This article contains nothing but Aquaman spoilers.
After years of development, the Aquaman movie is finally here. For a little perspective, we first glimpsed Jason Momoa as Aquaman in a brief cameo in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but he had been cast in the role as early as 2014. That’s…quite a long time to wait for the king of Atlantis to ascend (or descend) to his throne, even when you take his starring role in last year’s Justice League movie into account.
And just as we’ve seen in every DCEU movie, Aquaman is absolutely packed to the gills (sorry) with DC Universe easter eggs. With a tremendous amount of reverence for Aquaman comic book history, and a few subtle nods to the wider DC Comics world, there’s a lot to unpack here.
So here’s how this works. I’ve spotted everything I can from my first viewing. If you see anything I missed, let me know, either in the comments or yell at me on Twitter, and if it checks out, I’ll update this.
Let’s get our lines in the water, shall we?
The Origin Story
Let’s talk about Arthur Curry for a minute. Do you know this character has been around nearly as long as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? Aquaman first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, where he was created by Mort Weisinger (who later went on to be a legendary…and legendarily difficult…editor on the Superman titles) and Paul Norris.
Arthur has had a ton of different origins through the years, but this movie primarily pulls from comics published in the last decade. It’s far less confusing that way.
– Just a quick note about Aquaman’s look before we dive back into the rest of the fun stuff in the origin story. While he ultimately ends up in a very faithful version of his comic book costume (and seriously, it looks amazing, doesn’t it?), the long-haired, bearded, tough guy Aquaman look was really popularized when Peter David was writing the character in the 1990s, and was further cemented in pop culture consciousness by the excellent Justice League animated series in the early part of the 21st century. In fact…
– The gladiator gear Arthur wears during his first fight with Orm is reminiscent of the Peter David era of the character.
OK, back to work…
– The underwater WB logo reminds me a little of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. That was the first time I could remember the WB logo being presented against something less traditional than the bright blue sky. There, the sky darkened to night before panning down for the opening credits. Here it’s more intricate (with the barnacles, etc) but it’s still very cool.
– The opening narration by Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry includes a quote from Jules Verne, one of the fathers of science fiction. Here’s the full quote:
“Put two ships in the open sea, without wind or tide, and, at last, they will come together. Throw two planets into space, and they will fall one on the other. Place two enemies in the midst of a crowd, and they will inevitably meet; it is a fatality, a question of time; that is all.”
While the first part of that quote certainly refers to Tom Curry and Atlanna (and perhaps Arthur and Mera), the rest of it could surely encompass the rest of the movie. The “two planets in space” is the surface world and Atlantis, and the “two enemies in a crowd” is Arthur’s dual nature as an Atlantean/human, his relationship with his half-brother, but ultimately I feel like it best sums up the enmity between Aquaman and Black Manta.
– Right out of the gate, the influence of Geoff Johns on the Aquaman character is felt in this movie. The first time we ever heard of Amnesty Bay as his hometown was in the Johns-penned Blackest Night series (something that would make a fine basis for a Green Lantern movie or Justice League sequel down the road, by the way).
– On the TV during that intro sequence is the intro to Stingray, a 1964 puppet animation underwater series. Interestingly enough, the very first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 from back in its public access days was “Invaders From the Deep,” a feature length compilation of Stingray episodes.
– In the Curry household you can spot a Fender bass and a Vox amplifier (is that a Pathfinder, amp?). While neither Tom nor Arthur Curry are particularly renowned for their musical skills, Jason Momoa does play a mean bass.
– The adorable golden retriever is most likely a reference to “Salty” (no, his name isn’t Aquadog) from the Geoff Johns New 52 run. The difference there is that the doggie wasn’t Tom Curry’s, but adopted by Arthur and Mera after his owner had been killed by the trench.
– As an early nod to director James Wan’s horror roots during the otherwise Amblin-esque prologuge, there’s a copy of HP Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror visible on a table. That story also deals with a “half-breed” main character, although one whose mysterious origins are far less noble than Arthur’s. Its New England setting also connects with the Amnesty Bay opening sequence here.
