A Story as Dead as the Sea
Aquaman: King of Atlantis: "Chapter 2, Primordious"
I won't deny it took me a while to even get around to watching the second episode of Aquaman: King of Atlantis. That first episode, "Dead Sea", was apparently more of a chore to get through than I'd thought. Trying to get back around for even a second episode (let alone the third episode as well) was something I avoided at all costs. "I have other things the watch, right? Supergirl isn't that bad... What about another Zack Snyder joint?" The struggle was real.
As I noted in my review of the first episode, I understood what the producers were going for I just didn't feel like they succeeded at all. I think they wanted to apply the aesthetics of modern cartoons to the story of AquamanRaised by his fully-human father, Arthur Curry has a history even he didn't know about until he grew: that he was the half-human, half-Atlantean son of the once-Queen of Atlantis, and was destined one day to be it's rightful ruler, the Aquaman., creating something that could engage with viewers of all ages. What they instead actually created was something annoying, repetitive, and facile. The producers managed to turn what could have been a fun and silly adventure of the King of the Sea into one of the more annoying DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. endeavors I've had to watch, and I sat through all of the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe..
What we needed, then, from the second episode was a recalibration of a sort. With the pilot out of the way, introducing Aquaman and his (pretty indifferent) kingdom of subjects, it was time for the mini-series to focus, to take the elements of the fist episode that worked -- Aquaman and... well, Aquaman -- and push towards a story that would grow and expand the setting and adventure. The second episode needed to setup the stakes for the final episode so that everything came together in a satisfying finale. it puts a lot of weight on the second episode, but by the construction of this little event series that's just how it had to be. And, sadly, this second episode completely whiffs it in all respects.
After collecting what is clearly a time gem from the dead zone in the sea / mining operation at the end of the last episode, Aquaman returned to find that a whole year had passed (even though it had only been a day for him and Mera). His brother, Ocean Master, had reclaimed the throne and was once again preparing to attack the nations of the land. A quick bash upside Ocean Master's head, though, allows Aquaman to reclaim the throne once more (politics in this region are pretty stupid). Ocean Master, though, steals Aquaman's trident and leads our hero and his girlfriend on a merry chase across Atlantis before they all end up deep in the undersea of the Earth's core.
While exploring this new region, the heroes are attacked by Primordeus, a dark and deadly fisherman cloaked in shadows. The evil fisherman captures Ocean Master and makes off with him, thinking the evil Atlantean to be a massive fish (which... not entirely untrue). Aquaman and Mera manage to escape also being captured and they end up on a remote island where they meet Wendy and her son. Wendy, apparently, is the wife of a fisherman (named "Fisherman") who went out sailing one day and never returned. She's lived at their ramshackle hut ever since, raising their boy while awaiting the return of Fisherman. Could it by that Fisherman somehow is connected to Primordeus? Can Aquaman somehow find the evil fisherman, recapture Ocean Master, and finally reclaim his trident?
If Aquaman: King of Atlantis has a motif it's going for it would be "weird". The show is desperate to be weird, a silly kind of weird that, presumably, is meant to entertain the little ones. Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't -- the bright and colorful chunky drawings could maybe entertain with its flashiness -- but I somehow doubt that any kid is really going to stick around with a mini-series like this when there's so little meat to the actual tale. It's just a bunch of the characters running around, saying weird things, and then suddenly everything is resolved.
I was down on the last episode because it got caught up in a running gag about baseball and how the Atlanteans don't really understand the sport at all (but sure do love swinging bats). As dumb and repetitive as that gag was it's positively a masterclass in comedy in comparison to anything on display here in the second episode. This one seems to get by simply thinking "weird equals funny" but there's no meat to it. This is a shallow adventure that expects you to laugh simply because it acts weird, but without a razor-sharp wit to back it up and jokes to actually pick up the material to point at its own absurdity the weirdness lacks any bite or actual flavor.
It doesn't help that an episode that should be all about the struggle between Ocean Master and Aquaman -- ostensibly the major villain of the piece and his greatest heroic enemy -- ends up sidelining Ocean Master for half the episode. This would have been a great time to actually learn something more about Ocean Master so we could appreciate him as a character. This would have been the time to deepen the story and let us in so that we cared about hero and villain which would have actually upped the stakes for the next episode. None of that happens, though, because the series doesn't have the time, or desire, to actually develop anything.
The biggest flaw of the series is that none of the characters, from Aquaman to Mera to Ocean Master and beyond, have any depth to them whatsoever. Aquaman is the best of the set simply because he's at least written consistently; he wants to be good, to be a good king, and he liked cooked (not boiled) salmon. That's better than Mera who's one character trait is that she likes violence, or Ocean Master who simply runs around and talks in an annoying voice. There's nothing to actually grab onto here with everyone in the show being a shallow collection of ticks (one tick per character) but not a single one acts like a real person at all.
Am I expecting too much from this mini-series? I don't think so. Yes, this is a silly little cartoon and its meant for children but that doesn't mean it has to be shallow or stupid. Plenty of children's programs are able to find depth and wonder in their tales even while they're keeping the adventure, and substance, gear towards kids. This show doesn't understand how to do that, though, creating a flabby mess that seems to justify all its decisions simply by, "kids will like this."
I doubt kids will stick around through this tired and tedious second episode. I certainly wanted to turn it off halfway through and, were it not for this review, I absolutely would. It's not to much to expect good things from children's television but it's becoming clear that it's simply too much to expect anything good from Aquaman: King of Atlantis. Maybe it can turn it around in its third episode (whenever I get around to watching it), but I seriously have my doubts.