The trickiest thing with Aquaman is going to be all the underwater filming and how to get enough coverage to make him look completely comfortable in that environment. It’s not undoable, it would just be a process you’re going to want to perfect in the first film so you can get more and more into his underwater world in the sequels.
Legend of Aquaman
You open with teenaged toe-head, Arthur Curry getting ready for his first day of work as a deck hand (I favor New England/Canada, but any port-centric community works). His father runs the lighthouse and urges him not to be late. Arthur takes well to the work, and proves an able bodied young man. A few days out to sea, the little crab boat is suddenly and violently capsized by a giant black submarine emerging directly underneath them with callous disregard for their little vessel. Arthur is knocked unconscious and the opening credits follow his body as it sinks into the dark sea. We watch helplessly as his body relaxes and settles on the ocean floor. We flash the “Directed By” credit as he opens his eyes and finds himself surrounded – and I mean surrounded -- by sea life staring at him expectantly.
Cut to Metropolis a few years later. Reporter Lori Lemaris is discussing a story with Perry White. The story? A mysterious blonde merman who has reportedly been saving ships and overboard sailors. It sounds like a real fish story, but more and more reputable sources are on record. There’s a casual allusion to Superman to help prop up their suspension of disbelief. Lori’s on the case, dubious as it may be. She travels to the sleepy New England town only to discover that people not only believe in the Aquaman, they claim they know him. We also find out what the beginning was about, their fishing routes are frequented by pirates who exploit the international waters this close to the Arctic Circle.
Inevitably, Lori puts herself into danger looking for an interview, and needs a’savin’ by Arthur. He takes her to the lighthouse (his father has since passed. He was an old man). Arthur tells his story as he knows it. Flashback to the incident five years ago, and how he returned home. His father revealed that he pulled Arthur up in a fishing net one day, and the only clue to his origin was a signet of some sort. Conveniently, Lori recognizes the symbol as matching a display coming to the Metropolis Museum of History.
They take a road trip, but when they get there, some other people are interested in the collected treasures being brought to Metropolis. Surprise! It’s the same black submarine from the beginning. They grab the collection and beat feet back to their vessel. In the hasty pursuit, Lori gets in the way, and is taken hostage aboard the ship. This looks like a job for… well, really just Aquaman. I mean, really.
Finally, our villain has a face. It’s Black Manta and his ethnically diverse crew*. He robbed the museum b/c these artifacts reportedly include a map and coordinates to the mythical Atlantis. There he can create a utopia for his people away from Johnny Law and The Man. He extols the merits of himself for awhile, and he and his Second pore over the booty in search of the coordinates. They’re sub is suddenly rammed by a whale. Then, two whales. Then they’re radar is glitching b/c they’re surrounded in fish and whale song. Manta gets wind that someone has boarded the lower decks beating the roe out of his crew.
When several of the men don’t report back, including the reinforcements he sent, he orders the hatches sealed, and the deck blown. He’ll flood the little bastard out. His Second, Cal Durham, takes exception to that idea, since their people are still down there. Now it becomes painfully clear, Black Manta don’t give a fuck about nobody but Black Manta. Sure, he dresses it up in some language about “acceptable losses” and “broken eggs”, but for all his idealistic prattling, he’s really just a self-obsessed bag’a’douche. Cal tries to stop the order from being carried out, and Manta stabs him for his trouble. So much for friendship. Now that we’ve proven Manta is hardcore, we feel significantly less bad about him getting his clock-cleaned.
Aquaman easily escapes the whole drowning thing (duh), and manages to save a handful of crew members. He makes his way to the bridge with much righteous fury. There’s a quick showdown, and the day is saved, Aquaman-style. Between Cal and some friendly whales, they turn the sub around and head back to Metropolis.
Once they get back to the dock, the crew and exhibit are being unloaded. Lori catches up with Arthur as he’s about to stoically dive back into the sea. She makes note that some of the pieces are missing, particularly a map. Aquaman is sure he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She wonders aloud if this is the last time she’ll see him, and Arthur tells her “Yeah, probably” and swims away.
