King of Atlantis

Aquaman brought the King of the Seven Seas to life. DC somehow managed to turn a swimming punchline into an absolute badass with an equally awesome film. I honestly never thought I’d be so entertained by an Aquaman movie. Let alone one that exists in the DC Extended Universe. After the lukewarm response to Justice League, it was a little over a year before the next DCEU flick came out. Warner Bros. once again couldn’t get their shared universe right. So Aquaman made his unceremonious debut in Dawn of Justice and Justice League before we really got to know who he is. Aquaman is the greatest underwater superhero of all time. At least until Marvel finally figures out how to make a Namor the Sub-Mariner movie. Fun fact: Aquaman is a rare DC rip-off character who made his comic debut 2 years after Namor.

Created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris, Aquaman’s first appearance was as a featured superhero in the 1941 More Fun Comics #73. I’ve always been intrigued by Aquaman, but I understand how fun it was to make fun of his fishy superpowers. Shows like Super Friends didn’t help his reputation. So DC always made an effort to give the King of Atlantis more dignity. The only media exposure he got was in animation, frequent appearances on Smallville, and an unaired WB pilot. Although he nearly appeared in Justice League: Mortal, an Aquaman movie surprisingly became a priority when the DCEU launched. More unexpected is horror director James Wan wanting to bring Atlantis to the big screen. It’s not perfect, but Aquaman is a spectacle unlike anything I’ve ever seen before…

11. Aquaman

Aquaman becomes worthy

Aquaman has more CGI than any other DC comics adaptation. Green Lantern notwithstanding. Which is why Aquaman always worked much better in animation. Although he hasn’t had the spotlight nearly as many times as you’d think. Aquaman wasn’t even a core member of the Justice League in the animated series. Despite being a founding member, the Protector of the Deep wasn’t always part of the team. The Golden Age placed Aquaman in the war effort, while the Silver Age gave him more lighthearted aquatic adventures with his kid sidekick Aqualad. I guess it was Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish, the sight of him swimming with dolphins, and the apparent uselessness of his powers on dry land that turned him into a joke. Which is why the 90’s gave Aquaman an edgy redesign. Ditching his silly orange & green costume for a shirtless look complete with long hair, a beard, and harpoon hand. This brooding version of the King of Atlantis was the primary inspiration for Jason Momoa.

As I said in my Justice League review, Momoa is no blonde adonis like the traditional Arthur Curry. Even the slightly more serious New 52 comics maintained his original design. In terms of live-action, Alan Ritchson had the right look for a young A.C. on Smallville. Even Justin Hartley looked the part in the failed Aquaman pilot before ironically playing Green Arrow later on. Santiago Cabrera was a less traditional choice for Justice League: Mortal, but not nearly as non-traditional as Momoa. Since I only viewed him as a burly bruiser, I remained skeptical until his first full appearance. Despite his less than accurate gold & green Atlantean armor, I was mostly on board with his portrayal. Aquaman really gave Jason Momoa time to shine in an appropriately colorful lighthearted globetrotting epic. He’s both charismatic and looks like he’s having a blast.

Momoa was practically born to play Aquaman. Although he isn’t fully white like the comics, he is part-Hawaiian. Water practically followed his entire career from Baywatch Hawaii to Stargate: Atlantis. Ironically, a younger Momoa with blonde hair would’ve been the perfect comic accurate Aquaman. His Morai tattoos, trademark facial scar, and muscles just gave him a tougher appearance. Along with his beard and long hair given blonde highlights. Women went crazy for his exotic look. That, along with seeing an underwater world on the big screen ensured Aquaman would become the unexpected highest grossing DC movie of all time. Apart from Wonder Woman, it was finally a DCEU film I fully enjoyed watching in theaters. Water is easy for animated films like The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo, but it’s practically impossible for live-action. Not even James Cameron could make an Aquaman movie work until the special effects caught up with the project. It’s part of the reason why James Wan wanted to direct.

