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Tom’s Take: Aquaman

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with his origin, in the opening scenes of Aquaman, the audience learns that the titular superhero is the unlikely offspring of a short but passionate romance between a lonely lighthouse keeper named Tom (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Atlanna, as it turns out, is the queen of Atlantis, and she comes ashore during a period of rebellion. After a few years of living happily at the lighthouse with Tom and telling young Arthur about the legends of Atlantis, she eventually returns to the sea, leaving behind two broken hearts.

Some 30 years after his sea-mom returned to her underwater kingdom, Arthur (Jason Momoa) is now a rowdy, beer-drinking bro with super strength, the ability to breathe underwater, and who has a psychic connection to fish that isn’t yet fully understood. He’s been performing rescue missions in the Atlantic on the down-low, giving rise to rumors about “the aquaman” but as of yet, no hard news to substantiate his existence. Told that his mother was executed upon her return to Atlantis for having a child with a surface dweller, Arthur has no interest in visiting any time soon, but he accepted occasional training visits while he was growing up from a trusted adviser of his mom named Vulko (Willem Dafoe). Now, word comes that Atlantis needs help from its “half-breed” (they are quite judgmental down there) to help wrest control from his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson).

Orm has no love of surface dwellers, and wants to start a war with them for their polluting the oceans. While I strongly disagree with Orm’s solution to the problem, he does raise a good point. We really should be taking better care of our oceans.

Arthur is initially reluctant but eventually recruited by Mera (Amber Heard), an Atlantean warrior princess with the power to control water (and other liquids). Before he can enter Atlantis to properly challenge Orm, he must find the legendary Trident of Atlan, a map to which can only be found by first going to the Sahara Desert and following the instructions there to another location, which turns out to be Sicily, where Arthur and Mera have a highly enjoyable (and not overly-destructive, by superhero movie standards) battle and chase with soldiers sent by Orm. That team is led by David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), aka Black Manta, a modern pirate who blames Aquaman for his father’s death, and has been given Atlantean weapons to help him kill Arthur.

Wan’s movies have always shown an eye for impressive visuals and nifty camerawork (aided by technology when he wants to do something a camera can’t physically do). In that regard, the movie is a visual marvel, as he has plenty to work with here; with the many corners of the undersea world being full of interesting beasts, including horse-sized seahorses and normal-sized sharks outfitted as war animals, not to mention the Atlanteans’ war machines that are built to look like sea creatures. Atlantis is shown to be a highly-advanced realm, where futuristic technology co-exists with centuries-old statues and similar relics, at times, looking like Wakanda under the sea.

There are some skirmishes among the various undersea factions when King Orm has to get the Atlantians onboard with his kill-all-the-surface-dwellers scheme, and while the politics aren’t exactly riveting, the battles are a lot of fun to watch, with the female leads being given the best hand-to-hand fight scenes.

As for the Aqua-dude himself, Momoa’s performance as a muscled, grinning, high-fiving lug is a nice alternative of the brooding (at least in the DC movies, so far) superhero. He plays the character who’s (initially, at least) less given to self-loathing and introspection than acting first and thinking later, at one point, he even tells Mera that he thinks of himself as a “blunt instrument.” While the cinematic incarnation of Aquaman may differ considerably from his comic book version, I doubt any of the ladies seeing the movie will mind.

As for the screenplay, the dialogue is functional, if not often witty; the movie isn’t dark, but it’s never exactly funny, either, swimming somewhere in between. As much as I was looking forward to seeing the Black Manta character on screen, his presence feels more like a distraction from the main “find the Trident, defeat Orm, unite Atlantis” plot than anything else. For its shortcomings though, Aquaman does largely succeed in giving the character an entertaining, exciting enough solo film, flawed but fun, falling somewhere below 2017’s Wonder Woman but well above the Justice League movies. While Aquaman may flounder at times, it certainly has the sea legs to be the beginning of a franchise. Aquaman is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, fantasy violence, and gratuitous drum-playing octopus. I’m not kidding about this. I really wish I was. Aquaman is now showing in Rogers County at the B&B Claremore Cinema 8. For showtimes, call 918-342-2422.

-by Tom Fink

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