– The scene with Atlanna swallowing the goldfish is a play on classic “fish out of water” tropes. Older fans may remember Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks in Splash, where Hannah’s mermaid eats a lobster, shell and all.
We definitely get a distinctive “vuu-vuu-vuu” sound when young Arthur talks to the fish, reminiscent of what would be heard when Aquaman would use his powers on various incarnations of the Super Friends cartoon.
Later on in the movie we also get the famed “circles” effect that would be visible when Aquaman would use his powers in assorted animation series. It’s really cool to see it represented on screen.
Let’s talk about this movie’s baddies, shall we?
– The Black Manta origin story we see on screen is basically an adaptation of his most recent one (he has had…a bunch…we detailed them all here). There are some changes here, though. In the comics origin (this one concocted by Geoff Johns), Arthur killed Manta’s father by mistake, as he believed he was responsible for the death of Tom Curry. Here, it’s used to illustrate how Arthur needs to learn mercy for later in the film, but it’s still close enough to the comics version of events.
– When we finally see Black Manta in his full costume, there’s a great vocal effect. One of the most striking things about the character when he was a regular on Challenge of the Super Friends was his voice. Unforgettable, and a nice nod here.
– When building his technology, Manta says “I think I’m gonna need a bigger helmet,” a clear nod to the famous “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” line from the greatest seafaring blockbuster of all time, Jaws.
– It’s interesting that they lean so hard into how well-established Aquaman is as a superhero with the Aquaman-fights-pirates scene. It helps place this movie even more firmly within the DCEU (which is not being rebooted any time soon). We already knew Arthur had been operating more or less out in the open before Justice League, but clearly the events of that movie have made him more of a household name. It’s not clear how long after the end of Justice League this movie takes place, but let’s just say it has been roughly a year, which gives Arthur’s fame a little more time to grow.
– Orm has been around since Aquaman #29 in 1966, where he was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy. Like Black Manta, Orm has had several variations of his origin story through the decades, but also like Black Manta, the version we see on screen here is most similar to the New 52 version of the character introduced by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Paul Pelletier.
– Once nice touch here is that they made Ocean Master a title, not a codename.
Orm’s father, King Orvax is from the Geoff Johns comics, as well. Orvax was a Captain in the Atlantean army who became king by marrying Atlanna. The idea is to make sure that the royal family is always bound to military leaders. Needless to say it didn’t work out well for anyone involved.
– The visual of the tidal wave coming to shore is very much like how Orm first launched his attack on the surface world during the Throne of Atlantis comics story, which this movie certainly owes a tremendous debt to. There, however, Orm actually did wage all out war on the surface world, rather than merely threaten it, and it took the full Justice League to stop him. It’s too bad they seem to have used up this story here, because this story is certainly big enough, and would have made for an interesting Justice League 2.
Also, it might be a coincidence because it looks cool, but the final throwdown taking place in the pouring rain feels like it comes out of , too. It was always raining in that story.
– It takes him a while to get there, but Ocean Master does eventually wear his classic comics costume, right down to the famous helmet.
– One other random thing about Patrick Wilson as Orm. His clean-shaven, blond haired, classical good looks make him appear far more like traditional comic book depictions of Aquaman.
– The flashbacks to the dawn of Atlantis is reminiscent of the worldbuilding we saw in Wonder Woman and Man of Steel. This is a highlight of nearly every DCEU movie. I love seeing the ancient history of these societies represented on screen.
I don’t believe that this particular origin of Atlantis lines up with any of the ones from the comics. One thing to keep in mind is that for years, DC had multiple/competing versions of Atlantis in their continuity, before they were finally all unified in the excellent Atlantis Chronicles limited series. You can read that on DC Universe right now, and it’s definitely worth your time.
– One of the nice little touches throughout the movie is that there is a subtle but cool underwater vocal effect.
