MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Justice League: Throne of Atlantis’ – A Decent Reintroduction To The King of The 7 Seas
I am and always have been a big fan of DC’s King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman. In fact, I like most aquatic characters I’ve come across in my years of reading comic books like Aquaman’s counterpart at rival Marvel, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, Tempest, Mera, and K’aldur’ahn, the updated Aqualad who made a big name for himself on the late, lamented Young Justice (I’m still salty about that one, CN). I like them all but King Arthur (Curry) is still the big fish for me though because he was the first one I saw riding giant seahorses under the sea with concentric circles coming out of his head summoning hammerhead sharks in animated shorts and on The Superfriends. So imagine my surprise when I discovered he’s now the butt of ironic hipster jokes on Family Guy and Robot Chicken. The latest animated offering from the smoothly functioning machine that is Warner Brothers Animation aims to rehabilitate the monarch’s image with Justice League: Throne of Atlantis and it is off to a good start.
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is an adaptation of the New 52 crossover arc between the best-selling comics Justice League and Aquaman that is used to introduce Arthur Curry and his undersea world to the animated continuity that debuted last year in Justice League: War. Many fans like myself were disappointed that Captain Marvel, or Shazam if you want to be current, took the sea king’s place as an original member of this new version of the League but the stinger at the end of that movie teased that the character was destined for the spotlight in a year if we could just be patient.
The new movie is worth that wait and while it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the better DC animated works it tells a strong narrative in an entertaining manner. The tale is divided for the most part by the hero’s journey Aquaman takes to the eponymous throne while his future colleagues in the League work on their ties as a team while trying to stop an Atlantean invasion of Metropolis led by Arthur’s half-brother Orm, the Ocean Master, and his partner-in-crime, Black Manta. Ethan Spaulding’s direction of Heath Courson’s script is more than satisfactory but not as great as it could be for either the direction or the adaptation. So much plot and intrigue is jammed into the limited running time of 75 minutes that the story is not allowed to breathe until halfway through. The truncated length of these movies is a real bone of contention for many viewers and while it has been explained by the WB as a matter of cost the concerns of commerce can at times smother the art which is the case here.
Money woes don’t crimp the look, action, and the casting of the movie, however. The character layouts are much smoother than last year’s War and Son of The Batman which were too bulky for my tastes.
Here, the designs are more on par with the fluidity of the figures in Batman: Assault on Arkham, last year’s third and very successful release which has made the Suicide Squad a hot Hollywood property. Fluidity is a good word to describe the look of a film that takes place mostly underwater because the muscled angularity of the Atlanteans like Orm and Mera gets across that these are beings of speed, power, and grace.
Action is always top-notch in the DCAU even going back to Batman: The Animated Series and Throne keeps that tradition going with brutal fight scenes and images of wide scale destruction. The movie is nowhere as gory as the controversially blood-soaked Justice League: Flash Point from two years ago but it’s still intense stuff with decapitations and disembowelments a’plenty for those who want them. So be advised if watching with very young children who may not be ready for a Wonder Woman who uses her sword for more than show and a Shazam who has no problem calling down the lightning on sea-soaked bad guys.
The pretty pictures and stirring action would be incomplete without great voice acting and as usual the incomparable voice director, Andrea Romano, has put together an all-star cast. Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Sean Astin as Shazam, Jerry O’Connell as Superman, geek icon Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, Christopher Gorham as the Flash, and Jason O’Mara as Batman all contribute to give each member of the League a distinct individualism whether annoying (Shazam), cocky (Lantern), solemn (Cyborg), or no-nonsense (Batman). Matt Lanter as Aquaman is fine once his character is allowed to take up his heroic mantle but the self-pitying Arthur goes through at the beginning of the movie gets old real quick and gratefully is done away with once the action moves to Atlantis. Sumalee Montano as Mera, Sam Witwer as Orm, and Harry Lennix as Black Manta represent the undersea contingent very well with Mera being a more interesting personality than her future mate.
Orm and Manta are two pieces of nasty work that remind me of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham from most of the Robin Hood movies I’ve seen in my life. Orm is Prince John grasping for power while Manta is the nominal flunky who has his own plans for power. Wickedly complex plans too but we all learned from The Incredibles that bad guys should always take it easy with the monologuing.
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is a solid entry to the WB/DC growing collection of well-respected animated fare. It’s doesn’t reach the heights of predecessors like Batman: Under The Red Hood, All-Star Superman, Wonder Woman, or Justice League: Doom but it’s much better than the misfires from last year of WAR and Son of The Batman. It works as a more than decent re-introduction of Aquaman to the mainstream which Warner Bros. obviously hopes will spur interest and ticket sales when the King of the Seven Seas gets his live-action close up on film in the nascent DC cinematic universe in a couple of years. I’m going to be there regardless to see that but the movie studio and the comic book publisher may need to show the buying public a little more to sell them on the fact that there’s more to Aquaman than the hackneyed “he talks to fish” jokes but this is a potent first step in that task.