Aquaman is a heck of a ride jam-packed with action and references liable to go over most heads on first viewing. There is so much for one film, it’s understandable, but the significance of certain moments and characters cannot be denied even if they were quickly glossed over or thrown in for a gag — drumming octopus, anyone?
Far from being careless, James Wan laid the groundwork for such a vast world under the sea because he has big plans. With the promise of sequels in the offing and the chance the DC Extended Universe might get reworked or go forward from here with a clean slate, here are a few items just beneath the surface in Aquaman that deserve further exploration and have implications for what we can expect. Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!
1. Black Manta and the Mid-credits Scene
You can be forgiven if you weren’t wowed by seeing Black Manta for the first time on the big screen. Though a cool villain with heaps of potential, he was reduced to a glorified lackey. And the problem with some superhero movies is they sometimes undervalue their legacy characters (see Mandarin in Iron Man 3). Manta has been a constant threat dogging Aquaman in the comics since 1967; he is a Joker or Luthor-level bad guy. Of Aquaman’s rogues, he is the one who typically gets a seat at the table with the Legion of Doom. He’s even wounded Arthur Curry worse than anyone, having killed his infant son in pre-Crisis continuity. Their rivalry is more than simple chance or petty jealousy.
And we could be witnessing the beginnings of that. In the film’s mid-credits scene, a battered Manta is pulled from the water by Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park) and seems to align with him. Shin, written like a conspiracy nut, wants to find and know more about Atlantis. Debuting during the New 52, Shin was created by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. He started as an ally of Arthur and his dad, Tom, before ultimately betraying them. Manta, seeing Shin as the best way of tracking down Aquaman for some serious, no-mercy vengeance, forges a mutually beneficial relationship likely coming to a boil in the sequel, spelling doom for Atlantis and its new King.
2. Tom Curry
Now that we mentioned Aquadad…Arthur’s father Thomas, the lighthouse keeper, is played by New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison who is not new to siring DC heroes. He played Abin Sur, the alien whose ring passed to Hal Jordan, in 2011’s Green Lantern. Now he impacts the DC Extended Universe in a big way. Morrison is of Maori heritage, the Polynesians native to the New Zealand isles. He and Jason Momoa, who is also Polynesian, even exchange the traditional Maori greeting, the hongi (a touching of noses), on the pier. The casting of the two as father and son puts a momentous spin on Aquaman in terms of representation, tailoring the role Momoa has fully embraced to his real-life lineage.
3. King Atlan
The great Atlantean King whose trident would be wielded by the one, true King that would unite the Seven Kingdoms is only about as old as Dr. Shin — appearing around 2013. And he wasn’t a good guy. He returned from the dead to destroy Atlantis as he did before, an act playing out in the movie to look like an accident (for now). By contrast, in Justice League Atlan was one of Earth’s protectors who repelled the invasion of Steppenwolf’s forces and hid away a Mother Box for safekeeping.
It should be noted that Aquaman also defeated Steppenwolf — with help, but all the same, it could be that vanquishing him and the forces of Apokolips is another rite of Atlantis’s true King. Also quite possible, the harnessing of energy from the Mother Box could have been what decimated Atlantis and sent it into the sea.
4. Aquaman Character Design
Posters and other promotional images showed everyone that James Wan and crew weren’t downplaying the roots of the character. They blended the best of the old and new: the orange and green armor of Atlantean royalty Aquaman winds up in (a suit Momoa poked some fun at) has been his signature since day one, but the finer touches of Jason Momoa’s beard, long hair, and blonde highlights are a sly nod to a look Arthur Curry sported for years, beginning in the 90s with Peter David’s run on the book.
At the same time, one coinciding with The Death of Superman, Bane breaking Batman’s back, and Kyle Rayner taking over as Green Lantern, Arthur’s hand was eaten away by piranhas and replaced with a hook that added a new set of abilities. This is the same period where he parted with his orange and green garb for a spell and fought — and beat — Namor the Sub-Mariner. It’s doubtful Wan will give us an Aquaman with a hook for a hand anytime soon but you never know.