Aquaman – King of the DCEU

Last night I was out with a couple friends enjoying a double feature for one of their birthdays. We took in the new addition to the Transformers Franchise Bumblebee and the newest addition to the floundering DCEU, Aquaman. While I immensely enjoyed Bumblebee, it’s by far the BEST Transformers movie, I had a few more reservations for Aquaman. After the disappointing Justice League and the terrible Batman V. Superman, Wonder Woman was the only thing keeping the DCEU afloat, until the king of the seven seas arrived.

Directed by James Wan (of Saw fame), this movie was the first salvo in the soft reboot currently underway from Warner Brothers and their DCEU. This review will be spoiler free but I will discuss several key aspects of the film and their relation to the source material.

STORY

The first thing I have to say and it can be taken a slight negative for the film, the story is all over the place. While they make it work for the film, they basically took the first five collected issues of Aquaman’s New 52 comic run and made it into the plot for the film. The main pull is the Throne of Atlantis story line which has already been made into an animated feature as part of the DCAU (DC Animated Universe). The story centers around King Orm (Aquaman’s half brother) a full blooded Atlantean and his bid for the throne of Atlantis. Wan’s film is a very ‘Shakespearean’ tale of family betrayal and political trickery with a healthy dose of comedic undertones. Arthur Curry (Aquaman) fresh off his defeat of Steppenwolf with the Justice League has decided to become the unofficial protector of the seas. This brings him into conflict with a particular group of pirates. These pirates have been operating with maximum casualties for quite some time and Aquaman has had enough. Those familiar with the storyline for the Throne of Atlantis arc will be able to see what will happen before it does; however, Wan and co. have worked enough subplots into the mix to provide some surprising turns wherever they can.

Left: Nereus and Xebel Forces; Right: Orm and Atlantean Forces

CAST

Jason Momoa returns as Arthur Curry (Aquaman) for his second foray into the DC comics world. He builds on his persona established in the Justice League and we are shown his origins with a great exposition at the opening of the film. As the film progresses we are also shown why he holds Atlantis in such low regard and refuses to help them in any capacity. It allows for a great heroic origin as Arthur goes from occasional vigilante to the full blown hero we’ve been waiting for.

Amber Heard straight up knocks it out of the park as Mera. There is a particular scene in the middle section of the movie where you really get to see why Mera is such a respected warrior and queen in the comics. She brings a very authoritative quality to the role which helps to balance out Momoa’s ‘bro take’ on the classic clean cut Atlantean king. Her arc through the film is one we’ve seen before in plenty of other works; however, Heard makes it her own and shows that Mera is worthy of her own movie.

The standout star for me is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta. At the beginning of the film we are shown a ruthless Kane as he and his pirate crew work to hijack a submarine. Through a turn of events he is left alone and blames Aquaman for it. This sets him on a path of revenge that has him crafting his Black Manta persona through the entirety of the film. When he finally confronts Arthur and Mera in Italy, he has emerged fully as the supervillain that has plagued Aquaman since his first appearance in Aquaman #35 from 1967. Abdul-Mateen II delivers a dark and gritty performance in an otherwise fairly light-hearted film which helps to cement Manta as someone who will continue to appear in future DC films.

Black Manta

Patrick Wilson gives us our main villain by his portrayal of King Orm/Ocean Master. A conflicted ruler who just wants to do right by his people, Wilson brings a certain gravitas to the role that helps to establish Orm as a force to be reckoned with. Wanting to preserve his people and their way of life he has grown tired of the mistreatment of the oceans by the surface world and he is through playing nice. Wilson’s protrayal of Orm helps to provide some sympathy for the young ruler but ultimately helps to give a villain you can’t help to love.

Other notable members of the cast are Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Despite 90% of the film taking place under water and in front of a green screen, Wan manages to deliver some stellar shots. One scene which appears to be a continuous shot (in the vein of the various Marvel Netflix series’), really showcases Wan’s keen eye. He created a living and breathing world at the bottom of the ocean that makes you believe in the might and magic of the fictional kingdom of Atlantis. As I said before in my review of Black Panther, I’m not a cinematographer and don’t pretend to be, but I can tell what shots look amazing and help to convey the emotion and feel of the scenes, and in that regard, Wan knocks it out of the park.