– King Nereus first appeared in Aquaman #19 (2013) and was created by Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier. He’s played here by the beloved, awesome Dolph Lundgren. He’s a fairly different character in the comics, though, where he isn’t a king, but a soldier of Xebel. And he isn’t Mera’s father, but a competitor for her romantic interests. Instead, they made Orm into Mera’s betrothed…who she ditches for Arthur. Comic book Nereus and movie Orm should go out for a beer and have a good cry together.
– Murk (played here by Ludi Lin, who we loved in the Power Rangers movie) first appeared in Aquaman #17 (2013), and like Nereus, he was created by Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier. Later in the movie (during that amazing Sicily fight/chase sequence) he loses a hand, which is a nod to his comic book look, where he is a far more grizzled soldier with a harpoon for a hand.
The octopus playing the drums during the Orm/Arthur battle is none other than Topo! And yes, he was known to dabble in music from time to time…
Topo was created by Ramona Fradon (a giant among Aquaman creators) in the pages of Adventure Comics #229 in 1956.
However, the New 52 version of Topo is a giant kaiju-type monster, one who looks far more like the beast Arthur brings to everyone’s aid at the climax of this movie.
– So much of this movie’s visual flair is reminiscent of Mike Hodges’ brilliant Flash Gordon movie from 1980, and I feel like some of the underwater laser sound effects sound like nods to those.
Mera has been around since Aquaman #11 in 1963, where she was created by Jack Miller and Nick Cardy. In the comics, Xebel isn’t another kingdom of Atlantis, it’s an entirely different dimension. And again, it should be noted, Nereus is NOT her Dad in the comics. Because…that would be weird.
– The same way Aquaman draws moisture from Aquaman’s body to activate that piece of Atlantean tech, she also can use that kind of power offensively. There’s an issue of the New 52 series where she straight up dehydrates a guy to bring him down…as in, makes him feel the effects of nearly 2 full days without water. In other words, just in case this movie didn’t clue you in, under no circumstances should you mess with Mera, because she will mess your life up.
Mera references the events of Justice League, and that’s about as much inter-movie continuity as we get in the movie (or need, for that matter).
– King Atlan, first appeared in the excellent Atlantis Chronicles mini-series, but like nearly everything else in this movie, what we see here is primarily from what was introduced during Geoff Johns’ New 52 run on the character. His look here, and how he just kind of hung out mummified on his old throne, is reminiscent of those comics. And yes, New 52 Aquaman wields his scepter.
However, it wasn’t his trident that was the ultimate “holy relic” you see in this movie, but rather a magical scepter, one far more powerful than the trident. In any case, that scepter was responsible for the sinking of Atlantis in the comics, not the misuse of technology shown in the movie.
– Vulko’s full name is Nuidis Vulko (but I don’t think we ever actually hear it in the movie). The character has been around since 1967’s The Brave and the Bold #73, where he was created by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell. But the character as we see him here, a loyalist to Atlanna who takes it upon himself to train young Arthur is far more in line with the New 52 version of the character as written by Geoff Johns.
– I am kind of imagining this, but the blue “deep ocean camoflauge” suit that Vulko wears while training young Arthur reminds me of a briefly used, but incredibly cool, Aquaman costume design from the 1980s…
Honestly, if Warner Bros. decides that they want to do a smaller, more horror-focused Aquaman sequel, you could do worse than adapting the first story from Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Paul Pelletier’s first volume of the New 52 series, which introduced the Trench. In that story, they basically invade Amnesty Bay before Aquaman tracks them back to their undersea lair and seals them in.
But there’s one ability of the Trench that we don’t see in the movie. They secrete this substance that basically shuts down their prey’s nervous system, making them easier to eat. So yeah, that’s terrifying. Imagine what James Wan could do with a story like this, one far less ambitious than this crazy Aquaman movie, but one more akin to The Walking Dead with horrifying fish monsters.
Miscellaneous Cool DC Stuff (and More!)
