I feel bad for the DC Cinematic Universe. It undoubtedly has some of the most well-known superhero characters. It can more than match Marvel’s Spider Man and Iron Man with its Superman and Batman.

Marvel does not even have iconic villains. Perhaps the popularity of the Avengers movies could help level the scale with Thanos. Loki is famous, but he has evolved more into an anti-hero than a villain. On the other hand, DC has unforgettable, blood-curdling, infamous antagonists - the Joker and Lex Luther. Unfortunately, these merchandises are being wasted.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has found a way of connecting with audiences, by presenting good plots and taking chances with story arcs. Essentially, the Marvel movies have a common purpose. They stand to show the essence of heroism is caring for humanity on an individual level. They are also light and rather linear with each installment organically integrating with each other.

The DC universe has never found its ideological footing, nor the proper mode of presentation. It is pulled between two forces: sometimes it tries to emulate the darker style of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, while other times it tries to copy Marvel’s playful approach.

Unable to conform to either, the DC universe is confused, and the ensemble movies that came of it looked too cartoonish. They also had terrible plotlines. Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League were some of the worst superhero movies ever made. Surprisingly enough for a movie with such highly profitable assets such as Superman and Batman, the last one even had poor special effects.

But there could be some hope for DC, and it can be seen in outings that gear away from ensembles. The success of Wonder Woman, the best DC superhero movie to come out since the conclusion of the Dark Knight Trilogy, proved this. Its strength was in introducing to the cinematic universe a unique superhero, a female one - her commercial appeal must have been essential over the eagerness for a Captian Marvel movie.

The movie was also successful in world building, immersing audiences into the story of Wonder Woman’s upbringing. Aquaman takes a similar path.

Starring Jason Momoa as the title character, going by the name of Arthur Curry by day, the movie takes the action to the oceans, where the kingdom of Atlantis exists, albeit underwater.

Arthur is half Atlantean on his mother’s side, who was also the Queen of the underwater kingdom and is the source of Aquaman’s superpowers.

But trouble is brewing down in Atlantis. Arthur’s half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), also one of the rulers of the kingdom, is fed up with Atlantean’s need to hide from the “surface people” - though it is never made clear why they decided to do so or how come Orm is the first to challenge this development in millennia. He is not too happy with the pollution of the oceans either.

But his plan smacks of an attempt to monopolise power within the kingdom, notably to a princess called Mera (Amber Heard). She and another inside collaborator, Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), figure the best means of countering Orm is by helping his older half-brother, Arthur, claim the throne.

There is just one hitch. Atlanteans, like many “surface people”, are racist and would never accept a half-human as their ruler. But Mera and Nuidis figure that Atlanteans may reconsider if Arthur can find the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful weapon that belonged to the first ruler of Atlantis, and would imbue the wielder with almost unmatchable power.

As Machiavelli put it, one should wish to be loved as well as feared, but if there has to be a choice, better go for the latter.

The unfortunate part is that this movie starts and ends like almost every superhero film ever made. It is always the hero setting on an adventure, meeting a girl, showing some potential to save the world, then losing miserably to the main villain, growing less confident, but finding a sense of purpose along the way, then growing confident all over again and finally beating the villain and saving the world.

This is the textbook superhero story arc, and Aquaman follows it religiously.

But the action was exciting. There could have been less slow-mo, but that could be forgiven. It is high-powered and more expressive of the destruction and stakes involved every time a superhero gets involved in hand-to-hand combat.

It will be interesting if it would be the likes of Aquaman and Wonder Woman - the latter of which also had a familiar superhero plotline and focused on action sequences and world building - that set the tone for the DC universe’s future. More inventive and clever plots would have been great, but this is still far more tolerable than the absolute trash the DC superhero ensembles were.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 29,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 974]

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