Completely different from Zack Snyder’s lackluster portrayal of Atlantis, Wan utilized a process called dry-for-wet. Where an actor or actress is dry, but visual effects create an underwater look. Blue screen rigs were used to simulate swimming. While hair, capes, and other free flowing objects are 100% CGI. Thankfully they ditch the stupid speech bubble thing in favor of actually having Atlanteans talk underwater. Even political discussions are instantly more entertaining when shot underwater. Sure it looks like a glossy cartoon at times, but how else would they have achieved it? My only problem with Aquaman is its 2 hour & 22 minute runtime. It’s as epic as Lord of the Rings, but it does feel like they crammed every aspect of Aquaman into one movie. Aquaman is similar to Man of Steel in terms of showing his origin through flashbacks. The movie literally begins before Arthur Curry is even born. Then we follow him as a baby, toddler, child, preteen, teenager, and adult. I have to admire Warner Bros. for somehow managing to find that many kids who look like Momoa.

Like most versions of the comics, Arthur’s father is a lighthouse keeper and his mother is the Queen of Atlantis. The first 9 minutes are dedicated to how Tom Curry & Queen Atlanna met and fell in love. Temuera Morrison is the perfect Maori father for Arthur since he’s already a fixture of pop culture and previously played Abin Sur in Green Lantern. There’s actually a lot of former superhero actors in the movie. Including Nicole Kidman who previously played Chase Meridian 23 years ago in Batman Forever. Ironically, Kidman was born in Hawaii just like her on-screen son. DC takes a page out of Marvel’s book by digitally de-aging both actors. Kidman was easy since she’s aged like fine wine, but Morrison ended up looking kind of rough. After having a son born from both worlds, Atlanna is tracked down by the Atlanteans. In the first of many action scenes started by a sudden explosion, Atlanna defends her new home with the five pronged quindent seen in Justice League. Tracking shots are at least one primary difference from Snyder’s style, but there’s still a lot of slow motion throughout.

Atlanna returns to the arranged marriage she was fleeing in order to protect her family. Years later, a child Arthur defends himself from bullies at an aquarium by telepathically communicating to all the fish in the tank. I know that superpower gets some flak, but it’s actually a lot cooler than it seems. It gives his golden eyes a bit more context. Arthur isn’t completely forgotten. Atlanna has her advisor Nuidis Vulko train the future king in his youth. Since Willem Dafoe was left out of the theatrical cut of Justice League, Aquaman is technically his first appearance. His digital de-aging doesn’t look good at all. Vulko answers questions I never even considered about Atlantis. More than simply breathing underwater, Atlanteans are dense enough to endure extreme pressure, survive cold temperatures, and see in the darkest depths of the ocean. Though Arthur grows resentful when he learns that his mother was killed for simply having him.

Which is why Arthur was a heavy drinker who wanted to be left alone in Justice League. Apart from a throwaway Steppenwolf reference, there’s barely any connection between movies. An obligatorily shirtless Aquaman displays his immense underwater strength by lifting a Russian submarine out of the water. The vessel is being hijacked by very important mercenary pirates. Aquaman has a mostly recognizable rogues gallery with at least 2 major standouts. His archenemy Black Manta and his personal foe Ocean Master. The lesser known Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings a subtle menace to technologically proficient pirate David Kane. Though Black Manta debuted in 1967, he didn’t unmask until 1977. I was very excited to see Black Manta in a movie, since he’s one of the earliest African American supervillains.

Kane gains a small amount of sympathy thanks to his father played by Michael Beach, giving him a manta knife belonging to his frogman grandfather. Arthur makes short work of his pirates, but gains an archenemy when he refuses to save Kane’s father. Turns out Kane was hired by King Orm Marius to stage an attack. Patrick Wilson is ironically, just as much a frequent Zack Snyder collaborator as he is a James Wan collaborator. Wilson previously played Nite Owl II in Watchman, but also stars in the Conjuring and Insidious franchises. Although comic origins vary, Ocean Master has always been the power hungry half brother of Arthur with the traditional goal of wanting to wage war on surface dwellers for polluting the ocean. It’s a standard villainous motivation, but Wilson sells it. Aquaman is similar to Thor for focusing on a sibling rivalry. Orm gathers all the armies of the Seven Seas in order to obtain the title of Ocean Master.

