Long before the advent of the major film studios’ various big-budget superhero movie franchises in the 21st Century we’ve already had some great stuff coming out about these larger-than life characters outside of their respective comic book pages. For DC Comics, now a part of the Warner Bros. umbrella, there have been other movies, as well as TV shows and animated cartoons featuring the “Super Friends” of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman…and Aquaman. I recall the old “Aquaman” cartoon that had him riding a giant seahorse, attack with balls of water, and talk to fish. A less comic-book-savvy viewer might shake his head at a hero with powers like those, but Aquaman has been more than that ever since.
And no more is that fact obvious than with the “Aquaman” film from Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films, the latest installment of the much-troubled but still-going Extended Universe franchise. This also the first following the awaited, but lacking, big superhero team movie “Justice League”, and serves as a standalone movie of sorts for Aquaman, with “origin story” scenes inserted via flashback. This is an uncommon twist to the convention of a film introducing a superhero for the first time.
In fact, setting up the story of how the fast-swimming fish-talking superhero came to be is rather involved, as rather than get or make super-powers as a grownup, the burly muscle-bound stranger played by Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, became who he is because of love. That means he is the half-human half-Atlantean child of a lighthouse keeper and the would-be Queen of Atlantis (Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman respectively), raised in the surface world even after his mother’s return to her home, and only learning of his heritage from an Atlantean warrior sent to tutor him on his unique abilities.
To pin the timeline down, the “Aquaman” movie takes place about a year after “Justice League” (as in real-world time). In his routine of travelling the world’s seas saving those in trouble he swims across of, Aquaman – real name Arthur Curry – encounters some high-tech ocean pirates jacking a Russian sub. He foils the crew and makes an enemy of one of its members. It turns out he was stealing the sub for an unusual client: the ruler of Atlantis, Orm (Patrick Wilson). Orm plots to stage an incident that would incite the various underwater realms to unite as an army to destroy the surface world.
But not all Atlanteans are of the same mind as Orm, who would become Ocean Master if he unites the realms of the sea in his vendetta. These secret dissidents include Orm’s own betrothed Mera of Xebel (Amber Heard) and the Atlantean vizier Vulko (Willem Dafoe), who trained Arthur as a boy. Mera for her part knows of Arthur from stories by his mother, alongside her brief involvement during the battle against Steppenwolf in “Justice League”. The only way they know to stop Orm’s ambition is to convince Arthur to claim his birthright as Atlanna’s son and become King. Too bad he is not interested.
So begins a quest – like there always is – for Arthur and Mera to find the one artifact that could convince the sea-worlders to heed him: the trident of the first king of Atlantis, hidden somewhere in the world. What follows is a fantastic voyage filled with Atlantean warriors, savage humanoid sea creatures, and a certain vengeful modern pirate called the Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
The surprisingly bright and high-adventure atmosphere of “Aquaman” is notable when one considers its director, James Wan. Who would expect the filmmaker who brought audiences horror blockbusters like “Saw” and “The Conjuring” to be able to produce a straight superhero adventure? Apparently he even accepted the assignment for Warner-DC with the intent to make “Aquaman” into something completely different from his usual fare. And he has succeeded, able to sell menacing yet understandable villains, wondrous underwater civilizations, cool fight and action choreography of both the practical and CGI-laden sort, and make the entire package look utterly sensible even if fantastic.
“Aquaman” starts off with something of a slow burn to its plot, gradually building up tension and conflict in an exponential rate until reaching an explosively intense final stretch that has to be seen in order to believe. And it works on the audio end too thanks to scoring by Rupert Gregson-Williams. And when everything is concluded one can enjoy the theme, Grey and Elliott Taylor’s “Everything I Need” sung by Skylar Grey, something that could rival “All the Stars” from Marvel’s own “Black Panther”.
From one who has seen “Justice League” and felt a degree of disappointment, “Aquaman” as a follow-up is just what the film franchise doctor ordered, a worthy adaptation of DC’s underwater superhero, one to build up his general rep with the non-comics movie-going fan crowd.
Image courtesy of Heroic Hollywood