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Arguably the most anticipated reveal of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the trailer for James Wan’s Aquaman brought a wave of excitement to fans Saturday in Hall H. Warner Bros.’ latest entry in its universe of DC films, now officially referred to as Worlds of DC, finds the studio attempting to turn the tide after last year’s Justice League was met with critical and financial disappointment.
Aquaman sees Jason Momoa reprise the titular role, as he’s forced to contend with his royal legacy and his outsider status. While the character’s pop culture status has made him the butt of jokes over the decades, largely thanks to his rather useless role in the 1970s animated series Super Friends, Aquaman looks to pull from the character’s rich comic book history – most notably Geoff Johns’ run on the character in 2011, and make him a power player with popularity akin to Wonder Woman in the eyes of general audience members. By injecting the same adrenaline rush that has served Wan well in both the realms of horror and action, Aquaman looks like a wholly unique moviegoing experience that may be the latter half of 2018’s biggest event film.
Like each of the previous DC pics have done, Aquaman gives us a glimpse of the hero’s beginnings, rooting us in the mythological aspects of this character. The events leading to Arthur Curry’s birth look to be largely the same as they are in modern comics with lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescuing the Atlantean Queen, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and falling in love with her despite their different backgrounds. While we don’t see much of her in this trailer, the Comic-Con crowd was treated to an extended trailer featuring an action-heavy Atlanna scene scenes showcasing the extent of her powers. Within DC’s multiple continuities, a number of different fates have awaited Atlanna, some where she dies young and others where she’s driven mad and eventually becomes a threat to Arthur’s reign. While it’s too early to know if Kidman’s role will be a one-time appearance or not, here’s hoping that the movie puts her talents to good use.
Although Atlanna may not be a threat in this film, or ever, her son and Arthur’s half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), certainly will be. Orm, also known as Ocean Master, is one of Aquaman’s most oft-repeated enemies and one of the earliest to make up his small, but consistent, gallery of rogues. Orm acts as ruler of Atlantis, and he is driven to wipe out the humans of the surface world who have polluted the oceans and brought their wars to once-peaceful waters. Orm’s motivations in the comics are similar and his plan to unite the seven kingdoms against those on land pulls from a similar storyline, “Throne of Atlantis,” which served as the high point of Johns’ run. Despite the fact that sibling rivalries are a staple of the comic book genre, and mythology, Momoa and Wilson can bring layered complexity to their respective roles.
Speaking of complexity, one of the most interesting characters from Aquaman’s stories is Mera (Amber Heard), his eventual Queen and a powerful superhero in her own right, whose mastery over water makes her even more powerful than Arthur. Here, we meet Mera before she becomes Queen and see the beginnings of her relationship with Arthur. Though we got a brief glimpse of the character in Justice League, she’s very much the co-lead of Aquaman just as she is in the comics. A warrior from the lost Atlantean tribe of Xebel, Mera plans to overthrow Orm’s rule by seeking out the rightful heir of Atlantis. In modern comic continuity, it’s revealed that Mera was actually sent to Atlantis by the Xebel tribe to assassinate the ruler of Atlantis as revenge for the tribe’s exile to a penal colony. Her mission as assassin fades as she falls in love with Arthur, but eventually her tribe comes looking for her and demands answers as to why she hasn’t completed her mission. Aquaman, at least as a first film, may simplify Mera’s background, but with Dolph Lundgren appearing as Mera’s father King Nereus, Arthur and Orm may not be the only ones spilling family blood.
Wan has described Aquaman as a quest film, and has said it’s closer to a fantasy-adventure film than a superhero film. The trailer, which takes us through Atlantis and several sea kingdoms, certainly lives up to the spectacle promised by a fantasy film. With its vast kingdoms, deep mythology and family feuds, Aquaman is shaping up to be Game of Thrones underwater. Aquaman isn’t only pulling from high-fantasy, but adventure romances like Raiders of the Ark (1981) and Romancing the Stone (1984) as well. Arthur and Mera’s plan to overthrow Orm takes them on a journey to find the trident of King Atlan, the ancient ruler of Atlantis who used the trident to sink Atlantis centuries ago after a feud with his brother Orin led to the massacre of his family. While the trident may be a McGuffin (something that certainly hasn’t hindered the Marvel Cinematic Universe), it may hold a greater meaning as its symbolic role creates parallel tragedies across generations.
One of the trailer’s most exciting moments is when we see Arthur and Mera struggling against monsters known as the Trench. When Atlan sank Atlantis, the surviving kingdoms were forced to adapt to their new surroundings. The Trench evolved to survive the dark depths of the ocean, taking on a more monstrous appearance. This sequence will definitely give Wan a chance to tap into his love of horror and showcase the film’s ability to move in and out of different genres. In the trailer, we also see glimpses of the other Kingdoms, the Fishermen and the Brine, as Orm prepares for an all-out war that involves riding massive sea creatures. Exploring the deep and discovering the different cultures that exist under the sea will certainly be one of the film’s biggest selling points as Wan introduces audiences to a new universe amidst a familiar one.
Aquaman won’t only be forced to contend with undersea adversaries, but a human one as well. In the comics, Aquaman accidently killed Manta’s father, creating a personal grudge between the men, one that results in Black Manta killing Aquaman’s infant son in one of DC’s earliest moments of uncompromising bleakness. Michael Beach has been cast in Manta’s father in the film, making it safe to speculate that this grudge will be born from similar circumstances. A treasure hunter and mercenary, Black Manta has famously had a design said to be near-impossible to re-create in live-action. Art designer Pascal Blanche was up to the challenge, and we have Black Manta in a costume that’s not only practical but entirely accurate to the comics.
Wan has said that Manta will play a secondary role in the film, with the crux of the film centering on the conflict between Arthur and Orm. But with rising star Abdul-Mateen II in the role, and Black Manta being a central member of the Legion of Doom, it seems likely we’ll see a lot more of him in the future. Although Aquaman’s future isn’t promised, this trailer has us ready to welcome what will hopefully be a long-running franchise. Wan certainly has plenty of material to pull from and explore. As a collective entity, DC’s cinematic universe may not have garnered the love of the masses yet, but Aquaman looks like the buried treasure so many moviegoers have been waiting for Warner Bros. to uncover.
Aquaman is set to swim into theaters Dec. 21.
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