Amber Hear (Mera), James Wan (Director), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman) and Willem Dafoe (Vulko)

COSTUMES

The costumes in this film were perfectly done. Each character has a costume that directly references back to their comic roots and helps to provide a great feel for the overall tone of the film. I was extremely giddy when Arthur finally dons his orange and green comic accurate costume at the climax of the film. Mera’s costume is a direct recreation of her comic source material and Orm/Ocean Master’s full purple and silver battle garb is a perfect counterbalance to Arthur’s orange and green. Black Manta and the Atlantean soldiers take the cake for costume design. Giving us a great armoured and vibrant colour scheme for the costumes of the Atlanteans, Kym Barrett, worked closely with Wan to bring his vision to life. Manta’s costume was heavily influenced by the source material while adding a very apparent Atlantean touch to it to provide a truly menacing character.

“The Trench” which are an ancient race of Atlanteans since mutated into a cross of humans and Angler Fish, were truly horrifying and provided some very terrifying scenes.

Trench Drone
Trench Swarm

MUSIC

The score for the film worked extremely well to create and translate the mood and feel from the shots to the viewers. There were a couple of misfires with some of the music, in particular a horrible cover of ‘Africa’. In a movie of fantastical underwater civilizations and wondrous technology, it felt out of place and a cheap way to bring a small laugh from the audience. With the exception of that small misstep the music fit the film really well and even the inclusion of a Greta Van Fleet chart topper worked to immerse the audience in the world of Aquaman.

ACTION

It’s hard for me to accurately describe the action in the film. It’s not that it wasn’t apparent or well done, it’s just that the majority of it was done using CGI. For obvious reasons they needed to use CGI to convey the 360 degree combat that the Atlanteans and the other kingdoms of the sea are fluent in, not to mention their amazing powers, it just left me a little wanting. The up close and personal action scenes with Arthur,Mera, Manta, the Atlanteans and Orm were very well done and choreographed, but they were few and far between. There is a big CGI slugfest of a fight at the climax of the film that delivers on the building tensions throughout the run time and showcases the various kingdoms of the sea beautifully. I’m not sure if Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa went to trident combat training, or if there even is such a thing, but their work with those tridents is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Arthur and Orm before ‘Ring of Fire’

OVERALL

As someone who has seen every comic book movie to come out since the release of the Dark Knight in 2008, I can say that this is (in my opinion) the best DC movie since Nolan’s trilogy. While I did thoroughly enjoy Wonder Woman, the villain just didn’t capture me like Orm and Manta do. I love Gal Gadot and think she’s perfect for the role of Diana, but Momoa knocks this one out of the park. I would rate it as the top DCEU movie and overall I would give it a solid 9.0/10. Shazam and Wonder Woman 84 are going to have to really step their game up to even come close to this gem that Wan delivered. I highly recommend that if you’re a fan of the character or any of the cast listed that you go and see the film. If this is the first salvo in a new and improved DCEU, then the MCU could be getting a run for their money.

Aquaman movie poster

See you next time!

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Most Underrated Heroes Vol.10 – Aquaman

This month for my underrated hero inclusion, I decided to focus on a hero that was hated by many for decades; only to recently, receive some love from the same fans, that hero is Aquaman. Now almost everyone is familiar with Aquaman for either the mockery meme that circled the internet for years, or for Jason Momoa’s portrayal of the Atlantean king in Justice League. Aquaman was a founding member of the Justice League and first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in November of 1941. He was created by artist Paul Norris and DC Editor and writer, Mort Weisinger.  Aquaman has been a staple in DC comics since his first inclusion in the Justice League of America and has gone on to share in some of the greatest arcs in the past 40 years, Flashpoint Paradox, Throne of Atlantis, and New 52 Justice League Origin to name a few.

Momoa Aquaman

The next installment in the floundering DCEU, is Aquaman in December of this year. Momoa will reprise his role as the Atlantean King for the first solo live action portrayal of Aquaman. The film will center around him accepting his role as king of Atlantis, as well as his conflicts with Black Manta, and his half-brother Orm aka Ocean Master. James Wan, known primarily for his horror directing career, has helmed the project and I for one, think he can really bring the darkness and mystery that comes with Atlantis.

First thing’s first, let’s get a rundown of Aquaman…

HISTORY

Aquaman has had a couple of different origins throughout his publication history. His first origin stated that he was the Half- Human Half-Atlantean son of Tom Curry of Amnesty Bay and the exiled Queen Atlanna of Atlantis. His mother died when he was young and he was raised by his father away from the ocean until he was a teen and learned the truth of his heritage.

During the Crisis On Infinite Earths story arc, which rebooted most of the known DC Comics universe, we were given his new origin.

Aquaman BM

Given the name Orin at birth by his mother, he was the heir to the Atlantean royal family. The Queen who had been unable to conceive a child with her husband King Trevis, had a dream during which she was impregnated by the immortal wizard Atlan (just go with it). During the dream Atlan predicted of Orin’s future, stating she would bear another son because the two must continuously struggle over the throne of Atlantis. After Orin’s birth, King Trevis immediately knew he wasn’t his son, due to his blond hair.