Vulko is Atlantis’ vizier present when Orm forms an alliance with King Nereus of Xebel. It’s not exactly the return to the big screen I expected from Dolph Lundgren, but he did have a recurring role on Arrow. So Nite Owl II, Green Goblin, and the Punisher discuss Atlantean politics before Kane’s staged attack. When Nereus sides with Orm, he systematically unites the remaining Kingdoms under his command. Including the mermaid-like Fisherman Kingdom. King Ricou is voiced by a very busy Djimon Hounsou. Meanwhile on the surface, Arthur shares a drink with his loving father. Tom is proud of his son for becoming what social media has dubbed Aquaman. Although people love him, Arthur continues to swim away from his destiny. He’s greeted by a much more colorful Mera ripped straight out of the comics. In spite of her current reputation, Amber Heard looks good in Mera’s green cleavage-bearing swimsuit while sporting bright red hair. Her “accent” is completely missing, but I barely noticed the first time.

Since Mera is Aquaman’s true love who married him in the very first superhero wedding, it only made sense to make her the co-lead. She shows off her unique hydrokinesis powers when Orm unleashes a devastating tsunami on the surface. Although betrothed to Orm by her father King Nereus, Mera risks treason to ensure Arthur becomes the rightful king. Atlantis is a lot more like the New 52 in how it portrays the underwater Kingdom as a cross between science and magic. They take Mera’s minisub to an impenetrable Atlantis protected on all fronts by cannons. The movie does utilize an air pocket, but only when Arthur, Mera, and Vulko need a shipwrecked boat to privately talk in. Though Atlanteans look down on Arthur as a “half-breed,” he need only obtain the lost Trident of Atlan to become ruler. Vulko tells the legend of how Atlantis fell into the ocean and adapted to life underwater. It’s a complicated quest with a lot of convenience, but Arthur & Mera basically need to travel to the fallen Kingdom of the Deserters with a cylindrical message.

Another interesting Atlantean distinction are the high-born who can breath on dry land and lower Atlanteans who only breath water. Ludi Lin plays Orm’s lead footsoldier that requires high-tech armor to breath. They attack Arthur armed with his mother’s trident and imprison him in Orm’s palace. He challenges his brother to a duel in the Ring of Fire. I’m still somehow able to take everything seriously despite Orm wearing shiny gold armor, Mera wearing a jellyfish wedding dress, and the comic accurate octopus Topo playing the drums. Arthur & Orm don Atlantean armor in an intense underwater clash of the tridents. Aquaman is also similar to Black Panther for having a battle in a hidden Kingdom that determines the ruler. Mera intervenes when Arthur is nearly killed and fully commits treason by escaping in her minisub. Turns out Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish is a lot more rare than he realizes. Most Atlanteans view sea creatures as either food or dumb animals. Sharks and giant seahorses are ridden in battle.

Arthur & Mera hide in a whale à la Pinocchio and travel to the unlikely location of the Sahara desert. Atlanteans are so dense that they can jump from a plane without a parachute. Most of the humor comes from Arthur & Mera’s opposites attract dynamic. Arthur is occasionally made to look slow-witted, but he’s actually very knowledgeable about history. They manage to find the Deserters Kingdom under the sand where they unite their cylinder with the ancient forge. Mera waterbends the sweat from Arthur in order to activate a secret message from King Atlan himself. They follow a cryptic riddle to Sicily, Italy. Along the way, Arthur manages to fall in love with Mera. A bottle is meant to lead them to their next destination when placed in a king’s hand. When they find the way, David Kane returns seeking revenge as Black Manta. He’s able to build a surprisingly comic accurate battlesuit using Atlantean technology given to him by Orm’s men. He spray paints the armor black, equips it with rocket boosters, and constructs a giant bug-eyed helmet using the red plasma energy from a prototype Atlantean gun.