*In the comics, Black Manta is revealed to be a black man looking to find a new homeland for his people, free of the oppression of the surface world. It was the 70’s and a little blaxploitastic, but it’s simply who his character is by now. He’s a far-cry from altruistic, his obsession changes focus to screwing with Aquaman and he often leaves his crew and respective peoples in the lurch. For those first meeting Manta in the movie, I hesitate to have the big finale be an Aryan man punching the snot out of a black man who’s purportedly just looking for a better lot in life (be it true or not). In the movie, it will be the same premise, only less specific.
Return of Aquaman
With the first movie out of the way, we can get into more of the mythology and extended cast. Arthur picks up where we left him in the first movie, en route to the land of his birth, which also happens to the be the place that exiled his baby-ass for being born blonde. He returns to the home he’s never known only to find out his people are kind-of jerks. Jerks that are rather torn on the issue of… well, him. The opening credits follow Aquaman’s search of the deep. After the credits, Arthur stops to check the map and gets jumped by a handful of Atlantean soldiers. A fight ensues until they recognize his signet and mumble things like “Orin” and “Mark of Koryak”. They take him to Atlantis in front of their courts, seemingly led by the Lady Mera and her spinach-chinned advisor, Vulko.
Some hail his return as if he’s some great hero already (namely Vulko, who’s Aquaman’s biggest fan other than Scipio), while others look to his return with equal parts suspicion and fear. See, Mera is really just a figurehead for the sorcerous elite, the Tribunal of Arion. A body that keeps their people paranoid with prophecy and superstition, who look none too brightly on this fair-haired flotsam and his prodigious return. They have no interest in handing the keys to the kingdom over to this half-a-surface dweller just b/c there might be a prophecy that says he’ll be King. They’re quick to point out that same prophecy indicates that he will bring ruin to Atlantis as two brothers, one light and one dark, will battle over the fate of them all. After they shout down Vulko a couple times, Arthur is put under loose house arrest.
We spend some time with Mera, Vulko, and the young Princess Tula as supporters of Arthur’s return and friends of Atlanna (Art’s mom, now-passed). Mera is dubious of the Aquaman, at first, but she warms to him. While the prophecy is bittersweet, many Atlanteans see Orin’s (as they insist on calling him) return as undeniable. However, the Tribunal of Arion have their supporters insomuch as they don’t know Orin from Adam, and the prophecy has some choice things to say about “ruin” and “war”.
The B story follows Cal Durham who is about to be released from Blackgate prison on parole. On the eve of his release, one of the old crew (a guy Arthur saved last movie) flips him a tip that Manta plans on escaping. Cal knows his old partner will make a beeline for where they deduced Atlantis to be. Cal has come to suspect that there are more folks out there like that Aquaman fellow and it would stand to reason that they would come from Atlantis. He decides that’s his problem now.
Back in Atlantis, Aquaman wanders around and catches the Tribunal passing judgment on a teenage boy for the crime of having purple eyes. Their sentence is exile (it’s is a whole thing with them) which hits a little too close to Aquaman’s home. Our Arthur interrupts the proceedings, calling it madness and has some choice names for this assembly of Ass-managers. The Tribunal uses this as further evidence, this is totally what they’re talking about, this surface-tainted mouth breather has no respect for their culture or traditions (like exiling kids). Much to their chagrin, however, they’re not overwhelmed with applause. People get to thinking. I mean sure, being born with purple eyes is a crime and all, but they can’t seem to remember why. The Tribunal of Arion is forced into recess to deliberate and make-up –er look up—the reason they hate on purple-eyed kids. The Princess Tula finds herself glad the kid was saved, he’s kind of hot. Mera takes in the boy, named Garth, for the time being.
By the time Manta is breaking out with his buddies, Cal is already on his way out to sea with some gear and a skeleton crew. Manta’s refurbished pirate crew is faster, but Cal has a few days on them.