Blond Hair among Atlanteans was considered to be a bad omen as it was believed anyone with blond hair carried the Curse of Kordax. Kordax was a warmonger who nearly destroyed the entire population of Atlantis early in their history, he was the only Atlantean to have blond hair, and thus every child with blond hair is believed to be corrupted by his essence.

Back to Aquaman… Unable to admit that their child could carry the Curse of Kordax, Orin was left to die in Mercy Reef, where his ability to communicate with sea life caused him to be raised by Dolphins (again… just go with it). The King and Queen announced there had been a miscarriage and had another son named Orm, who would eventually become the villain Ocean Master. Orin swan with this pod of dolphins for several years with his “adoptive mother” Porm taking care of him. When humans killed his adoptive brother Drin (a dolphin) Orin left the pod to be on his own. He was found by a lighthouse keeper Tom Curry, who took the boy in and named him Arthur Curry. Upon Tom Curry’s death, Arthur spent some time in Alaska where he fell in love with an Eskimo girl named Kako. They would conceive a son named Koryak, unknown to Arthur for many years. He traveled the world doing good deeds, and even helped Flash in a battle with the Trickster. During the press conference following the Trickster’s capture, Flash called Arthur “Aquaman” and the name stuck.  Orin decided to return to Atlantis to find his birth mother and was arrested by the Atlantean guard and thrown in the Aquarium prison. It was here that he met and befriended Vulko, a scientist who knew of Arthur’s true heritage and claim to the Throne. Vulko taught Arthur to read and speak Atlantean during their captivity. When Arthur learned of his birth mother, the Queen’s death, he escaped the prison and returned to the surface. Not long after that he received word that Vulko had led a revolution in Atlantis and seized control of the throne for Arthur claiming his lineage as his right.

I Am Your King

This origin was later retconned following the story arc Infinite Crisis, to the original tale of him being born of the Queen and Tom Curry.

As the new ruler of Atlantis, Arthur took in a young boy named Garth, who was abandoned as a child by a group of Atlanteans called the Idylists, making him the first Aqualad. This young Atlantean would go on to share in plenty of adventures with Aquaman until his death at the hands of the reanimated zombified heroes in Blackest Night.

Aquaman met and fell in love with a fellow Atlantean named Mera, who he eventually married. She remains as one of his closest advisors and his Queen. Together they conceived a son, though his time on earth was short.

One the biggest tragedies for Aquaman was the death of his natural son, Arthur Curry Jr.. Black Manta (Aquaman’s arch-Nemesis) teamed up with some other villains to coordinate attacks against Aquaman to scatter his mind and leave him vulnerable. While Aquaman was fending off various attacks a diplomatic coup left him branded as an outsider and had a kill order put on him should he ever return to Atlantis. Through a very complicated series of events, Black Manta was able to kidnap Aquababy (Arthur Curry Jr.) and trap Aqualad and Aquaman in a death match arena, forcing them to fight to the death to save Aquababy from drowning (full blood Atlanteans drown in open air like fish). While the two eventually managed to breakout of the arena they were too late to save Aquababy. This broke the family apart causing Mera to resent Arthur for failing to save their son. Arthur and Mera were forced to ally with each other and fight against Ocean Master and a robot he had been controlling, which brought Mera’s feelings of love for Arthur back to the surface.

Fast forward several years past the Crisis on Infinite Earths and we arrive at the point where Aquaman loses his hand. After deciding to begin chronicling his adventures as a history of himself, he discovers that Ocean Master is indeed his half brother. This causes Arthur to spiral into a deep depression which Garth is eventually able to break him out of. One of Aquaman’s foes, Charybdis, planted a trap to capture Aquaman using an underwater radiation leak as bait. When Aquaman and Aqualad fall for the bait, Charybdis springs the trap capturing them. Eventually the two Atlanteans manage to escape and join battle with Charybdis. Charybdis manages to overpower Aquaman and holds his hand in a pool filled with piranhas that devour Aquaman’s left hand. Despite losing his hand, Aquaman manages to fight Charybdis and toss him into the pool, where he is devoured by the piranhas. Aquaman returns to Atlantis and retreats into the Aquacave where he remains for months until he emerges with a harpoon attached to his arm where his hand used to be.

