What You Need To Know Before Seeing Aquaman

DC is introducing its newest superhero film on December 21, 2018 — Jason Momoa will take up the mantle as Aquaman for the third time, after appearances in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. It's been quite a long time coming: First optioned in 2004 and again in 2009 (the second time by Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way), Aquaman was finally and officially snapped up by Warner Bros. in 2014, when the studio announced that Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman would all be getting the cinematic treatment. Once Jason Momoa, who was previously best known as the surprisingly romantic Dothraki king Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones, was cast in the title role, the internet exploded with speculation about where this film might take the classic character.

After a bit of creative turnover, Aquaman ended up being helmed by director James Wan and written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beal. DC's Christmas release is sure to be a big hit, but viewers still have plenty of questions. Whether or not you've seen either Superman vs. Batman or Justice League, Aquaman is still somewhat of an enigma — so here's what viewers need to know before they settle in for the premiere of the standalone Aquaman film.

How does Arthur Curry become Aquaman?

Aquaman wasn't always a sea-based superhero — he was born Arthur Curry, a half-Atlantean and half-human boy whose mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) was forced to leave him in the care of his human father, Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison). When Arthur is a child, he begins to discover his powers, realizing that he can survive underwater and even thrive there. However, in being split between these two worlds, young Arthur is rejected by both sides of his heritage, and in the end, he finds himself somewhat lost. As an adult, Arthur must not only find his place in both worlds, but also vie for his rightful throne and lead the people of Atlantis while looking out for the safety of the world at large.

Aquaman has a wide range of powers, including super strength, extreme durability, the ability to breathe underwater, control over all life under the sea, and, naturally, well above average swimming ability. Audiences can only assume that we'll see all of these powers — and more — in the film.

When and how was Aquaman introduced?

Though Aquaman is an entirely new superhero for many modern audiences, he's actually been around for quite some time — his first appearance came in "More Fun Comics #73" in 1941 as a backup character to other heroes. The history of Aquaman's major comics is fascinating — in fact, the hero spent 19 years in the shadows before ever gracing the cover of a comic, in part due to the business woes of World War II, when only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman survived the comics drought. Thankfully, Aquaman lived on in the back pages of Adventure Comics (which starred Superboy), and during the 1960s, he finally joined the Justice League, got his own cartoon series, and became one of the Super Friends, cementing his legacy.

Ramona Fradon, the artist who drew Aquaman for most of the 1950s, has said that she created him as a wholesome man like Troy Donahue or Paul Newman. With the times, Aquaman's had to evolve — to serve a modern audience, his image has since shifted to the Jason Momoa model, but the classic comic book image of Aquaman will always endure.

How much will the comics factor into the film?

Some comic book adaptations remain dedicated to their source material while others simply use it as a jumping off point, but James Wan has been very direct about his approach — he went back through the comics for inspiration and has a very specific influence. Wan had a trickier job of it than most in that Aquaman has been shaped by so many different writers and been reinvented repeatedly, so he chose one artist to turn to: Geoff Johns, who rebooted Aquaman during the New 52 release, which he felt was a grounded and clear revamp for this seminal character.

That being said, Wan didn't leave the older comics behind. He went through Aquaman titles from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, leaving Wan about 70 years of source material that allowed him to pick and choose from. For fans of the retro, kitschy feel of these older comics, don't worry, because Wan couldn't resist using some elements from these eras; most notably Topo, Aquaman's octopus friend, who will appear in the film. Interestingly, Wan said he realized Topo would be palatable for audiences after seeing the flaming guitar player in Mad Max: Fury Road .

Will other DC superheroes appear in it?

When Zack Snyder brought DC's main slate of superheroes together for the first time in 2016, it resulted in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which continued the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU. Following 2013's Man of Steel, which introduced Henry Cavill as Superman, it (perhaps controversially) rebooted Batman just a few short years after Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, recasting Ben Affleck as the caped crusader. The film also served as the first onscreen appearance of both Wonder Woman and Aquaman, though for the latter, it was just a quick cameo. The underwater hero made his resurgence in 2017's Justice League, where all the leads of the DCEU came together in the same film, including the Flash and Cyborg. However, this was a less than auspicious start for Aquaman — thanks to the film's exorbitant $300 million budget, it was a box office bomb and fared poorly with critics as well.

Aquaman can still thrive despite his earlier appearances underperforming. Maybe the secret is to exclude other DCEU characters from standalone films, which is exactly what Wan has done. Now audiences can get to know Aquaman without distractions or interruptions.

How does it tie into Justice League?

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice had a dark tone, but after Wonder Woman succeeded by infusing humor and heart into a story centered around World War I, Justice League changed things up (perhaps due to the influence of Joss Whedon, who took care of reshoots when Zack Snyder took time off from the project, and let the characters grow into their identities a little more, which included a rapport between Aquaman and Batman. Director James Wan told Entertainment Weekly that his film would be a departure from Justice League, and feel like a traditional action-packed quest film.

Letting Aquaman shine on his own could be a huge benefit not just to the character, but to the DCEU as a whole. Audiences have long had to choose between Marvel and DC comics and films, but as DC continues to compete against the MCU, perhaps the best way to stand out is to let each film stand on its own. While Marvel is well known for its consistent style, DC movies have each been quite distinct, and each of their films has had an individual tone, which may be the key to the studio's future success.

Who is Nicole Kidman playing?

