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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis



The Justice League meets Game of Thrones in Justice League: Throne of Atlantis and it isn't all wet. Following up last year's Justice League: War, which introduced a younger, rawer The New 52 Animated Universe version of the World's Greatest Superheroes, this time Superman (voiced by Jerry O'Connell), Batman (Jason O'Mara), Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), and their super friends encounter a challenge from beneath the deep blue seas. Throne of Atlantis plunges us into the origin of Aquaman (Matt Lanter), a boozing, orphaned, superpowered lighthouse keeper who has no idea he is destined to become the King of the Seven Seas. Aquaman finds out in rapid-fire fashion who he is and how he came to be heir to the throne of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis when he and the League are swept up in the nefarious schemes of Aquaman's ruthless, pure-blooded half brother Orm (Sam Witwer), the self-styled Ocean Master, who wants to rule Atlantis and destroy the surface world. 

Adapted from the comic series penned by Geoff Johns and also incorporating elements from Johns' "Aquaman" comic series, Throne of Atlantis reveals that Aquaman is the "son of two worlds." He was born to Atlanna (Sirena Irwin), the princess of Atlantis, who came to Mercy Reef, Maine when "she was very young," and fell in love with Thomas Curry, a guy who owned a lighthouse. After their son Arthur was born, Atlanna bailed on her surface family to take her place as Queen of Atlantis and speak all of her dialogue in loud, haughty royal exposition. Arthur never seemed to realize he has gills and can breathe underwater and didn't bother to find out why he has super strength and endurance until, as an adult, he started getting attacked by armored soldiers from the sea and humanoid fish monsters from "the Trench." Arthur also never questioned why his best friend was a lobster whom he could communicate with. Yes, Aquaman can talk to and command fish, and it's an awesome power, shut up. Aquaman is aided by his new hot redheaded Atlantean bodyguard Mera (Sumalee Montano), who is destined to be his bride, and boy, did those two not waste any time seeking that destiny.

Meanwhile, the Justice League is a team in name only, not having officially assembled since they repelled the invasion by Darkseid in the previous movie. Superman and Wonder Woman start to get romantic, commiserating as only two lonely demigods can, going on dates in Greek diners while incognito wearing glasses. ("I can't believe this works!" Wonder Woman gasps. Neither can logic.) Cyborg (Shemar Moore) also has sparks flying with his STAR Labs assistant. The more juvenile members of the League like Shazam (Sean Astin) and Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion) find all this mushy stuff kinda icky pants. There's a retread of one of the most unwelcome aspects of Justice League: War where Green Lantern again makes an ass out of himself interfering in one of Batman's Gotham investigations, but it is kept to a minimum this time around. The Flash (Christopher Gorham) is in this movie too, by the way, but he doesn't contribute much to this mission besides some cool super speed action. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen also get in some screen time and for some extra fan service, there's a cameo by John Henry Irons, setting up his inspiration to becoming the armored, sledgehammer swinging Steel. Superman and Batman also set aside some time to do a team up detective side mission where Superman bristles at Batman's condescension. "I am an investigative reporter, you know," Superman reminds Batman, who bizarrely retorts, "Journalism's dead."

When the Justice League does hit the water with Aquaman, they find themselves immersed in Game of Thrones-lite Atlantean family politics, complete with the alien, the space cop, the robot, the boy who says the magic word, etc. scoffing at how "impossible" it is Atlantis exists. Orm, with help from armored pirate Black Manta (Harry Lennix), who somehow is assumed to have the ability to open diplomatic negotiations -- with the Justice League, mind you, not with any government or the UN -- decides to stab his mother in the back, literally, and take the throne of Atlantis for himself. Orm immediately leads an invasion of the surface world, Metropolis, specifically. (The invasion is considerably scaled down from how multiple cities, including Metropolis, Gotham, and Boston were attacked by Atlantis in the comics, and the mighty tidal wave Orm raises is purely for show. Orm hardly brings a massive army with him either; just a few dozen soldiers and some vehicles.) What ultimately drowns Orm's short, eventful reign as king of Atlantis is his big blabber mouth. Cyborg recorded him bragging about killing his mother and seeing that footage is enough to make the Atlantean forces lay down their arms and turn on their new king. What's utterly bizarre is Aquaman's speech about how they should all accept him as their king, because he's their "beacon of hope." Mind you, these Atlanteans had no idea who Aquaman was or that he even existed before that moment. Plus Aquaman immediately starts making out with Mera in front of the troops. But sure, he's the king, now, whatever, let's go home. No punishment for attacking Metropolis!

And yet, Throne of Atlantis marks an improvement over the previous Justice League installment. The superhero action is entertaining and at its best can be summed up in five words: Superman. Fights. Giant. Sea. Monster. When unleashed against the cannibalistic creatures from the Trench, the Justice League gives no quarter, not even Batman, whose "no killing" rule apparently doesn't apply to sea monsters, judging from how he explodes them with missiles from his Batplane. While Wonder Woman and Mera engage in sword-to-trident combat with the Atlantean soldiers, Green Lantern uses his Power Ring to whip up a nifty giant robot to vacuum up those pesky fish folk. Cyborg's famed white noise cannon works wonders against Atlanteans, but if one has questions about just how much white noise would affect the equilibrium of people who are aquatic -- move along, there's more punching to be done. The single best moment of Throne of Atlantis validates how great Aquaman's power to talk to fish is via how he uses it to end Black Manta (Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea can relate.) The infuriating characterizations and interplay between the Leaguers is toned down; all of the superheroes come off as reasonably more competent and less insufferable than they did in Justice League: War. In the end, Aquaman is both installed as King of Atlantis and joins the Justice League, as he must. He certainly boasts the necessary trapezius muscles to be in this Justice League. The heroes decide to make being the world's greatest super team a more permanent thing, and for the best reasons possible, because they - and we - don't want to miss "whatever weird thing" happens next.