“Aquaman”

 

            Aquaman is the one character in the DC comics universe who's been sort of undeveloped.  Superman, then Batman, now Wonder Woman have all enjoyed their big-screen adaptations, but not Aquaman.  Until now.

            The origin of the species sounds a bit like Greek mythology, like Perseus or Hercules, who were half-brothers, both sired by Zeus but with mortal mothers.  Aquaman, on the other hand, is a child of the Queen of Atlantis, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), who fell in love with a mortal lighthouse keeper (Temeura Morrison).  Atlanna was forced to return to Atlantis in order to spare her son, Arthur (Jason Momoa) and husband, but Arthur winds up growing up without his Mom, who's now said to have been sacrificed.  At least Arthur gets some tutelage from Vulko (Willem Dafoe) in how to handle his amazing aquatic powers.  But when he grows up, he decides he doesn't want to have anything to do with Atlantis, because it took away his mother.  Not even a visit from a princess from another realm, Mera (Amber Heard) can convince him that Atlantis needs him to claim his rightful throne, otherwise his mean and greedy half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) will not only consolidate all the underwater power, but also bring a war of control to the surface people.

            Arthur doesn't want to accept the idea that he has a duty to act royally.  He'd really rather just drink beer at the local bar, and maybe spend some time on a fishing boat.  Sure, he can handle himself in a fight, but otherwise his supernatural powers are kind of wasted.  Until they're not.

            King Orm sends a tidal wave to the entire Atlantic seacoast, tossing up warships on the shore like so many toys, and also throwing back all the garbage that's been dumped into the ocean. (Well, a little bit of environmental advocacy doesn't hurt.)  Arthur's Dad is injured, and Arthur and Mera find themselves in a fight whether they chose it or not.  She seems to have the authority to call forth water and make it move in the direction she waves her hands.  He seems nearly invincible, as well as a rocket-propelled swimmer.  Oh, and he communicates with the sea creatures, telepathically, kind of like Tarzan with the apes.  What's not to like about having a shark army on your side in an underwater battle?

            Yes, there are a lot of CGI combat scenes, and just as we're beginning to think that Director James Wan is a little too enamored of his computer-generated images toy, we get some very human interaction from Arthur and Mera, who start to feel some sparks of affection toward each other, but unfortunately, every time they begin to have a few quiet moments together, another explosion rocks their world, and we're back to chasing, fighting, and saving the planet.  Oh, and just to add one more dimension, there's a pirate band that's out to get Aquaman, as well.  Then we double down on the Arthur irony by echoing the old sword in the stone legend:  Arthur must claim the magical trident to defeat his half-brother, but only after he undergoes some trials, sweet-talks his way past a Leviathan-type monster, somehow convincing first himself, then everyone else, that he's the rightful King.

            Well, if we're going to have a monarch, he might as well be likeable: seems unpretentious, enjoys a beer with the guys, is a little awkward around the girls, but cherishes a close relationship with his Dad.  And the fact that Jason Momoa is built like a body-builder makes his superpowers more credible.  The true-believer fans are already looking forward to the sequel.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association