "the Lord disciplines the one He loves".

Adrift is an open set up for a re-creation of this scenario. A troubled young woman, who drifted through life long before she was set "adrift" by Hurricane Raymond, has a difficult childhood, irresponsible parents and an anchorless way of life – leaving home at 18 to hop her way via odd jobs to Tahiti. There she meets Richard and the two leave for a "jaunt" to San Diego on a job to transport a friend’s yacht. On the way they encounter a CAT 5 hurricane, which I personally know is terrifying on land. Even seeing the movie, I can not truly imagine the trauma they must have endured on the open ocean. I frankly, having survived Hurricane Rita on land, had trouble watching some of their ordeal in the boat.

The film does a horrifically good job reenacting their desperate struggle to stay alive in the belly of this mountain sized monster with waves moaning and rising above them like the "angry giant" of many prayers entreating God’s protection against these very phenomena. Miraculously the boat survives with Tami still on it. She finds Richard severely injured and seeks to nurse both him and the boat in a 1500 mile trek through the Pacific Ocean.

While I understand this is based on a true story, there was every opportunity for the scriptwriters to use her ordeal and miraculous arrival in Hawaii to tell more than just an action adventure story of survival. A documentary or reality episode or a newspaper clipping could have done that. If we are to endure, with Tami, her terrible struggles, it behooves a good writer to do so with a purpose. Instead we are treated to a fact sheet: She meets Richard – check. They fall in love – check. They go on the boat – check. They endure a Hurricane – check. She manages to acquire enough food and water to survive through luck and ingenuity – check. She gets to Hawaii – check. And……?

After spending 96 minutes with this young woman in a recounting of the most traumatic experience of her life (and more traumatic than I hope most of us ever have to endure) we are left knowing no more about her than we started at the credits. A few odds and ends of trivia about the way she grew up, but no more.

I can not imagine anyone not changed by such a deeply churning experience. Sadly, we do not know, based upon this movie, what those meaningful and core maturations might be.

What we are left with is a two person version of Tom Hanks’ Castaway – which suffered from the same flaw. All "event" with no substance. Much like having spaghetti with no sauce – filling but not satisfying.

As I said, the special effects of the hurricane were very well done – a bit too good frankly. The acting of Shailene Woodley (Divergent series) kind of amounted to a lot of vapid shallow smiles and giggles during the courtship and sunburnt glowering/angry/determined to survive faces during the tribulations part. Sam Claflin (Hunger Games veteran) wasn’t given a lot to do other than be "in love" or stoically be in pain.

And while I understand this is based on a true story, the portions where the movie shows their meeting and relationship, shown in flashback, are pedantically slow. The audience frequently was reduced to the third wheel watching the slow pace of an actual dinner.

During one such date Richard explains how unpleasant sailing can be – "You’re usually sleep deprived and delusional, wet, hungry or all three." She asks why he sails and, perking up, I expected some important philosophical epiphany which might guide us, like her sextant through the rest of the movie. Instead he sort of mumbles about how infinite the horizon looks. And? I thought. And? But nothing. So his whole raison d'etre, the entire reason he is out there with this young woman, the reason they end up risking their lives in a painfully unrelenting endurance marathon was because —– the ocean is so very pretty.

There is so much more that could have been done with this movie – just with that moment. But they let it flit by like Tami’s early years – objectless and purposeless.

Captain Dan in Forrest Gump (click the picture to watch the clip) gives us more philosophical musings and a better insight into the meaning of life during his one rant to God on board Gump's ship during a hurricane as he screams "Come on! You call this a storm?" than the entire script of Adrift. Bogie and Hepburn simmered with more chemistry in one glance on The African Queen during their struggles as they make it up a river to confront a German gunboat during World War I and a storm, than Claflin and Woodley managed in the entire movie. This is because we were introduced to Captain Dan and Rose and Charlie, respectively, in substantive ways and so we come to care about them. But Tami and Richard, as portrayed in the movie, are two dimensional lovers in a cookie-cutter romance. This is a shame because I'm sure there was more to the real people involved in that.

Aside from – don't cross the ocean in hurricane season – the audience did not learn much, either about the main characters or from their experiences.

I feel badly for the ordeal that Tami and Richard went through but that is not enough to carry a movie. A movie has between 80 and 120 minutes to tell you a story. It behooves the writer to make it worth your while to sit through whatever they are going to tell you. Movies are supposed to be a condensed version of real life and the best of them will make you a better person for having seen it. It is inadequate for a movie to be a moment-by-moment blow-by-blow exposition without direction or purpose.

In short and unfortunately Adrift is most aptly and appropriately named.

Mild warnings: There's no reason NOT to see this film if you are an older teen and up. There is a bit of language, no gratuitous sexuality although there is one non-sexual gratuitously naked scene where Woodley bares absolutely all in order to happily writhe about on deck in the fresh water of rain. The hurricane scenes alone are horrifying and way too scary for younger kids, much less are the views of eggregious injuries endured by Richard and exposed to the audience.