Aquaman_0014

During Infinite Crisis everything changes for Aquaman. The Secret Society of Supervillains staged an attack on Sub Diego (yes… I said Sub Diego), causing Aquaman’s allies and fellow Atlanteans to rally together to fend off the attack. The Spectre has allied with the Society and during the battle, he destroys all of Atlantis with a single blow. The destruction of their home forces thousands of Atlantean refugees to flee to Sub Diego which is under the political control of Black Manta. Aquaman falls once again into a deep depression and mourns his people. The bodies of Vulko and Koryak (Aquaman’s son from Kako) are discovered in the wreckage of Atlantis, which causes Arthur to sink further into his depressive state. When Aquaman is sighted in the Battle of Metropolis fighting Bane and Headhunter, Manta abandons his political position in Sub Diego to strike at Aquaman when he is weakest. Aquaman loses it. He viciously beats Manta, destroys the Manta sub and leaves Black Manta to die in a frenzy of sharks.

In order to try and restore his home and save the refugees at the behest of Aquagirl, Arthur makes a deal with the Sea Gods. The Gods offer him immense power but it will cause him to become the vessel for something “strange, dark and terrible”. Aquaman accepts without hesitation and his mind and body warp, changing him into the Dweller of the Depths.

DEATH

A relative of Arthur’s adoptive father Tom Curry makes his way to Atlantis, revealing he received similar powers to that of Arthur through his own father’s genetic experimentation on him. This relative known as Arthur Joseph Curry (eventually taking the name of Joseph Curry) then meets the Dweller of the Depths who, mistaking his own memories as a prophecy, encourages him to become the new Aquaman. In order to teach him about heroism, the Dweller encourage the new Aquaman to travel the Atlantic Ocean and bring it to order. Fearing the Dweller’s power and his growing influence the “Order of the Thorny Crown” (the ruling political party in Atlantis and Sub Diego) order that the Dweller be killed to preserve their people. Using magic and the body of a fallen Atlantean, The Pardoner (a sort of mad scientist type) creates an assassin and names it, Narwhal, arming it with a harpoon and sending it after the Dweller. After getting past the remaining Atlantean army, and beating the new Aquaman in single combat, Narwhal proceeds to murder the Dweller by stabbing him through the chest with his harpoon. It is heavily implied that Narwhal is actually the re-animated body of Koryak that was brainwashed into killing his own father.

During the funeral for Arthur the entire Justice League of America attends the service and pays their respects to the fallen king. Due to the unknown power of the Dweller, several League members express concerns over whether or not Arthur could revive himself and continue as the Dweller. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Arthur’s body dissolves into water.

RESURRECTION

During the Blackest Night story arc Arthur is one of the first heroes reanimated by the power rings from the Black Lantern Corps. Following the defeat of Nekron and the expulsion of the Black Lantern Rings, the White Power Battery resurrected 12 people for an unknown purpose, one of them, was Arthur Curry the original Aquaman.

Black LAntern Aquaman

During the Brightest Day arc, Aquaman and Mera reconcile at Amnesty Bay and take on some Somalian Pirates where Arthur learns he retained his Black Lantern ability to command dead sea life.  Mera’s twin sister, Siren, attacks them with a death squad of exiled Atlanteans from Xebel (the Bermuda Triangle), the penal colony for exiled separatist Atlantenas. It is revealed that Mera’s original mission was to assassinate Arthur but she ended up falling in love with him and was unable to carry out her mission. The White Lantern speaks to Arthur and encourages him to find Jackson Hyde, not knowing who Jackson was or why he needed to find him, he resolves to set out to search for this mysterious person.  Before he can leave, Mera explains she knows who Jackson is, and states that he is Black Manta’s son. Arthur and Mera find Jackson, discovering him to be part Atlantean and able to use magic to create hard water constructs like Mera. Arthur urges Jackson, to help him and Mera to save the people of the surface from the impending invasion by the exiles from Xebel. Jackson discovers a suit of armour that allows him to focus and channel his powers and agrees to help Arthur and Mera.

When the battle commences the exiles of Xebel are caught between the Atlantean army and Arthur’s undead sea creatured in the ocean, and Arthur, Jackson and Mera on the land. Black Manta, who saw news coverage of the previous battle between Aquaman and the death squad, murders the entire restaurant he is working in and resolves to finally kill his nemesis. Manta joins the battle and sides the Siren and the Xebel soldiers, cutting off Arthur’s left hand once again. Mera, utilizing all of her strength is able to generate a massive tidal wave that sweeps the Xebel soldiers and Manta back into the Bermuda triangle where Jackson utilizes his new powers to restore the barrier (it had been broken during Blackest Night) imprisoning the Xebel soldiers and Black Manta in the Bermuda Triangle.