Arthur & Black Manta’s rematch is a lot more evenly matched with the former taking many hits. Mera is hunted as well, but she manages to kill the remaining Atlantean soldiers using wine. Black Manta is temporarily taken out when his optic blast backfires on him. Mera heals Arthur on a boat and they come to an understanding about their seperate worlds. James Wan’s horror roots literally resurface when they’re ambushed by the vicious creatures from the Trench. They’re a memorable obstacle to face, but please don’t make a spin-off about them. Arthur & Mera fend off the creatures when they discover they’re afraid of the light. They swim through a whole horde of Trench before ending up rescued on an uncharted island populated by dinosaurs. It’s at this point that I officially knew Aquaman was overstuffed. More unexpected is its many similarities to Ant-Man and the Wasp. SPOILER ALERT! Apart from Randall Park playing Atlantis obsessed scientist Dr. Stephen Shin, both movies feature a grey haired former Batman love interest, covered in warrior gear, playing a lost mother revealed to be alive all along. Queen Atlanna has a heartfelt reunion with her son and leads him to the lost Trident guarded by the mythical leviathan Karathen.

Although Aquaman has many superhero connections, its strangest connection ended up being with Mary Poppins. Rather than cameo in Mary Poppins Returns, Julie Andrews choose to voice a leviathan in a competing superhero movie. Your guess is as good as mine. Arthur proves himself worthy by telepathically communicating with the leviathan. He claims the powerful Trident and finally wears Aquaman’s comic accurate orange scaled shirt, green pants, and gloves. Something he somehow manages to pull off in an epic hero shot. Orm similarly pulls off his goofy comic accurate purple cape and silver mask when he claims the title of Ocean Master. His final Kingdom to conquer is the delicious battle-ready Brine. Their crab king is given more dignity with the voice of John Rhys-Davies. The climax is a large-scale underwater war between all Kingdoms. Aquaman makes a grand entrance on the leviathan, commanding the Seven Seas with his Trident. A whole legion of fish come to Arthur’s aid and draw out Orm’s armies. Mera suggests fighting Orm on the surface and they kiss for good measure.

Aquaman riding a seahorse is practically a nerdy dream come true. King Nereus accepts Arthur’s rule and the rest of the Atlanteans bare witness to the final conflict between brothers. Aquaman vs. Ocean Master is an epic slow motion fight where the hero perfects his Trident skills. Arthur shows his brother mercy, but Orm begs for death until their mother returns. Atlanna offers her misguided son a chance to better himself. He’s arrested, but there’s still possibility for redemption. In the end, Mera dubs her hero King Arthur of Atlantis. Tom & Atlanna have a heartfelt reunion of their own and Arthur embraces his destiny as Aquaman. “Everything I Need” by Skylar Grey closes the story in an underwater credits sequence. A mid-credits scene reveals Black Manta somehow alive after his battle with Aquaman. Dr. Shen takes him in while tinkering with his Atlantean armor. Kane swears revenge by teasing the sequel. I’m not sure why I never expected much from an Aquaman movie. I was thoroughly entertained by its grand scale, legendary approach, and watery world of wonder. Aquaman swims further than most DCEU movies.

12. Aquaman

Arthur Curry joins Mera

Preceded by: Justice League & Followed by: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

8 thoughts on “King of Atlantis

  1. When I was younger, I once asked my Dad why Aquaman never had a live action feature film or live action TV show like other DC characters, and he told me it was because since Aquaman mainly lived underwater, the technology of the time couldn’t portray him accurately. The CGI is a little much, and Aquaman does look a bit too much like the Greek god Poseidon, but it still looks like a fun time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. MM, good bit on How they achieved the underwater look in this film. The CGI is excessive, but that’s the only way they could do this movie. And I suppose once you get over that fake look, it’s more enjoyable. It’s sort of it’s own cartoon, like u said.

      “Aquaman riding a seahorse is practically a nerdy dream come true.”
      😂👏🏻🩳🔱🐠🌊

      My gf and I watched this last night and really enjoyed it. I was really impressed by the special effects. The fight scenes were amazing. Thanks for the review! A “watery world of wonder.”🐠🩳🔱

      Liked by 1 person

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