We’re just one month away from the release of director James Wan’s Aquaman, the first full-length feature film centered around Jason Momoa’s Justice League superhero. Now the final trailer has dropped, with all the magical tridents, warrior princesses, and epic CGI battles you’d expect from a superhero movie about averting a mythological war between two very different worlds.
Aquaman first entered the DC Comics universe in a 1941 anthology and later turned into a solo comic book series. He was a founding member of the Justice League during the “Silver Age” of the 1950s and 1960s. But he was never among the most compelling superheroes in the DC stable, often serving as the butt of jokes because of his supposedly inferior super powers. Hey, telepathically communicating with fish is cool, right?
So there was some initial skepticism about introducing the character into DC’s rebooted cinematic universe. Casting Momoa, who was so riveting as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones‘ first season, was an inspired choice, and the initial artwork showing an Aquaman reimagined for the 21st century looked promising. For the reboot, DCEU wisely played down the talking-to-fish thing (it’s more a form of telepathic compulsion) and focued instead on Aquaman’s superhuman strength, ability to breathe underwater, super fast swimming, and so forth.
The first two Aquaman trailers didn’t inspire confidence, particularly among Ars staffers.
It’s just that DC hasn’t had quite the same success as Marvel Studios in building a unified superhero world. Momoa’s Aquaman first appeared in Batman v Superman (2016) and followed that up with Justice League (2017), both of which were critically panned and didn’t perform as well as expected at the box office. And the first two Aquaman trailers didn’t inspire confidence, particularly among Ars staffers. (Ars’ culture editor Sam Machkovech offered a variety of colorful vulgarities upon seeing this latest trailer. Count him among the skeptics.)
But let’s not forget the smashing success of Wonder Woman (2017)—everything a superhero origin story should be. So maybe it’s premature to outright dismiss Aquaman (another origin story) simply based on the trailers, which have been visually striking but a little incoherent in terms of telling us what the movie is supposed to be about.
The final trailer doesn’t add much more to what we already know. We see the same lush underwater scenes that were so challenging to shoot, and we see elaborate CGI battle scenes. We catch a glimpse of Arthur before he becomes Aquaman with his parents as a baby and toddler. We watch him swim with dolphins and find a mentor in Willem Dafoe’s Nuidis Vulko.
We know Arthur’s destiny is to take his rightful place as king of Atlantis, pitting him against his half brother and current ruler of Atlantis, Orm (he’s played by Wan regular Patrick Wilson of the director’s Insidious and Conjuring franchises). In an interview with Entertainment Weekly at CinemaCon in April, Wan described their relationship as “almost a very classic Shakespearean story about brother from another world vs. brother from another world.”
Apparently Orm wants to use a magic trident to bring Atlantis back to the surface and declare war on the human race. And Aquaman will try to stop him and find a way to unite the two worlds, possibly by acquiring another magical trident? It’s not entirely clear. But we can definitely look forward to some villainous preening from Orm, a bit of romance with Atlantean warrior Princess Mera (Amber Heard), and what looks like an underwater battle with giant crabs, sharks, and manta rays—plus one extra-large sea monster.
Maybe that will be enough to win over the skeptics. Or maybe the final product will be just as bad as they fear. We’ll have to wait until the film comes out to see if Wan can pull it off. Aquaman will hit theaters on December 21.