Arthur waits until everyone in Mera’s chambers are asleep, and heads for the exit. This place is for assholes, he decides, and has no interest in waiting around to be proclaimed King or poisoned. Garth follows him and asks if he can come. Arthur reluctantly agrees, if only b/c the kid is probably shark-chow once he leaves. The two outcasts head out into the wilderness (note: we need at least one scene of Garth being afraid of a school of fish). They make “camp” and talk about being outsiders. It’s sweet. Arthur’s blood runs cold when he spies Black Manta heading toward Atlantis. He jumps the villain and they get to fighting. Manta brought backup, however, and a couple guys get a bead on Aquaman, but Garth gets the drop on them. Manta stops fighting and transmits that he’s not Manta, he’s Cal in some old Manta armor. The real Manta is on his way and coming for Atlantis. Arthur is sorely tempted not to give a crap. That place is for assholes, he’d already determined that. But Garth reminds him of Mera, Vulko, and Tula and begrudgingly Aquaman agrees to save the day.
Back at stately Mera Manor, they notice that Orin is missing, and wonder what they should do when suddenly, all of Atlantis shakes. They’re under attack!
Manta rolls up on the underwater domes and is quite surprised to find people already live there. White people. He’s not going to let that slow him down. Fire!
The Atlantean people look to the Tribunal to save them with their powerful magic. Unfortunately for everyone, they don’t actually have powerful magic. Most of the good stuff has been lost to time and tide. Oh, they know some stuff, like how to exile kids, and Chairman Ukon is quite good with card tricks. Save-the-City type magic? Not so much.
Arthur, Garth, and Cal roll up on Manta’s flank, alleviating the pressure on the strained Atlantean forces. Arthur whistles up some cavalry in the way of sharks, porpoises, morays, etc. to thin out Manta’s “foot”-soldiers.
As the Tribunal cower and try to think of what to do with themselves, Mera seizes the opportunity to disband the Order. She puts forth a rallying cry for Orin, who’s saving their asses at this very moment.
Manta sees that toe-headed peckerwood who beat him up in the last movie routing his forces. He get his kit on. He’ll deal with that problem himself.
Arthur, Garth (who’s eyes are shimmering), and Cal are kicking ass and taking names (Cal actually knows most of their names too; “Sorry Frank”; “You’re going to want to put some ice on that, Lester”; “Gerry, how’s your old man?”). Manta takes a shot at Aquaman’s back, but Cal takes the spear to the shoulder for him. As Orin and Manta face off, Garth gets some Atlantean soldiers to take Cal, and any other survivors to safety within Atlantis. And they listen to him b/c they’re afraid of his purple-eyed power.
Arthur and Manta duke it out. This is a much better fight than last movie, b/c it’s set amid an undersea battle and not just Arthur handing him his ass on a submarine deck. However, it’s just as inevitable that Art is going to put him down, and down hard.
With the tide turned and the battle won, Arthur returns to check on the city of assholes, only to find they’re cheering his name. There’s significantly less namby-pambying about prophecies and junk, which makes them far more tolerable, as assholes go. In fact, whether he likes it or not, he’s already been named King. As far as the Atlanteans can tell, the light and dark brothers fought and brought ruin to Atlantis already. The ruin was social change, and the war left Atlantis standing. Not a bad haul.
Boy, won’t they be disappointed in the next movie.
Aquaman: Kings of Atlantis
This is what I get for promising a trilogy on a character I know nothing about. This is supposed to be the big third chapter where we reveal Ocean Master, and there’s a big showdown between the two half-brothers for rule of Atlantis. Unfortunately, there is little to no information about Ocean Master available, what is published makes him out to be unremarkable. Orm (as he’s also known) is apparently an absolute limp fish. Black Manta is twice the villain Ocean Master is. The only story I’ve personally read about Orm makes him out to be a big joke (well, and the Justice League episode, which is decidedly non-canonical). Anyway, I’ll have to try and take that and my natural sense of story and make a movie out of it. Here goes.
