10 redeeming passages from Aquaman to take us swiftly onto its sequel Aquaman the lost kingdom
In the wake of Aquaman 2 and amid the Amber Heard drama, well PR’ed by the reveal of her new child, I rewatched the first movie a couple more times to remember what, in spite of the boredom and frustration it generated in the viewer in me, still made me give the Aquaman movie a 2.6 out of 5. Like I said then, the anticipation for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is real. I cannot help it. Is it Momoa’s muscles, Kidman’s presence, some nostalgia in the oldies thrown in, the wonder of Atlanta, the superhero craze? I rewatched it on Amazon Prime and then on Netflix for good measure. Of course, there are moments that make it worth the watch in spite of the moments that don’t. These are 20 redeeming passages that made Aquaman worth hoping for and embracing a sequel. I guess that any such ambtious project was always bound to have multiple unsatisfyingly undeveloped ends. For one, they bait a sequel. Anyway, let’s concentrate on the enjoyable if not epic moments.
10. The battle
The final battle was meant to be epic and in some way I probably did not care for, most likely quantity, it was. For me, it was hard to distinguish between the fighters in spite of their colour and race codes (hmm). It was harder to not think of many of the warriors as all the more succulent food as they were free-range, probably organic and clearly in brine. But it is not the grand entrance of Aquaman on the Karathen that excited me. There was no doubt that the Julie Andrews-voiced animal’s appearance was epic. It grandiously affirmed and confirmed Arthur the one true king (suh a nerdgasm) and the true Atlantean so worthy of wielding King Atlan’s trident that he is worthy to ride the most powerful creature on Earth. I half-suspect though that the creature was conquered by the prospect of a long-due meal which in a middle of such a war would be a well-deserved feast for one who has not eaten in eons (how has it not died?!). Arthur, on the other hand, had no other choice if he wanted to escape that place. And what a big entrance, a noticed entrance he would have, in the middle of that chaos of a war. Anyway, to be honest, the only reason I really liked the apparition of the sea monster that Aquaman mounted is that it dealt with the troops the way my mind felt at the sight of so much confusion.
That being said, the moment that truly marked me was the demonstration that the true power of Arthur lays not in his fists but in his mind or heart, wherever that skill of his resides. This is when he wins the battle by “talking to fish”. And to put a nail to his half-brother’s coffin, this happens seconds after King Orm proclaims himself Ocean Master. Beyond the pandering to the comic fans who know the title as that of Aquaman’s archenemy, when you take the name literally, the series of Arthur’s actions just annihilate any doubt about who the true king and master of the ocean is. Later on, in the final duel, Arthur confirms this, mastering the wielding as if the trident had always been his.
9. Entering Atlantis
The wonder of Atlantis lies in its fantasy colours, its mystery accentuated by its submersion and its legend among surface dwellers like the viewer. What a spectacle to behold. There is so much pandering to the earthlings’ imagination of this fantasy place. Of course, I would have preferred a lot more science-based fantasy because it would help expand our minds beyond just tapping the back of our imagination but that was ok still. These thousands of words are probably better described in images.
8. Standing on the dock of the bay
Aquaman’s father walks to the end of and stand on the dock of the bay. This scene is so brilliant that it requires no subtitles. And yet, there is a passage where Arthur explains to his mother that his father continues to wait for her. All he needed to say to his mum and to us the viewer in their confidence, is to relate the fact that his father still goes at the end of the dock every morning of every day. We all know why and to have seen Atlanna’s face reacting to what we and she both knew about the significance of this action would have made the scene more powerful and the audience less patronised. It would have catapulted the scene higher up in this list for sure.
And to complete the movie with her being at the end of that bay where he seeks her everyday is a lovely reward to his love and to our emotional investment in it. And since this is from where he saw her first, it becomes an even greater way to close the romantic loop.
7. The relationship between father and son
I love the relationship between father and son. It showcases Arthur’s emotional dedication to his father. This is not duty, man, this is love. He is not just grateful to the man, he admires the love he has for his mother and the extraordinary story of the people who created him, of his coming to life in effect. The bond is strengthened because the few times it is showcased are packed with meaning and emotional strength.
