POSTED AT 03:16 PM 01-01-2019
Aquaman: Taking the tide; sailing full seas
Mark Fernando “Put two ships in the open sea, without wind or tide...they will come together,” - Jules Verne.
Thus begins the story of a boy destined not to be king, but something more: a hero, a bridge between worlds.
A queen of the ocean fleeing from an arranged marriage washes ashore only to be found by a lonely lighthouse keeper; a rare twist of fate, but one that would define the doles of many in the decades to ensue. Such was the union of Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, and Thomas Curry; a bond that would birth a symbol of harmony—living proof that the surface world and Atlantis could coexist—and that is their son, Arthur.
But this happy family was not to last as Atlantean law was firm and unforgiving and thus commanded the queen’s return. Fearing what would become of her loved ones, she complied and was never seen again. In the years that followed, young Arthur began to realise that he was different from those around him, possessing superhuman abilities. It was then that Nuidis Vulko, scientific advisor of Atlantis, made contact with him and trained him to reach his true potential in hopes that when the day came, Arthur would bear the mantle of king. But the question remains; when the time does come, will Arthur Curry believe himself to be truly worthy?
Beginning the movie with the previously-mentioned quote, Aquaman sets a deterministic theme to its storyline. It tells us how the fate of the world would one day rest in the hands of a boy who was born of two worlds but never felt as if he belonged in either. And this is something the movie flawlessly depicts throughout its entire runtime as it puts its primary protagonists through several trials that make him question his beliefs of the world around him, and more importantly, himself; a perfect balance of extrospection versus introspection that creates character development.
Another prominent subject intertwined with that of fate which Aquaman speaks of is legends and how they are born. This is symbolised at the moment Thomas suggests naming his newborn son ‘Arthur’; the very name the legendary king of Britain bore. The theme is also highlighted in Arthur’s quest to retrieve the lost Trident of Atlan; a relic unseen in the seven seas since the fall of the great kingdom itself. It is said that the trident was imbued with the power to command the sea, similar to King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, which supposedly provided its wielder with the sovereignty of Britain.
Moreover, both the trident and Excalibur share a common feature associated with many magical weapons, and that is that they are meant to be wielded by a true warrior or hero. This is also what defines Arthur’s strength of character, for he is not merely a king. A king fights only for his nation; Arthur fights for everyone—this is what sets him apart from the countless others that pursued the weapon.
The movie’s plot is loosely based on the DC Comics New 52 revamp’s ‘Throne of Atlantis’ storyline, similar to which the animated movie Justice League: Throne of Atlantis was created. Here, King Orm of Atlantis and King Nereus of Xebel (one of the seven sea nations that Atlantis was split into after its fall) are allegedly ambushed by a submarine of the surface-dwellers. In response to this, Orm sends a warning to the surface world with tidal waves spewing warships, as well as waste and other toxins polluting the sea, back onto land.
This brings us to another issue the movie draws attention to; marine pollution. Orm asks Arthur how he plans to prevent the countless atrocities the surface-dwellers relentlessly commit; how they pollute seas and poison their children, how they burn the skies and boil the oceans. It births a mentality of ‘it’s either us or them’; how the former must be destroyed before they herald the inevitable end of the latter, and perhaps, even themselves.
Orm’s feelings towards this crisis are genuine, and Patrick Wilson does an excellent job at presenting his character’s motivation in a compelling manner while highlighting to what lengths he wishes to go to in order to achieve his goal. He does come across as self-righteous at times based on his desire to unite the seven nations of Atlantis and bear the title of Ocean Master. But it becomes clearer as the movie progresses that this is not the primary driving force behind his actions. It is but a necessary step for him to carry out his onslaught on the surface world as he sees no other alternative.
Here, we also see a distinct contrast between Orm and Arthur. Orm is putting his people before him as any good king should, but he is disregarding one fact that Arthur cannot overlook; that not all the surface-dwellers are barbarous as Orm claims.
However different they may be, Arthur does possess opinions similar to those of Orm. He has judged the entire Atlantean race by the one trespass that they had committed against him: robbing him of his mother. Arthur also feels that he does not fit in with the surface-dwellers as society is predisposed to labelling those who look or act differently as freaks. Regardless, he bears no animosity towards the world as he understands that while there is great darkness in it, there is much beauty to it as well. This is showcased in a conversation between him and Princess Mera (Amber Heard). With all this, Jason Momoa presents a compelling performance of a conflicted protagonist who explores the different aspects of himself during the journey to finding his place in the world.
For the most part, the movie’s pace variations meld well with its flow, with action sequences creating suspense while also introducing a note of levity. Though at certain instances Aquaman seems to be an amalgamation of different subplots that, at times, have varying genres, the transitions between these scenes do not show any incoherence and hence, strikes a balance between the diverse aspects it consists of. Furthermore, we get to see a creative placement of numerous flashbacks from Arthur’s past as well as the backstory of Atlantis which is narrated by Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe).
A noteworthy subplot in the movie is Arthur’s and Mera’s quest to retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan. Here, amidst their romance-comedy adventure, is where Arthur reaches a crossroads in his journey. A time where he must face the uncertainty, fear, and guilt that holds him down and enclasp the power that destiny has long awaited to grant him; not because he thinks he’s ready, but because he must in order to fight for those who he cares about, as well as for what he believes in. A treasure-hunt arc may be a rather unusual approach as a subplot of a superhero movie, however, it is rational, based on the fact that King Atlan would not just allow anyone to lay their hands on one of the most powerful weapons in the world.
Perhaps the only issue in an otherwise spectacular cinematic experience that is Aquaman, is the setting of its final battle. From the start of the movie, King Orm; whom by the third act has claimed the title of Ocean Master; spoke of waging war on the surface world—that the wrath of the seven seas would follow him. But at the end of the movie, we do not see Arthur arriving to prevent a battle between the Atlanteans and surface-dwellers, but one of the combined forces of Atlantis, Xebel, and the Fishermen against the Brine Kingdom. It could be argued that a marine battle was necessary to exploit Arthur’s new powers as the King of Atlantis or the Ruler of the Seven Seas, but it also drowns the main antagonist’s primary goal before he is even able to initiate it.
A key ingredient in building a strong villain is to showcase the lengths he or she is willing to go to in order to attain their goal. In this case, it feels as if the necessary potential Orm could have reached is abruptly impeded. Yes, the final battle was an exhilarating experience, but does it outweigh the opportunity to highlight the level of determination Orm possesses? (We only witness him sending but a single warning to the surface world in the movie). Perhaps that battle could’ve been skipped and Arthur could have made an entrance defeating Atlantean squadrons along with his army of sea creatures before facing down Orm on land. This would have not only strengthened Orm’s character but given a deeper meaning to what Arthur was symbolised to be from the start: a bridge between the land and sea, a welder of worlds.
Aside from Orm, there’s also the villain Black Manta, portrayed by Yahyah Abdul-Mateen II. Present as a secondary antagonist, Manta does receive his time to shine in the movie, albeit rather short-lived. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play a major part but serves the purpose of reminding Arthur once more that he isn’t invincible.
Finally, though it may have missed just the one mark, Aquaman does set the stage for a boy who once belonged nowhere, to rise to be a protector of two worlds—a son of the land and the king of the seas.