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Friday, December 21, 2018

Aquaman

AQUAMAN

** SPOILERS **

Aquaman has sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to them - this movie is Dr. Evil's dream come true. Director James Wan goes for the gusto with the outlandishly entertaining Aquaman, the movie equivalent of tossing the biggest net you can find in the ocean and seeing how many crazy sea critters you catch. Turns out, the movie is an all-you-can-eat fish fry and clambake and it's kinda delicious: Aquaman is a superhero movie, a Game of Thrones-like political power struggle, a sweeping mythological adventure, a screwball rom-com, a Lord of the Rings-like epic fantasy, and a story about two brothers who miss their mommy and macho guys who love their daddies. It's a movie where a bunch of local tough guys confronts Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) in a tavern, threateningly ask him if he's "the fish boy on the TV", and then do a 180 and beg for a selfie - which Arthur grudgingly acquiesces before doing a 180 and drunkenly parties with them like frat boys. Awright!

Momoa is certainly not without his gruff charms and musky odors and Aquaman takes full advantage of them. Arthur Curry might be a hairy, tattooed, hulking brute with bulletproof skin and super strength, but he's downright Hallmark card poetic about how his parents met. "Theirs was a love that was never meant to be," Arthur breathlessly narrates as we watch the meet-cute of how kindly Maine lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temura Morrison) found the beautiful Queen Atlanna of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) washed up on his beach during a storm in 1985. Soon, they fall in love and have Arthur, who is referred to as "half-breed" and "bastard" quite regularly by everyone in Atlantis, especially Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur's half-brother who is now King of Atlantis. Atlanna fled the lost undersea kingdom to avoid an arranged marriage but soon Atlantis' stormtroopers find her and force her back home. She's convicted of treason and sacrificed to the blind, ravenous sea monsters in the Trench.

Meanwhile, Arthur was trained by Vulko (Willem Dafoe) in how to use his superpowers and how to fight with a trident. Arthur's greatest power, however, is his ability to talk to fish, and it comes in really handy when Aquaman references Pinocchio. Of course, Arthur becomes a superhero known as the Aquaman and defeated Steppenwolf along with the Justice League, but none of that is important and DCEU admin only gets a passing mention - Aquaman has much bigger fish to fry. Orm wants to unite the remaining four of Atlantis' seven kingdoms and declare himself Ocean Master, then he wants to attack the surface world. Orm's beef with landlubbers is the hundreds of years we've callously polluted the seas with trash and toxic waste; his first-strike is to send tidal waves around the world, returning all of our trash right back to our shores. Frankly, it's hard to not see Orm's point here, and I was kind of on his side - people suck. But Arthur doesn't want the genocide of 7 billion people so he has to stop his half-brother. And the only way to do that, Mera (Amber Heard) the Princess of Atlantis, tells him, is to become King of the Seven Seas. 

However, Arthur is a guy who understands his limitations and knows he's not exactly king material. Regardless, after a Black Panther-like a mano e mano trident fight for the throne between Arthur and Orm, Mera commits treason for a reason and escapes with Arthur to find the lost Trident of Atlan, a super weapon that can command the seas and, according to dusty old Atlantean law, automatically makes whoever can find and wield it the one true King, and every fish man and monster has to obey that law no questions asked! This is where the goofy, Romancing the Stone-like adventure part of the movie kicks in as Arthur and Mera solve grade school riddles to find the Trident, but they also have a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants-like romantic interlude in Sicily - before they're rudely attacked by Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a deadly science pirate who works for Orm, now wears killer Atlantean armor, and has a grudge against Aquaman over the death of his father. Later, Arthur has a moment on a boat with Mera where he reflects on how he made Manta his enemy by choosing not to save Manta's dad and it's a surprising and pleasing level of thoughtful introspection that shows great depth to the Aquaman. (Wonder Woman also had a nice moment between Diana and Steve Trevor on a boat - those DC superheroes have some of their best banter on boats).

The rest of Aquaman is a giddy and ridiculously entertaining, eye-popping spectacle as the movie shows us all of the Kingdoms of Atlantis lit up by florescent jellyfish, and they are all full of fish men, sea monsters, the aforementioned sharks with frickin' laser beams, giant crabs, giant seahorses, and an octopus playing the bongos underwater that's like a middle finger to Ant-Man and the Wasp's giant ant playing the drums. The Atlanteans also utilize marine life as labor the way The Flintstones made dinosaurs to do their dirty work. There's an effective horror sequence where Arthur and Mera race to escape the swarms of blind, toothy sea monsters of the Trench and a face-to-face confrontation between Arthur and a mythical leviathan named Karathen (voiced by Julie Andrews!), and that's before all of the motley creatures and warriors of the sea go to war with each other, which is settled by Aquaman, clad in his orange and green armor, triumphantly wielding the Trident of Atlan. "He commands the sea!" someone bellows when Aquaman shows up riding Karathen into battle and man, he sure does. 

As Aquaman, Momoa is a magnetic and likable presence who acts before he thinks but impresses Mera by knowing a lot about history. Drinking in a pub and talking about Marcus Agrippa and the history of Rome with King Arthur would be a lot of fun for me. Wilson doesn't have much on the page as Orm, but with a gleam in his eye that betrays he knows a lot more than he's saying, Wilson's charisma clocks Orm in as the best villain the DCEU has offered so far. As Mera, Heard's acting is as stiff as a trident, but we warm to her as she warms to Arthur, and her power to control and weaponize water is used effectively - especially her super cool red wine spike attack. Kidman, playing Janet Van Dyne in the third act, is a royal presence indeed as Queen Atlanna. My favorite scene in the movie not involving sea monsters is the very end when Tom Curry walks to the end of his pier as he has for 20 years and finally finds the ageless Atlanna waiting for him. "You're back! And you're still hot!" (Tom doesn't say that, but we were all thinking it).

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