Who would have thought AQUAMAN (2018) would have been the DCEU’s big hit? Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry, “the aqua-man,” as a blue collar guy who’s willing to use his powers to help people but has a chip on his shoulder about Atlantis, due to them kidnapping his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) back to the city in his childhood. Now, though, the princess Mera (Amber Heard) tells Arthur that his half-brother Orm intends to unite the undersea kingdoms and wage war on the surface, unless Arthur can claim the throne himself.
Visually this is gorgeous; I don’t think I’ve ever seen DC or Marvel show such a vibrant, memorable Atlantis (TYG was displeased with the visuals; i.e., we didn’t see as much of Momoa with his shirt off as the trailer suggested). Although the story is, as I mentioned Wednesday, as much Sub-Mariner as Aquaman, and I’ve always preferred Orm as a human half-brother (Peter David retconned him to Atlantean years ago), it’s still a good yarn, entertainingly brought to life. And I really love Atlanna; they’ve done more with Aquaman’s mom here than the comics have done ever. “A king protects his people — a hero protects everyone.”
JOHN CARTER (2012) was Disney’s big-screen adaptation of Burroughs’ sword-and-planet hero, and a massive box-office bomb. The failure may be why I didn’t get around to seeing it until now, but it’s actually fantastic. Taylor Kitsch plays ex-Confederate officer Carter (while they downplay this aspect, I wonder if they’ll keep it at all whenever someone adapts this again, rather than make him, say, an abolitionist or something), transported by a strange amulet to Mars, or as the inhabitants know it, Barsoom.
There he falls in with the six-limbed, green-skinned Tharks and makes his first friends, Tars Tarkas (voice of Willem Dafoe) and his daughter Sola (Samantha Morton). Meanwhile, Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium (Lynn Collins) flees an arranged marriage only to fall into Thark hands and meet John. Can they join forces to defeat the cruel prince who plans to marry and murder her and the sinister alien Therns backing him (rather than Burroughs’ corrupt priesthood, they’re some kind of alien world-wreckers).
Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars is a very loosely plotted, heavy-on-exposition novel but the creators did a marvelous job adapting it and giving it more shape. They keep way more of it than I expected, such as the set-up in which a bemused Edgar Rice Burroughs learns he’s inherited his Uncle John’s estate, with some curious codicils (like a tomb that can only be opened from inside). The changes they do make are good ones, such as Dejah Thoris (who gets little to do in the original other than be brave in the face of death) being presented as both a skilled scientist and a capable fighter (one of the speakers on the DVD track describes her as the woman he’d want to marry as an adult rather than the woman he fell in love with reading as a kid).
And like Aquaman it’s visually fantastic. Everything looks right, from the Tharks to the elegant, feathery Barsoomian fliers to Woola, John’s giant, sort of reptilian dog.
Nevertheless, this was a complete flop, killing plans to follow up with Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars. Was it, as my friend Ross ponders, that to anyone who doesn’t know the books, this looks like an imitation of countless later stories instead of the source that inspired them? Was it bad marketing — John Carter, as a title, hardly speaks of SF and swashbuckling adventure. Either way it’s a shame this turned out to be a one-shot and not a series. “A princess of Mars? How about that.”
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