– While Aquaman is taking out the pirates on the submarine, there’s a funny moment where he holds an unconscious guy up to a porthole in the door, in order to fool one of the other pirates into opening it. I don’t know if this was intentional or not (I’d like to think it was), but in Jason Momoa’s ill-fated Conan the Barbarian reboot, there’s a scene where he does something similar…only it’s with a severed head. I…I actually really enjoy that Conan scene, even though the rest of the movie isn’t really up to it.
This isn’t the only Conan reference in the movie. Later on, when Arthur is confronting the Karathen and making his case as to why he should be allowed to take the lost trident of Atlan, he tells it (her? It’s a her. That’s Julie Andrews, after all. I had better show some damn respect) “if that’s not good enough, then screw you!” It’s like a modern version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic prayer to Crom in John Milius’ brilliant 1982 Conan the Barbarian, where he ends with a rather pragmatic, “and if you don’t listen, then the hell with you!”
– Speaking of the Karathen, while that isn’t from the comics, there is a similar giant kaiju from Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier’s “Sea of Storms” story, called the Karaqan, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. The Karaqan is less friendly (and dignified) than the Karathen, but let’s say they’re roughly of the same family.
And also, the image of the “forge” for the trident seems to be inspired by a panel from “Sea of Storms” which looks almost identical, although the context is very, very different there.
– Everyone is watching WGBS in the bar. Galaxy Broadcasting System is the most famous fictional network in the DC Universe, at one point owning The Daily Planet in addition to its other enterprises. The TV arm, WGBS, employed Clark Kent as a news anchor during the 1970s and early 1980s. And the head of WGBS? That would be Morgan Edge, someone we haven’t yet seen in the DCEU, but who certainly could make an impact if they decide to do anything with him down the line.
– Apparently, you can spot the creepy Annabelle doll from The Conjuring stashed underwater in one scene, but I didn’t see her myself on the first viewing. I’m willing to take everyone’s word for it, though!
– All through Atlantis we see Atlanteans riding seahorses. But…badass seahorses. But this is especially significant during the final battle when Arthur is charing into war on the back of one, wearing his classic comic book costume. This is a nod to what has generally been the most prominent picture of Aquaman in the pop culture consciousness: a dude who rides a seahorse.
– There are two moments in this movie that remind me of a mostly forgotten chapter in Aquaman history. Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and the great Curt Swan had a limited series called The Legend of Aquaman in the 1980s. The vast majority of this story has been consigned to the continuity dustbin of history (which is too bad, because it’s really cool). But in it, Aquaman is first brought to Atlantis as a prisoner, which feels kind of reminiscent of his first encounter with his brother in this movie.
But the other is his first large scale use of his ability to communicate with undersea life comes during a massive final battle to repel invaders, where he basically gets alllll the fishies to come and kick some ass for the glory of Atlantis. There’s an element of that here.
– Back to more current Aquaman continuity, though…the sequence with Arthur and Mera in the desert isn’t from any particular Aquaman comics, BUT it does seem inspired by something that came at the tail end of the first volume of the New 52 series by (you guessed it) Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. There’s certainly a visual homage to it, as Arthur makes a hard landing in the sand at the start of it, and he’s following the directions of a piece of Atlantean tech that needs to be immersed in water to be properly activated.
– The idea of Atlanna being alive was first brought forth in Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier’s “Maelstrom” which sees Aquaman and Mera travel through a kind of dimensional barrier (similar to what they have to do to evade the Trench in this movie), to a tropical world where Atlanna still lives. There, however, she’s a little less friendly. But whatever.
Aquaman Post Credits Scene
– Throughout the movie we see noted scientific crackpot Stephen Shin talking about Atlantis on TV. Shin was created by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis early in the New 52 Aquaman period. What we don’t get in this movie, but that could potentially be explored in sequels, is his history with Arthur, which explains why he is so certain that Atlantis exists.
– In Shin’s beat-up old lab, full of newspaper clippings about Atlantis, one stands out: The Coast City Ledger! This might be the first reference to Coast City in the DCEU (please correct me if I’m wrong). Coast City is home to Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern who we’ll (presumably…eventually) see again in a new Green Lantern Corps movie, whenever that finally gets made.
Spot anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!