Forget the beer scene in spite that complicity lying in that wink of approval from his father just before Arthur gets up to, as would hae been expected, beat up everyone standing. Anyway, I am not sure breakfast meaning beer for the family is a message I want to promote. Forget the “Arthur save his father” scene. It is poignant, significant and relevant. But is more the reflex of any loving child with (or without) that power than a scene that demonstrate their mutual feelings. The real scene that showcases this is the scene where Arthur meets his father on the dock of the bay as he leaves the place where he daily awaits to see Queen Atlanna, his love, again. I particularly like their very revealing exchange: “I always know where to find you”, Arthur tells his dad. “Old habits”, his father smiles. Even though Tom strolled out in the hope of seeing Atlanna, seeing Arthur not only cuddles the image of his son’s mother but it is the love he has for his son that has sustained him all this while. Arthur and Tom Curry are the father and son bond as it should be.
6. Badass mermother
The one take badass fight between Queen Atlanna and the mersoldiers is just wonderful. Beyond the female empowerment, it is beautiful to see and so à-propos. From the time she uses her fighting skills and trident to the moment she choses to go back to Atlantis, the parent is fighting for the survival of her two loves: her son and her partner. I love that the two aspects were showcased.
Everything about this scene is awesome. The camera movement rather than being the boring action-type sameness is original. The original angles it chose in spite of the one take are just amazing and so well paced that they are not even one bit nauseating as you would at first think analysing them in theory. The colours, the reflexes and skillsof Kidman’s Atlanna, the introduction of the trident, all work fantastically together.
I love that Tom Curry is not feeling emasculated or any of that nonsense. We each have our powers and there is something about love, so blind it is, that allows us to see just that (unless it just numbs us to the social crowd’s echo). His presence and call is what wakes Atlanna to her desperate first choice, to fight to stay.
But it is not just the oppening scene. The woman survived the trench, a solo life, the karathen. Come on, Atlanna is epic! And she hasn’t even shown us her full powers yet.
Nicole Kidman is just perfect in that role (I still hate that run but what can we do? I just expect greatness from one of our best actors) and I love her mere presence in the film. She just owns it, and is strength and tenderness all at once. It is nostalgia meets fantasy. I love that she portrays an ageless seamaid and that she was over 50 at the time, and looking fabulous.
5. The relationship between Arthur and his mother
I know these two have little time together. Unlike with the father, it is not about screen time but actual time. Arthur loses his mother early in his life when he is mainly too young to remember much if anything. He only meets her again decades later. In effect, it does not look like any more than 5 years if even that, that he is with her.
But throughout the movie, it is clear that their connection defies proximity or frequentation. She is in his speech, in his refusal to have anything to do with Atlantis, in his emotional turmoil, in his constant thoughts. And when he sees her, when she talks to him, there is so much untold yet so perceptible emotion in his demeanour. From that first look of a baby Arthur in the hands of his mother to that reunion, even after the fight with his brother. As much as father and son’s relationship is beautiful and emotionally grasping, this relationship introduces the magic of the invisible. There is a mystic bond which by not being easily scientifically observable give it a deeper, more powerful and betwitching emotional weight.
4. The class trip – Aquaman aquarium reveal
I am going to look pass the irresponsible teachers this time. This is mainly because I speak about it in another article. Rather than exiting the aquarium because even a little break in a solid glass is a potential risk to the children, they stayed and indulged their curiosity (or maybe just the script) putting the children at risk. Anyway, I said I would not speak further of it.
This scene is important even if its premises could have been better handled. It reveals the link that Arthur has with sealife and that Aquaman can “talk to fish”. There are several enjoyable moments. Arthur speaks to the sea creatures. The shark bangs loudly against the glass, causing a slight fracture. The bullies are startled. Arthur does not budge, he does not even check what is happening behing him! How badass and connected is that?! The bullies realise it might not be a safe thing to stay near the aquarium or Arthur (even though they might not realise the full extent of why). Basically, the bullying stops. The sea creatures all come to the forefront in the aquarium show behind Arthur. While the whole class gets away and together at the back of the aquarium, ARTHUR STAYS! Arthur (I am so tempted to call him Aquaman right there) stays, on his own, next to the cracking glass and the sea creatures. Only now does Arthur turn calmly and calm the shark. Arthur turns back, head down and eyes closed. His head then rises and his eyes open to reveal a gradual change in their colour (nergasm again). The crowd gasps (cinematic echo of our nergasm). And now for my ultimate favourite. If you blink, you will miss it. There is a slight smirk on young Arthur’s face as he experiences what is going on. It is as if he had realised his power and what it means for a life free of bullies and he is enjoying it. “Yes”, it says, “I can talk to fish. Bite me!”. And yes, the crowd, yet again, gasps (and yes, nergasm again again).