First things first, we’re fast forwarding a little. Arthur and Mera are a couple, and Arthur Jr. is a wee babe only a few months old (this is Chekov’s proverbially gun over the mantle). A time of transition has come over Atlantis. Science has become the new religion, the sown wheat of the Tribunal of Arion shitting the bed so bad in the last flick. On the surface they’re less superstitious, and a more pragmatic society, reflective of their King. And why wouldn’t they be? Their prophecy of ruin was diverted (or at least loosely interpreted); the kid with the purple eyes hasn’t brought pox, or famine, or whatever it is he portends; and all-told the blonde outcast King isn’t so bad.
Things aren’t all pearls and neap tides in Atlantis. The Tribunal of Arion didn’t disappear, and still exist to sow rancor. They have arable ground too, considering the populace just gave up a working Senate for a dictatorship, benevolent or not. Even some of the cooler-headed citizenry question Orin’s decision to let Cal Durham set up a colony within the borders of Poseidonis (the Capital city, of the Continent of Atlantis. Basically, what you think of when I say “Atlantis”), and perhaps even more controversial was imprisoning Black Manta and his unscrupulous henchmen within the city limits (instead of a good old fashioned exile). While we’re on the subject of dirty surface-dwellers, the isolationist Atlanteans aren’t terribly keen on Orin’s increased contact with the world above the waves. They’re certain there was a reason they didn’t talk to them before. Even Orin himself, the great Aquaman, is restless. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, doubly so at these depths. Garth and Tula are his ambassadors to the surface, so he doesn’t get out as much as he’s used to. Sure he has a wife and baby, but this is certainly not the life Arthur Curry, son of a lighthouse keeper saw for himself.
The first conflict comes from the Shark (a literal shark man), threatening the borders of Tritonis, and Arthur is off like a shot. Fight ensues, and even though Orin has it well in hand, Garth inserts himself at the end of the scene to lend an assist with the cleanup. Arthur’s genuinely glad to see the boy (now a young man) and they return triumphant. As they swim away, we see a watcher in the shadows, with an iconic silhouette. Garth senses his King’s nameless dread, and calls him on it. Arthur puts up a front, but admits, he’s just got a feeling he can’t shake.
Orin holds court, discussing matters of state with his advisors, Mera, Vulko, Garth, Tula, Cal, and a few other old guys we probably have never met. We don’t rest on the plot for long b/c we’re not paying our hard earned money to watch the political ennui of Aquaman. A mysterious figure bursts into the room, throwing two guards to the floor with a flourish and wearing… well, it’s a weird outfit.
The man identifies himself as Orm and demands to be named Master of the Oceans as ruler of Atlantis. Arthur laughs. He gives a Peter Davidian dressing down to the would-be usurper and instructs his guards to seize this whack-job and throw him out on his… corral… hat? Is that corral? Just get him out. Orm displays some juju, magically binds the guards, and calls Orin out personally. Aquaman puts Orm on his ass fairly quickly. Orm threatens this isn’t over. Arthur assures him it is, and tells him to leave while he can. The man disappears in a flashy display of magic. Orin calls his council back to task in a remarkable show of hubris.
Oddly, that bizarre grandstanding appearance sends major ripples throughout Atlantis (as was Orm’s plan). Remember, this is a cowardly and superstitious lot who --until Orin showed up-- pretty much lived and died by prophecy and the say-so of mojo domos. A lunatic laying claim to the throne might be laughable, but a magic lunatic laying claim to the throne… well, that just feels right to a lot of Atlanteans. Doubly so since the Tribunal were revealed as total posers.
Orm moves to phase II, replete with a legion of followers. His people jump Garth on his way back to the surface. They take him to an old cave/temple where Orm seems to have set up a little base camp. The place is littered with a host of old Atlantean tomes and magical doo-dads. Among them is a box. A box it takes a special kind of person to open. Someone with purple eyes. Orm uses Garth to get at the nougaty center of said box, and claims the Trident of Koryak, a magical focus and symbol of the --capital O-- Old power of Atlantis. To test it out he turns it on Garth, and the boy is erased with a jolt of Trident juice. Orm goes to hatch phase III. (there’s a brief, but trippy scene where we see Garth somewhere bright, and a voice tells him to awaken).
