Arthur, by Land and by Sea: Aquaman
Arthur Curry has always had a connection to the sea, but he remains a part of the land he knows. The call of the seam though, beckons Arthur to a greater sense of duty in Aquaman. Jason Momoa makes his first starring appearance as the hero who can flourish on both land and in water. He was born in 1980s Maine to lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the queen of Atlantis whose life Thomas saved when she washed up on shore with severe injuries. Atlanna stays for awhile, but underwater forces come to the Curry home and lead Atlanna to retreat to the sea. She leaves the development of Arthur's inherent skills to trusted associate Niudis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), who also tells him that Atlanna has been executed. Arthur's unusual sea skills come in handy when he rescues a group of Russian sailors whose sub has come under attack by a group of sea pirates that include David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who have advanced technology that helps the pirates overpower the crew. Thanks to Arthur, though, Kane is the sole surviving pirate.
After defeating Kane, Arthur learns of another problem when Princess Mera of Xebel (Amber Heard) comes to the surface. The ruler of Atlantis, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) blames the people of the surface for polluting the waters of their domain, and already has an ally in Mera's father, King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren). Orm sets in motion his plan to unite the other undersea kingdoms in his cause. When Arthur and Mera team up with Vulko, they are ambushed by Orm's forces. Arthur could freely leave, but instead challenges Orm to a duel in the Ring Of Fire. With Mera's help, Arthur escapes the contest. The one way she and Vulko know Arthur can prevail is if he can find the legendary Trident Of Atlan, which will give its holder undisputed power. Orm, meanwhile, continues to gain allies, including one that should seem unlikely.
Aquaman, which is based on a DC comic, is an enjoyable look at a superhero reluctant to embrace a bigger role in the world. Mera, though, helps Arthur to see the fuller scope of his responsibility, and leads young Curry to set his biases aside. Orm's plans force Arthur to become involved with a leader he will learn is his half-brother. Director James Wan has been primarily associated with horror films (the Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring franchises), but has branched out into action films with this picture and Furious 7. He does a good job at showing Aquaman's power, but Wan also tries to inject humor that doesn't mesh well with the story he helped to create. Also, the special effects don't compare to the nearly seamless ones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many of the shots look as if they were filmed on a lot with the backgrounds added. A decent story helps to offset the key problems with Aquaman.
Momoa certainly doesn't look like the old-time images of Aquaman I'm used to seeing. He looks like a tattooed version of Thor with dark hair and no hammer. To his credit, Momoa makes his Aquaman credible. Arthur loves the land, but his ability to connect to sea beings will never be broken. He learns well from Vulko, and that helps him in his showdown with Orm. The teachings also help Arthur to understand he has a bigger role in the world than he realizes. Dafoe is the best of the supporting players as Vulko, the loyal teacher who can only help Arthur so much, for Vulko cannot make Arthur embrace his special role on the planet. Kidman also does well in her brief appearance as Atlanna, whose actions at the outset will ultimately affect everyone. Abdul-Mateen does a solid job as Kane, a crafty adversary who eventually adopts the alter ego of Black Manta. Heard and Wilson are adequate, but they get overshadowed by the other key players here.
The DC Extended Universe has yet to top Wonder Woman, but Aquaman shows this series has made some progress since its early and uncompelling entries. The aesthetics, though, remain one element lacking. The war story of Aquaman seems more like chest thumping than a conflict that will end badly for some combatants. The tale is also a step down from Arthur's collaboration with his Justice League colleagues for the same reason. It is a decent look, though, at a man who does not shirk from helping those in need. The world of the sea may be in his genetics, but he doesn't know that domain very well. When trouble from the sea makes its way to the surface, Arthur gets involved for the good of both places, and gets a better sense of his place in the world.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Aquaman three stars. Saving Atlantis from itself.
© 2019 Pat Mills