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There has been a war waged between two companies that have continued since Baby Boomers were first being born. It wasn’t between corporate giants or major industries but rather the combatant's published comic books. Marvel and DC were rivals since before the Golden Age of comic. Dominance has shifted from one publisher to the other with DC taking a strong initial lead with such iconic figures as Superman and Batman. Marvel gained popularity by inserting a sense of humanity, fragilities, emotional and psychological issues that define the state of being human. The DC characters were beyond mere mortal men, even Batman, lacking traditional superpowers, had an unshakable moral code that few could adhere to keeping. In the last decade or so the stakes of this rivalry have eclipsed the cinematic box office with the financial stakes measured in billions of dollars. Marvel took their time, taking a decade to craft their brand with individual origin stories culminating in the opus Maximus, ‘The Avenger.’ During that time DC has been attempting to catch up albeit unsuccessfully. The DC extended universe has been called far too dark, lacking the full range of human qualities. Their response was to rush prematurely into their collection of superheroes, ‘The Justice League,’ consisting of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and a few more. Most notable of the additional heroes is Aquaman. In the comics, he was a relatively minor character with the ability to breathe underwater and communicate with sea creatures. In many ways, Aquaman was a joke, a running gag rather than a serious contender as a superhero. To their credit, DC did take several prudent measures to rebrand the ‘King of Atlantis.’ This started with casting one of the most popular action stars currently in the world of entertainment. They also fast-tracked inserting the character into the larger combined universe. Once again, an old bromide comes to mind, "a day late and a dollar short."

DC started the production of this film considerably behind the record-breaking success continually enjoyed by Marvel. At least the executives over at Warner Brothers decided to listen to the criticism vocalized by the fans. Chief among the complaints is the franchise has become far too dark, emotionally bleak and psychologically overbearing. ‘Aquaman’ is a valid attempt to capture the old fashion, tongue in humorous cheek action so well realized by Marvel’s ‘Ant-man’ and its recent sequel, ‘Ant-man and the Wasp.’ As usual, they reset the bar of fan expectations extraordinarily high. Again, despite a notable effort, DC fell short of scoring. They did manage several good decisions, most obviously Jason Momoa. His rise to the A-List action hero was boosted into high gear by undertaking the role of a barbarian warlord, Khal Drogo, in the zeitgeist altering ‘Game of Thrones.’ The role and the character were short-lived but extraordinarily enjoyed by the legion of avid fans. His sly smile, confident swagger and commanding screen presence make Mr. Momoa a natural leading man. In his role as Arthur Curry/\Aquaman was one that he was born to play. I'm hard-pressed to imagine a more suitable choice. Casting often receives a considerable boost when a popular actor from another major franchise is included. This was achieved with the casting of Arthur’s human father, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), who like Mr. Momoa, is of Maori ancestry. He is best known to the millions of Star War aficionados as Jango Fett. Rounding out the list of familiar and talented faces includes Nicole Kidman, as Aquaman’s exiled mother, Atlanta, Patrick Wilson, as his half brother and current ruler of Atlantis, King Orin, and Arthur’s mentor, Vulko by the brilliant Willem Dafoe. Despite the assembly of formidable abilities, the lackluster storyline provides little grist for the thespian mill. Many times each of these actors have proven they were able to overcome shortcomings in a script, but there is insufficient solid, coherent narrative to provide a scaffolding for performances.

The fundamental storyline is one that is familiar to audiences ranging from cinephiles to devotes of Medieval folk take and ancient mythology. After the Queen was banished allowing her the opportunity to fall in love and marry a Human, Arthur. Years pass and Atlanta's full son rise to King, betrothed to the princess, Mera (Amber Heard). Aspects of the traditional hero’s journey, academically delineated by Joseph Campbell, Young Arthur trains with the court’s military leader, Vulko. When King Orin, decides to consolidate the various undersea kingdoms under his unquestioned rulership. The goal was to assemble an unstoppable combined army to conquer the land dwellers. Mera and Vulto plot to derail the King’s nefarious plot. To accomplish this, it is necessary to convince Arthur to assert his birthright as the as eldest son and true heir to the seven undersea kingdoms. Then he could lawfully challenge King Orin and assume the throne. This might sound familiar to fans of the MCU as a variation of a major thread in Marvel’s ‘Black Panther.’ In the aftermath of the events in Justice League, the existence of Aquaman general knowledge. This plotline intended to rebrand Aquaman in the image of a contender for the IronThrone in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones.’ Under most circumstances, this form of emulation would prove successful. HBO has done such a phenomenal job of world building that the Machiavellian undersea antics comes across as a pale echo.

Since Hollywood’s golden age it has been generally accepted that action movies can get by with a less substantial plot than most films. While many action flicks can earn respectable box office returns adhering to this formula the recent domination of comic book-based films has forever altered the paradigm of the cinematic arts. Just as Marvel introduced a realistic sense of emotional connection with the readers, the MCU has raised the bar for narrative believability and internal continuity and consistency. For ten years Marvel has been carefully crafting an epic story with fully realized characters. DC has been desperate to break their string of unsuccessful films and consolidate a core of characters into a recognizable team. Both Superman and Batman have struggled with their issues, notably recasting leading roles and scripts unable to match their one acknowledged hit, the Nolan Batman trilogy. That set DC on a dark path that ultimately overwhelmed even an iota of escapism in the franchise. Aquaman was intended to demonstrate the DC was capable of blending humor with all-out action. Jason Momoa has proved to be exceptionally capable of delivering this finely balanced performance. With Ms. Heard as the female mirror image of the classical action her, their fight sequences are geminately satisfying and entertaining. Unfortunately, they were not able to emulate Marvel’s mastery of the cohesive narrative. The scenes necessary for the complicated exposition and character development are not able to convey the sense of gravitas audiences have come to demand from films with this source material. It is necessary to relate a compelling story that fully engages the audience, not just shows off the latest advances incomputer-assisted special effects. Admittedly, the effects were excellent, especially with the 3D version. As usual, this version is not available on 3D Blu-ray for region A, North America. Vudu does have it with their streaming service, but if you prefer an actual disc, it is necessary to purchase a copy from a site such as Amazon. The UK and have a region free player with 3D capability.

Posted    004/18/2019

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