Where 'Aquaman 2' Could Go
[This story contains spoilers for Aquaman.]
Aquaman has already broken records in China, and is reigning at the U.S. box office. A sequel is in the early stages of discussion, and luckily for Warner Bros., there’s plenty of source material for Aquaman sequels to draw from, some of which the first film sets up.
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Jason Momoa has recently said that he’s already shared some ideas with director James Wan about where the next installment may go. And although the director has not confirmed whether he’s up for a sequel, he also said that there was room for the sequels to go. The enticing thing about Wan as a filmmaker is that he gets the most out of every movie. It’s easy to imagine another iteration of Aquaman that would have solely focused on Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), or Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson), or even Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), but Wan’s film does all of it to great success. Whether we’re talking about the self-topping roller-coaster ride of Furious 7 (2015) or The Conjuring 2’s (2016) focus on not only the real-life Enfield Poltergeist events but also spinoff groundwork laid by the original concepts of The Nun and The Crooked Man, Wan packs his films to the brim to give audiences the most out of their moviegoing experiences. With that in mind, we’ve got a few ideas about where Aquaman could go in the hands of James Wan.
The most obvious route a sequel will take is further defining the animosity between Aquaman (Momoa) and his comic book nemesis Black Manta (Abdul-Mateen II). Although the villain played a secondary role to Orm/Ocean Master (Wilson), Aquaman spent a significant amount of time showcasing David Kane’s transformation into Black Manta. Manta’s origin has changed numerous times over the years, but this version draws inspiration from Geoff Johns’ take on the character, established in Brightest Day (2011) and the New 52 (2011). In the comics, a young Arthur Curry killed Black Manta’s father on accident after his own father was attacked. But the film makes a clever alteration by having Arthur choose not to save Manta’s father when given the opportunity. As Arthur tells Mera (Amber Heard) later in the film, he made a choice and made an enemy. Arthur’s guilt and the fact that a decision changed the entire course of his life and those around him is a major consequence to grapple with.
Just as his origin story has received numerous iterations, so have Manta’s aims. From wanting to punish Aquaman for not saving him as a boy, to wanting to create an Atlantean empire for oppressed African Americans, Manta has always been driven by hatred, going so far to kill Arthur and Mera’s infant son. Recent iterations have seen him grow beyond simply seeking revenge for the death of his father to joining the Legion of Doom in an effort to obtain a relic that would give him Aquaman’s powers and place him within a hierarchy of ocean gods in Justice League: Drowned Earth (2018). Manta always has a plan and while Aquaman won the first round, the mid-credits scene suggests that Manta will be ready next time and perhaps give audiences a taste of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for the Aquaman sequel, complete with Arthur losing a hand. As important as it is for him to be ruthless, the sequel should also give us greater insight into what makes Kane tick, and employ flashbacks to his youth. He’s a Depeche Mode-loving, genius pirate and that’s certainly a headspace worth spending some time in. Hopefully the sequel gives him the proper buildup with a pulp title like Aquaman: The Wrath of Black Manta.
Aquaman’s mid-credits scene also suggested that when Black Manta returns he’ll have an ally. Marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park) appears as a talking head on various news outlets throughout the movie, claiming to know about the existence of Atlantis – something the rest of humanity isn’t privy to yet. Shin is a more recent character, introduced in John’s Aquaman series. He began as an ally to young Arthur Curry, and helped him hone his developing powers, but turned on Arthur and outed him to the media when the boy denied him the location of Atlantis. When Black Manta seeks him out years later to help him gain access to King Atlan’s tomb and the artifacts within, a remorseful Shin turns him down, not wanting to betray Aquaman again. The film version of Shin doesn’t appear to have any history with Arthur, and seems willing to work with Manta in order to gain access to Atlantis. While Shin is unlikely to be a full-on antagonist, he could emphasize the self-interested nature of man and the fears of the surface world. His plans to exploit Atlantis would likely reveal the lost continent to the rest of the world and force Aquaman to not only act as a hero, but also a diplomat.