Fans were likely surprised to hear about Nicole Kidman's casting in Aquaman, especially since she hasn't appeared in a superhero film since 1995's Batman Forever, where she appeared as Dr. Chase Meridien. However, the Big Little Lies star officially signed on to join the DC Universe in March of 2017, playing an appropriately regal role — Queen Atlanna, the superhuman mother of Aquaman, who falls in love with a human named Thomas Curry after being washed ashore by a massive hurricane. Upon news of her casting, Kidman revealed that she's friends with director James Wan (both hail from Australia), which led to her taking the role.

It's still unclear how faithful the film will be as far as the original comics are concerned, but it looks as if Kidman's story will be a tragic one. Both Thomas Curry and Atlanna have had varying storylines, and Curry's is definitively sadder (in the 2011 reboot, his death is what spurs Aquaman's desire to become a hero). Atlanna has been painted as an outcast, a queen, and more, but more than anything else, she is Aquaman's link to his superhuman heritage and his one connection to Atlantis. However, she's also been written as a fairly absent parent, so if this film is including Aquaman's family history, audiences may see some tension between the two.

How powerful will Mera be?

Every superhero needs a love interest — and while love interests frequently need rescuing, Mera, an Atlantean warrior princess, is about as far from a damsel in distress as one can get. Played by Amber Heard, Mera was first seen in Justice League to provide backstory for Aquaman, but her role in this film will be much more substantial; director James Wan has even remarked that Aquaman is more like Mera's sidekick, and quipped that the film should probably be named after her. Once Mera appears onscreen in Aquaman, she's reportedly in nearly every single scene. It's not hard to guess why Wan chose to focus on Mera so much, as the character possesses incredible strength and power, including hydrokinesis and the ability to completely control water. This will be the first time audiences get to fully experience Mera's powers — a scene was cut from Justice League that displayed them in full.

It seems as if Mera's origin story has been changed considerably compared to the original comics. Though Mera usually hails from an alternate dimension and is brought into the world of Atlantis by Aquaman, original director Zack Snyder wrote in a scene between Aquaman and Mera that reveals she was raised in Atlantis and groomed to be its queen. Whatever her arc, audiences can expect a seriously powerful presence from Mera, whose abilities more than match Aquaman's.

Who is Patrick Wilson playing?

Sibling rivalry abounds in superhero films (Thor and Loki, anyone?), and Aquaman will be no exception. In late 2016, it was announced that Patrick Wilson had signed on as Aquaman's surly and powerful half-brother, Orm, who is a contender for the throne of Atlantis and, in the comics, nearly destroys the sea in his attempt to claim the crown. In the film, he'll be flanked by his sinister advisor, Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe), and both will have terrifying underwater steeds. However, some audience members may see where Orm is coming from, or even potentially relate more to him than to the film's hero — Wilson revealed that Orm is somewhat of an "eco-warrior," who is angry with the world above the ocean's surface that has been polluting his home.

Wilson is no stranger to superhero films, as he previously appeared in Zack Snyder's 2009 Watchmen adaptation as Nite Owl, but he's also quite familiar with Aquaman's director, having appeared in Wan's horror hits Insidious and The Conjuring. Wan has been vocal about choosing a familiar face as Aquaman's villain, praising Wilson's prowess as an actor and saying that he wanted to cast someone who didn't look like a typical bad guy.

Who is Black Manta, and will he be in the film?

Aquaman will be quite busy in this film — in addition to facing off against Orm, he'll have to deal with Black Manta, another villain from the original comics. Though DC writers haven't come to a complete consensus on Black Manta's motivations as a villain, he does have several concrete characteristics which will certainly come into play in the film. As a ruthless pirate who will stop at nothing to destroy Atlantis, Black Manta harbors a long-held grudge against the underwater metropolis, and will kill any resident of the city and plunder it without hesitation. He's also quite powerful, despite not being born a superhero; a brilliant engineer, Black Manta designed his own diving suit which gives him super strength, shoots optic blasts, and allows him to survive underwater, and in addition to other original gadgets like a jetpack and torpedoes, he's typically accompanied by henchmen.

Wan has been extraordinarily quiet regarding Black Manta's specifics — fans have only been treated to one official photo thus far, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who appeared on Netflix's The Get Down, will be playing the villain. Though Orm will be the film's main foe, Aquaman will also have Black Manta to watch out for, and it's very possible that he'll play a larger role in any future Aquaman films.

Will Aquaman talk to fish?

Aquaman has a few powers that may make it difficult for audiences to take him seriously — most notably, that he can talk to and control fish and any number of underwater creatures. This has made Aquaman the subject of many a joke over the years (a film adaptation of Aquaman was even a central plot point and huge joke on the HBO series Entourage, wherein fictional movie star Vinny Chase had his big break starring as the underwater crusader), but Wan isn't shying away from this particular power, and appears to be keeping it in his arsenal alongside his impressive fighting skills and super strength, even though talking to fish might not seem like the world's most useful superpower.

Not only will sharks seemingly play a role in the film, as they've been spotted on several posters, but the trailer includes a flashback sequence that shows a young Arthur Curry at an aquarium where he discovers he can communicate with the creatures housed there. Fans may mock Aquaman's "aqua-telepathy," which actually allows him to control creatures of the sea as well as communicate with them, but it seems as if Wan and Momoa may have found a way to make this power just as impressive and potentially menacing as the rest of our hero's wide array of skills.