As I continue my trial period for DC Universe, I noticed that they had the Aquaman pilot pseudo-spinoff from Smallville available to watch on there. And I also realized that even though it wasn’t a double length pilot movie, it does pass the 40+ minutes for my feature length requirement. And considering I recently watched the new Aquaman, I figured that I’d give it a shot. I was a fan of Smallville and watched it regularly through the first 7 or 8 seasons before dropping off just before the end. I remember hearing about this pilot when it was in the works but I never looked it up until just now. It has a surprisingly good cast in some of the minor roles and it also has someone who seems to be superhero pilot bad luck as Adrianne Palicki was in this failed pilot, the Wonder Woman failed pilot, and the Marvel’s Most Wanted Mockingbird failed pilot spinoff of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As far as the actual Aquaman pilot goes, it’s a fairly standard origin setup for a monster-of-the-week first season. It doesn’t really do anything special or interesting. It’s just the same old format with an underwater theme to it.
Justin Hartley plays Aquaman, also known as Arthur Curry though he only calls himself AC exactly once during the pilot and others call him Orin well over a dozen times. We get a pretty quick origin story involving the Bermuda Triangle, a giant vortex in the ocean, a monstrous siren, and AC as a young kid seeing his mother get taken away. The problem with the origin is the problem with a lot of these types of shows and their pilots. It’s just something we’ve seen a dozen times before. It’s all setup and it follows a similar formula without doing anything significantly different. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world because it gets interest in the show and it can expand on the mythology as the season goes along.
As far as the set up goes, we have Arthur who isn’t full on hero Aquaman, but he knows that he can swim super fast and we get a slight hint about being able to communicate with animals. He doesn’t care much for the rules, and he’s still hung up about his mother’s disappearance ten years earlier and the fact that she called him Orin with zero explanation. We also get the mentor character with Ving Rhames playing another Atlantean who is all the exposition. He’s basically AC’s version of Buffy’s Giles as he tells AC how to kill the monster of the week, explains how Atlantis works to a certain extent, tells how there are plenty of other crazy sea creatures that are going to come after him (over the course of the potential rest of the season), and gives him his Atlantean homework by reading Henry V parts 1 and 2.
The characters in general work pretty well. Justin Hartley is fine as Aquaman, he honed his chops playing Oliver Queen on Smallville so he knew what he was expecting with Miller and Gough’s vision of Aquaman. They even almost went with calling it Mercy Reef in the same vein as Smallville. The wardrobe and other set up also followed the Smallville formula where AC wouldn’t be in full Aquaman get up, but he would wear the hero’s colors like an orange t-shirt with green shorts. They even added a hint of a weakness though it wasn’t explained nearly well enough as Rhames and Hartley were tied up towards the latter part of the episode and Rhames mentions that there’s a flask of water in his boot. It felt like it was setting up the fact that Aquaman needed water to activate his powers, but they sidestepped it by having him break the bottle and use the broken glass to cut the ropes.
The special effects in general fit right in with what they were doing in Smallville at the time. The CGI was passable but obviously mid-2000’s TV level quality, and the makeup effects for Palicki’s siren looked quite good. Aquaman’s swimming was basically a blur with some bubbles and the underwater scenes were done well enough but wasn’t anything special. The rest of the plot was a little confusing as they tried to shoehorn in a little bit too much in this pilot. They introduced the Bermuda Triangle mystery aspect a little too hard where there’s a possible future antagonist FBI agent who reveals this massive room full of file folders that represent thousands of people who have gone missing in the Triangle. Two of those people have resurfaced without having aged which seems to tie into Atlantis and AC’s heritage in some way that would be revealed in a future episode.
It’s occasionally difficult to review this type of pilot as a portion is origin, a portion is the story of the episode, and a portion is setup to be followed up on in future episodes which don’t exist. With this version of Aquaman, the origin is pretty basic, the villainous siren in this episode was a little weak, though she surprisingly killed AC’s business partner who seemed like she would have been a major part of his Scooby Gang especially after he revealed his secret to her. Then again, that could also be considered a trope of that era as in Smallville, the people most likely to die are those who Clark revealed his secret to. And as far as the set up goes, there are some oddness with the Bermuda Triangle missing persons angle and AC’s potential weakness to water, but it was presented too weakly within the pilot to give it much thought. It’s an interesting artifact of its time, but even if it had gone to series, they would have had to do something special with it for it to have lasted more than a single season. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.