Another one of Aquaman’s most frequently appearing foes, Orm has always been Aquaman’s half-brother but his parentage and physiology has changed over the decades. Originally fully human, and jealous of his brother’s powers, Orm sought control over the throne and used technology to create natural disasters. The version we see in the film is, again, directly tied to Johns’ take on the character. Thankfully the film doesn’t kill Orm off, and instead has him defeated and deposed from his throne. Ocean Master, like Magneto and Loki, seems destined to be one of those characters whose presence is always felt, in order to stand in contrast to Aquaman. The sequel would do well to keep Orm imprisoned for most of the film’s runtime and let him and Arthur discuss their differing viewpoints behind walls. It would be fitting after these discussions that Arthur and Orm begin to find kinship, only for Orm to escape and set up Throne of Atlantis for the third film. Throne of Atlantis (2012) is the high point of Johns’ run, and sees Aquaman fighting alongside the Justice League when Orm finally brings the war to the surface, drowning cities and leading an army of loyalists against Earth’s military forces. It’s the kind of story that seems destined to be a trilogy capper, and maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see Wan get his hands on the Justice League and make the film feel like a true event.
Sure, sidekicks aren’t exactly considered mainstream anymore and the DC film universe so far has done nothing to set up their introduction, save for brief mentions of a dead Robin in Batman v Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016). But much of what makes the DC Universe so appealing is its emphasis on legacy characters. From Robin’s transition to Nightwing and Wonder Girl’s transformation to Troia, DC Comics has featured some of the best sidekick glow-ups. Among these is Aqualad’s transformation into Tempest. There have been a couple Aqualads, the first being Garth, and the second being Jackson Hyde, Black Manta’s son. It’s too soon for Hyde to make an appearance, but Garth seems like a strong candidate to add a new dynamic for the sequel. He doesn’t need to be a 12-year-old boy or even be called Aqualad outside of a jokey reference. Instead, this depiction of Garth could borrow from recent comics where he’s an Atlantean wizard in his early 20s. Garth/Tempest would be the perfect means to focus on Atlantean magic, which we’ll get to. In the comics, Garth was an outcast because of his purple eyes, a mark of the mystic exiled Atlantean tribe, The Idyllists. The appearance of a young man with purple eyes could give Aquaman a secondary conflict to deal with in the film, as the superstitious and archaic nature of the Atlanteans is tested by a King who is defiantly modern.
If there was one thing Aquaman could have used more of it was a greater sense of Atlantis at its height. We got a brief look at Atlan’s rule before Atlantis sank, but there’s plenty in the past for Aquaman sequels to mine as well. Peter David and Esteban Maroto’s The Atlantis Chronicles tells the entire history of Atlantis, one that is predicated on feuding siblings. The seven-issue maxi-series is one of DC’s finest publications and if not utilized in Aquaman sequels, it could easily be the basis of a show on DC Universe that operates in a manner similar to Syfy’s Krypton. Even if we don’t see much in the way of flashbacks in the Aquaman sequel, Atlantean history should once again drive the motion of the plot. One of the biggest contributing factors to Aquaman’s unique feel and tone was its emphasis on the quest storyline. While the sequel should certainly offer more than the search for another McGuffin, it would still be welcomed to see Aquaman and Mera travel across the world’s oceans, perhaps to the Arctic, in search of another Atlantean artifact that could change the future. Much of the modern Atlantis we see in the film relies on science, but magic is a key component in the comic book mythos as well. The search for something relating to Atlantean sorcerer Arion that would reintroduce magic to Atlantis to fight against the technologically savvy Black Manta would be a good opportunity to expand this world. This could also be a means to create some ties to Wonder Woman, whose Amazon sisters shared both a pantheon of gods and numerous secrets with the Atlanteans prior to their sinking.
Of all the worlds DC currently has at its disposal, Aquaman’s may be the most exciting. Not only is it a breath of fresh air from the cityscapes and space-faring of other superhero movies, but it’s a realm that audiences are largely unfamiliar with. There’s plenty waiting just under the sea, and for longtime fans of the character and those who are just discovering Aquaman, Wan’s film promises an exciting future not only in terms of a franchise, but also the DC film universe as a whole. Long live the King.
by Graeme McMillan
by Patrick Shanley