By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
READ ALL ABOUT IT! Atlantis Discovered At Last! Global Unity and Brotherly Love Stop Climate Change! King Aquaman Speaks at the UN! The Atlanteans Save Us From Ourselves!
Humans so badly want someone else to fix our problems for us. We’ve messed up the planet to the extent that it’s the topic, or at least subtopic, of every other movie, including the so-called last DCEU (Extended Universe) film: “Aquaman & the Lost Kingdom.” (“Is there a Planet Earth in this movie? Then we should talk about climate change.”) What humans would really love, more than repairing what we’ve ruined ourselves, is for a technologically advanced society like Atlantis to rise up from the depths and do the hard work we’ve so far avoided.
There’s no reason to think that Atlantis, the mythical island nation under the sea, would be more advanced than we are; nor Wakanda, the land of the Black Panther; nor Themyscira or “Paradise Island,” the land of Wonder Woman. Yet for some reason, humans love to self-flagellate and tell themselves that long-dead civilizations, or let’s say aliens, are better than us. Heroes like Aquaman are a form of wishful thinking anyway, of course, and this just takes it a step further. As a species, we persist in this type of, well, laziness and insecurity, which seems pointed towards global catastrophe. But no one will ever say (such as those aliens who come after us) that we weren’t some of the greatest storytellers in the universe.
Aquaman doesn’t love the bureaucracy of being king of Atlantis (as illustrated by a hilarious scene where he falls asleep during a meeting). He prefers hanging out with the fam on land—he has a new baby and he doesn’t care if being able to talk to fish makes him seem lame (a jibe—at past criticisms of the hero). Where he shines is when he can use his muscles for good. His dream is to unite the denizens of land and sea for the benefit of all, but prejudice stands in his way.
“You always choose to do right even when doing wrong is easier,” says his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), the former Atlantean king, who Aquaman breaks out of containment to help him battle the Black Panther, I mean Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has acquired a trident through which the leader of an evil “lost kingdom” speaks to him and tells him to do bad things, like kill the planet with greenhouse gasses. And Black Manta also still wants to kill Aquaman.
The movie is bookended nicely and, as a whole, is a tight story, well told, with good flow. Momoa in the role of Aquaman is 100% premium Grade A approved, plus a hefty dose of snarky humor, and a thick slice of island culture. He is Aquaman. He can probably do what he does in the movies in real life (witness a flip from the water onto an iceberg, simultaneously smoothing back his hair, and a cocky smile at the end as if to say, “Nailed it”). After all, much of what Aquaman does is through brute force and surfer acrobatics, plus fancy toys. There is talk that this is the last of the DCEU, not only of Aquaman, but of all the DC heroes, but there is room for more after “Lost Kingdom,” as when Black Manta declines Aquaman’s outstretched hand and falls into an abyss. We all know everyone comes back from the abyss.
The best part of the movie is the union of the two brothers, part of a lesson on the preeminence of family, no matter how much they piss us off. They make a great pair, one straight-laced (or anal, if you prefer Aquaman’s description), and one flying by the seat of his pants. I’m not gonna lie, even though it was hokey, it was totally cool when, after wasting away in prison, Orm got his Atlantean body back by just lying in seawater for two seconds. I was also happy to see Amber Heard retain her role as Mrs. Aquaman after the Heard-Depp trial debacle—although tbh insert any female here, as the role is VERY SMALL (I will note, though, that the females are strong in this family and get Aquaman out of a jam at least twice in this movie).
I was also thrilled to find Randall Park again as Dr. Stephen Shin, in position as the ethically challenged scientist working for the villain, Black Manta, who once they get his suit all prettied up, is a clear nod to the Black Panther, which is a bit of a mixed message for the sake of tribute to a fan favorite. Sometimes I really think that’s how decisions go at DC: “Hey, let’s make his outfit look like the Black Panther outfit!” “But isn’t this guy the villain in this movie?” “So….?”
This movie is a rock and roll orgy of all things aquatic, with “Born to be Wild” as Aquaman’s theme song. You will absolutely overdose to your heart’s and eye’s content on a fantasy oceanic realm, from badass red mechanized dolphins and floating jellyfish-shaped undersea restaurants, to ethereal neighing seahorses and a plethora of fluorescent bioluminescence. On top of that, you get to revel in an ice-trapped world (until it melts), a sweaty creepy jungle world, and a dune covered desert world (“sorry, bro, I drank all your water before I got here, it’s hot out there,” says Aquaman). There’s a scene where the Tatooine bar from Star Wars, with its musicians and outlaws, has moved to a hidden undersea pirate haven (so basically the same thing), with Martin Short as what would happen if Jabba the Hut mated with Stitch. And funny scenes where Aquaman introduces his brother to life on land.
“You’re missing out on half the world because of your prejudices,” Aquaman tells him, and boy if that isn’t a call for all of us to leave our comfort zones, get out more, and make friends with those we wouldn’t normally befriend.
Humans have the brains and the technology to stop the damage we’ve caused to our planet. We have the heart to stop the damage we cause every day to each other. But it’s more fun to watch someone else save us on the big screen while we drink our carbonated drinks from plastic straws. (I’m going to keep bringing those up until everyone else stops. Who knew plastic straws would be the last straw on what we will do to save the planet?)
The world is calling for a hero the size of Aquaman, and I still believe we can provide not just one but millions if, like the stories we tell, we can dismiss our prejudices and join together.
We’ve already got Jason Momoa.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.