How 'Aquaman' Can Fill the December Void Left by 'Star Wars'

Monday morning, Warner Bros. released its final trailer for James Wan’s Aquaman, along with the announcement that tickets are on sale. Although fans just received a five-minute extended trailer last month, the latest trailer is surprisingly full of new footage, even if the story beats we’re getting a glimpse of are the same. Surprisingly, we’ve managed to get three different trailers that show unique aspects of the film without creating a sense that we’ve seen the best parts of the movie. Warner Bros. clearly has a lot riding on this film, not only in terms of its DC properties but also in order to stand out during what’s shaping up to be a more crowded holiday season than usual in the absence of a Star Wars film. Yet the signs, and a few early reactions, are pointing to Aquaman potentailly creating a big splash in December. This latest trailer, which showcases the film’s visuals, along with more of star Jason Momoa’s undeniable swagger, is promising a film unlike any superhero movie we’ve seen before, not only because of its setting, but its large cast of supporting characters each with very specific motivations all working together to give Atlantis a true sense of space and history.

The final trailer gives us our first true introduction of Willem Dafoe’s Vulko, who was set to be introduced in last year’s Justice League before his scenes were cut. Of course this is not Dafoe’s first foray into comic book films as he famously played Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). But this time he’ll be on the side of the good guys, well… maybe. Vulko has an interesting history in the Aquaman mythos and has been one of the comic’s oldest supporting characters. In initial appearances, Vulko serves as the chief science adviser who offers his counsel to Aquaman and Aqualad on many occasions. Think of him as Aquaman’s Alfred, though perhaps more often placed in a position of comic relief.

Recent comic appearances, specifically in Geoff Johns run, from which Wan’s film borrows heavily, find Vulko as an exile who offers his advice to Arthur Curry under the pretenses of getting the hero to accept his right to the throne and allow him back in Atlantis. Vulko orchestrates a war between Atlantis and the surface world by pitting Orm and Arthur against each other, and hiring Black Manta, in a calculated chess game that ends with Aquaman being forced to accept the mantle of king within a divided kingdom. The trailer depicts Vulko training Arthur from a young age and letting him in on the secrets of his legacy. While he’s no doubt responsible for Arthur becoming the hero we met in Justice League, he may have more up his sleeve when it comes to getting Arthur to wear the crown.

Perhaps the biggest treat in the trailer for longtime Aquaman fans is a full look at Orm (Patrick Wilson) all suited-up as Ocean Master. While Black Manta may be the more recognizable villain, specifically for those audience members whose primary knowledge of Aquaman comes from Super Friends, Ocean Master has been a constant nemesis for Arthur Curry. As Aquaman’s half-brother, who is determined to destroy the surface world, Orm is a pure Atlantean, giving him, at least in his eyes, a right to the throne. In the trailer, we see him plotting with Mera’s father, King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), ensuring that Aquaman will have plenty to distract him from his quest for the Trident. Should Orm get his hands on the Trident of King Atlan, he could drown the world and turn all of the Earth into Atlantis, an act he attempted in Geoff John’s Aquaman-Justice League crossover Throne of Atlantis (2012), which is essential comic book reading for any interested viewer. Given the character’s prevalence in Aquaman comics, it would not be at all surprising to see Ocean Master set up to return in future films, especially since the continued political strife between the two men has led to some of Aquaman’s most memorable storylines.

While Aquaman may be the guy viewers are coming to see, make no mistake that Mera (Amber Heard) is the one everyone is going to be talking about when they leave the theater. The film is setting Mera up to be Aquaman’s co-lead, just as she is in modern comics. Though her appearances in Aquaman comics waned during a time, she’s become more prominent than ever and a recent storyline has seen Aquaman relinquish the throne of Atlantis to her while he explores his connection to a mysterious, universal life energy. Mera may be a great diplomat, but she’s not one to back away from a fight. While previous trailers showcased some of the more labor-intensive applications of Mera’s hydrokinesis powers, here we see them being used offensively. Her ability to control and manipulate hard-water constructs is one of comics’ coolest power sets and is sure to be a visual highlight of the film.

There’s a lot of moving pieces in Aquaman, and while the film is an origin story, it’s also going above and beyond that and into what appears to be a full-scale war, complete with underwater kaiju. While there may be some doubts over whether Wan will be able to balance all of these characters and plotlines, his track record for creating movie magic speaks for itself. Aquaman looks to be set in a world just as interesting as anything we’ve seen in Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, and if the film can create a big enough wave at the box office, this might only be the beginning of our trips beneath the waves.

Aquaman will be released Dec. 21.