3. The rooftop chase scene
This exhilarating, brilliant scene allows us to follow a chase of Mera and Arthur. We know where they are and how far they go, it is all in one take and the changes of perspectives allowed by the zooming in and out is very much à-propos.
Ignore her wig. Ignore the couple of cuts made specifically to maintain the illusion that it is Amber Heard not her stuntwoman who is being chased. Then you will fully enjoy this chase scene. The very moment where it shines the most is when the camera zooms out from Mera’s position onto Arthur’s. And still, that is not my favourite sene.
My favourite scene is the parallel chase of Mera by the soldiers and of Arthur by Manta. The scenes are shown alternatively and culminate in a parallel jump of the parties one above the other at some point in the chase. The whole fights and chase from the arrival of the aquamen and Manta is impressive. This includes Mera turning wine into water. Just joking. She bursts the wine out of their bottles to use the liquid against the soldier, unleashing some of her powers and getting us all excited about what there is to come. Wow turning water into a weapon because of its water content, even if it was a little overkill for the one soldier, was exciting to watch. I knew wine had multiple uses! What a waste though… 😉
2. Aquaman and Mera Boat Scene: The scared child behind the muscled man
If you ignore the unnecessary and unconvincing Mera on the flute, you can more easily focus on the gem to come.
In this scene, Arthur opens up about his emotions. He humbles up and reveals the scared child he hides behind the muscles. Arthur shows positive self-awareness and modesty. It is rare that the actions or refusal to act are this deep, self-aware and sincere.
“I learned from a young age not to show weakness. I solve my problems with my anger and my fists… But I’ve done nothing but get my ass kicked this whole trip. I’m no leader. I’m not a king. I do not work or play well with others. And I can’t let you die, trying to turn me into something I’m not.
It should be noted that at that point, I would have so hugged him better even knowing that the last thing he needed was a showcase of compassion that could so easily be read as pity. I was just won over by the argument. It was as if he had found someone to open up to who he could not hurt or disappoint by telling the truth.
1. A king fights only for his nation. A hero fights for everyone.
When Arthur and his mother reunite, the scene is poignant enough to make this top 10 if not even top it. Yet, the maternal sense that makes her recognise her child, the common sense that made him realise who she is, are still not as magical as a fan fiction dream of just having Nicole Kidman be the mother of Jason Momoa. The way the two actors play it, with the face of the muscled man seeming to collapse and rejoice all at once under the emotional toll and the pride and hope that scintillate in the mother’s eyes are priceless. It is all the more powerful that they move quite swiftly from their unbelievable reunion to their cause. Their devotion is heroic and epic all at once as the two women in his life proceed to pump him up metaphorically for the task ahead.
Mera introduces this by explaining: “Atlantis has always had a king. Now, it needs something more”. And as Arthur wonders aloud “But what could be better than a king?”, Atlanna replies with the sentence that sums up the empowerment of a fearful man by his long-lost mother. With her words, she restores his focus and gives him purpose anew all at once:
“A hero. A king fights only for his nation. You fight for everyone2.
Note that I am really tempted, because of the very just way Nicole Kidman utters this last sentence, to write it in the imperative tense, as follows: “You [very much implying, you, the hero we’re on about], fight for everyone!” Gosh the pride that glitters in Atlanna’s eyes as her son turns around as Arthur often does but this time not with confidence as before but seeking reassurance and approval, a lift if you will, is lovely. It completes this scene perfectly.
The world may laugh at the cliché whereby words are the trigger that pushes soemone to do something they refused to do before. But this is one time when Hollywood actually did it well. To see your presumed-dead mother alive is enough fuel to restore one’s faith and reason to fight. For that to be topped with her confidence and assurance, to be shown the way, to be told why and how, to be guided and facilitated, is what the mentor we all seek should be and do. Very earned. Very well done.
There are other great moments in this movie. The Trench scenes might not have made it into my countdown but I am sure you will find them often enough elsewhere. For me, they showcased the horror side of the director and beautiful visual effects but I still don’t know who or what they are, why Arthur cannot speak to them or how anyone can survive them if they don’t stumble upon and realise their fear of light. This is what makes the great moments even more infuriating. They sometimes feel half-hashed and when they are not, the terrible moments seems to so easily erase their greatness. I do believe though that it is Jason Momoa and those great moments that make everyone want to watch the movie again. However, I do hope that the new Aquaman, dubbed Aquaman The Lost Kingdom takes a little more care to expand beyond our limited earthlings’ imagination and blockbusters formulae. Here’s to hope!