Aquaman, A Textbook Case of A Hero’s Journey …

22 Dec

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

* Spoiler Alert

‘Tis the season to enjoy being Aquaman. Jason Momoa is clearly having fun in the role, and his charm sells this latest DC Extended Universe product. Zack Snyder has executive producer credit and James Wan is directing. This Fast and Furious director sticks to what he knows best and translates the screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall into glorious sequences straight out of Lord of the Rings, Clash of the Titans (no surprise here, when considering David’s past work), Blade Runner and Indiana Jones.

Of the latter, it was too short and I wished for more. The visual treat of the underwater sequences is certainly overwhelming and lives up to recreating Neo Atlantis perfectly. I hoped for a more classically nuanced work (in reference to Plato’s Timaeus) and while not out of place, the archeological moments were not too much of a letdown. Balancing the origin of a superhero story with the big tease of them in the Sahara must have been tough.

The story about a man claiming his birthright is central here. Arthur’s courage is limited. To accept his destiny when the time comes moves in measured steps. Yes, Mera (Amber Heard), there is a plot. It’s not too buried in all the campiness and pulp action fun going on and I wondered if Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall might insert some King Arthur style references. All the cues are there. The main story is about half-brothers not seeing eye to eye, and the advisor to the king has to play favourites.

An environmental message is slipped in and I imagine not everyone cared. The antagonist had a good reason to wage war with the surface world. Had it been pushed a little more, then perhaps the film can be taken seriously.

Arthur Curry has not yet earned the title. He’s a son of a lighthouse keeper who is aware of his heritage and has little to do until one act of heroism put him in the spotlight. This film takes place after Justice League and everyone has gone their separate ways. After he saves a Russian submarine from being hijacked by pirates, who have far too much tech to be average scoundrels, he’s back in the spotlight. At the same time, he inadvertently creates his nemesis for later films. Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is paper thin for a stock villain, but Orm (Patrick Wilson), his half-brother, is the true nemesis. He’s the current ruler of the fabled Atlantis.

The writing team did not go too deep with the mythology. Atlantis’ creation mentions Poseidon once, how an offshoot country near Rome (than Greece) built this city and how it fell. True to the lore, the rulers got greedy. The Trident of Atlan was the source of power and is like the One Ring from J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. Abuse its power, and it can cause problems. Use it just, like choosing to hold Excalibur or its scabbard is best, and it will serve its owner well.

Even Arthur’s journey to Hell (technically another inner ocean where the fabled Trident is located) was brief. I wanted to know more about this world and its denizens. Because of an early nod to Wan’s horror roots, I wondered where Cthulhu was sleeping.

At least the H. P. Lovecraft fan in me was sated. Yes, the seven seas are very dangerous, and I enjoyed the moment when only Arthur and Mera felt they were close to their goal. Sailors from Antiquity spoke of dangers when ocean-bound and I wondered when “the Deep Ones” would surface. I was not disappointed.

While this movie is terrific to look at and the huge fight has a lot to soak in (pardoning the pun), comic book movies hardly goes a step above and offers a deeper meaning to enjoy. The finished product is certainly a vast improvement in what G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra offered in their underwater battle sequence. I felt invested in what’s going on within the IMAX screen. Wan’s vision is certainly larger than life, and no average home cinema can do this film justice. It’s so far the only superhero film that deserves praise for being developed for IMAX presentation in mind. Not even any Avengers movie can match that.

3½ Starfish out of 5

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