Aquaman vs. Black Manta

Arthur is teleported away and is revealed to be one of the elementals of the Earth needed to battle Nekron once more. He, along with the other elementals merge together in a megazord-like body to combat Swamp Thing, who has been tainted by the power of Nekron (again… just go with it. Not DC Comics’ finest hour…). Once they finally expel Nekron from Swamp Thing, Arthur is fully restored to life, losing his Black Lantern abilities and regaining his normal powers and his hand is replaced by the White Power Battery.

POWERS & ABILITIES

Like all other Atlanteans, Aquaman  has some truly remarkable abilities.

  • Atlantean Biology Adaptation – Under water breathing, adaptable to immense pressures, superhuman speed, superhuman endurance, superhuman agility, but cannot spend long outside of water. Aquaman is of royal blood and as such is able to spend extended periods outside of water and his regular Atlantean abilities are even greater than that of a regular Atlantean.
  • Amphibious Nature – Allows Aquaman to breathe in water and on land.
  • Enhanced Vision – Able to see at the incredible depths in the ocean where not even light penetrates. This also gives him superhuman vision on the surface.
  • Enhanced Hearing
  • Enhanced Sense of Smell
  • Superhuman Durability
  • Energy/Heat Resistance – Able to withstand energy and heat blasts from Black Manta, Amazo, and OMAC.
  • Superhuman Reflexes
  • Marine Telepathy – Able to mentally dominate marine wildlife to obey his commands. Through the use of the “Clear”, he is able to communicate with all sea life around the globe regardless of proximity. His ability to command sea life has been known to supersede the animals will of self-preservation.

In addition to all these powers Aquaman is also a master swimmer and due to his Atlantean physiology is able to swim at super speeds. He is an expert combatant, an expert tactician, and an accomplished diplomat.

Aquaman_0013

His main weapon in addition to his physical abilities is his Trident. Aquaman has used two different tridents over his comic career, the Trident of Neptune and the Trident of Poseidon. Both tridents offer full control over the oceans and the ability to project lightning and arcane blasts. The wielder is also able to use the Tridents to command a vicious species of monster from the deep ocean called, The Trench. Both tridents are one of the few items fabricated on Earth that can pierce Kryptonian skin.

WHY THEY’RE UNDERRATED

I’m going to start this off by saying that up until the New 52, I was right on board with the shit on Aquaman train. I never picked up a comic or cared about him as a character because of all the ridiculous memes and that abysmal cartoon where he rode a giant sea horse. BUT… once I read the New 52 Justice League and saw how badass they made him, I was hooked. He was a brawler who was able to go toe to toe with Superman and the rest of the League. During the Throne of Atlantis story arc, he actually took on the entire League single handedly and slapped them around like rag dolls. Literally. By himself, took on the League and won. Granted it was only the core 7 members, but still, that’s a huge feat on its own.

Aquaman Batman

Aquaman vs Jusice League

Geoff Johns did an amazing job re-imagining the character to make him more contemporary and bring his power set up to super status. Not only that, but I thoroughly loved the portrayal that Jason Momoa gave us in Justice League. That movie has a LOT of issues, but one of the standout roles for me was Momoa’s Aquaman. He made him into a more gruff and kind of “bro” style hero, while still exhibiting an air of regality. While they did nerf his powers and abilities a little bit, he still was able to throw down when it was needed. I am fairly excited for the movie coming out in December of this year. Not only do we get more Momoa Aquaman, but it’s also going to introduce Black Manta played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ocean Master/Orm played by Patrick Wilson, and Vulko played by Willem Dafoe. Patrick Wilson was amazing as Nite-Owl II in Watchmen and I’m very interested to see what Yahya Abdul-Mateen II can do as Black Manta. I’ve only seen Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in comedic roles up until this point, so i’m very excited to see how his portrayal of Black Manta will go. Not only am I excited for the cast, but Director James Wan is known for his horror films and I’m curious to see how he will handle Atlantis and all it’s wonders.

Aquaman and Mera

Bottom line, I was wrong about Aquaman. Up until the release of the New 52 you could ask any of my friends, and they would tell you that I would rag on Aquaman all the time. I would cite the photo of him trapped by a plastic six pack holder or just end up calling him useless and saying he’ll get trapped by a fishnet before he could help at all in a fight. I’m not sure how most comic fans have not noticed how awesome he is, but I just assume it has to do with the same preconceived notions I had about him as well. I hope this movie helps to serve as the revitalization that the DCEU needs so desperately but if it doesn’t…Aquaman will still hold a spot as one of the most underrated heroes in DC comics.