Arthur gets a report that the Shark has returned and is back up to his old tricks. Arthur is off like a shot again. As soon as he leaves, Orm and his minions storm the palace like a lightning strike, capturing Mera, Tula, and Vulko, but Cal gets away. Orm declares himself ruler, and the captured trio’s stomachs sink when they hear a roar of applause across the Capital. He leaves his men to wrap things up here, takes Arthur Jr. and leaves Poseidonis.
Meanwhile Arthur plows headlong into a trap. The Shark is waiting for him, along with a host of Atlanteans now loyal to Orm. He makes it messy, but they take him down.
Tula starts talking to the other prisoners and trying to gird the people to rise up. It’s an uphill battle, and she appeals to Mera for help. However, Mera is out of her mind with grief knowing her son and husband are somewhere at the mercy of a madman.
Arthur awakens chained to a rock. The Shark lurks not far off, waiting. Several of the traitors are there, who seem increasingly nervous near this dude, well, and the dozen of his shark buddies circling the water above them. The Shark hates to be kept waiting, and does not bargain eagerly. In his frustration, and to prove he’s hardcore he devours half an Atlantean to tide him over. He throws the other half to his finny friends who roil the waters in bloody frenzy.
Cal show up in Blacklantis (sorry, couldn’t resist) and tries to rally the troops. Support isn’t overwhelming at first, as we learn not everyone is happy to trade in their freewheeling pirate life to become second class citizens underwater. Cal acknowledges that point, but asks if they’d rather be slaves, b/c that’s probably what’s coming next. They admit, they would not prefer that. Cal lets them know, if they want something better, than they better be willing to fight for it.
Orm shows up with Arthur Jr. He talks some smack to Orin, and shows him his son. He does the villainous exposition thing, revealing that he is the true heir to Atlantis. Bearer of the torch of magic that shall once again ignite Atlantis to its former glory. Unfortunately, there are still some loose ends to tie up in regards to rightful lineages. He gives the baby over to the Shark and he and his remaining men leave to secure their city and get a’rulin’. The Shark could give a crap about a tiny morsel like Arthur Jr., he’d barely wet his appetite. His pets on the other hand….
Arthur begs the Shark not to harm his son. Arthur desperately tries to contact the sharks and commands them to disperse (he can’t command frenzying, mindless beasts). Arthur tries to tear loose from the chain binding him. Arthur tries everything. The Shark is tired of games, he lets the baby float, and comes at him.
Tula has a few guards and strong bodies that would be willing to try and make a move, but too many of the palace attendants are old men and wussies. Unfortunately, their revolt gets put on hiatus when Orm returns. He glibly informs Mera that her husband and child shall not be home for dinner. We watch her spirit break. Orm goes about taking over the Kingdom and putting his house in order.
What follows would be the most pants-shittingest sequence of film ever recorded. King Kong fighting a trio of T-Rexes will be yesterday’s Fish Special compared to this. Aquaman, chained to a rock will fight the Shark in an enclosed space, as his son floats towards a frenzying pile of sharks. Unable to wriggle or power his way free, Arthur leads the Shark to chomp through the chain, unfortunately taking his hand with it. Now free, Aquaman (one-handed and bleeding profusely) will fight the Shark himself, and –what’d I say? A dozen?— a dozen sharks, all with his helpless son floating angelically in his blanky in the middle of it all. You wouldn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream. Shit would be happening so fast, you’d think you’re watching that Flash movie. Arthur fights like a man possessed. I suggest summoning dolphins. He’ll probably use an anchor as a weapon at some point. I almost hate to ruin it here, but he and Arthur Jr. do survive*, and do beat a dozen and one shark asses in brutal and short order. His porpoise pals help him limp home.
Inside the palace, Orm holds kangaroo court, and reassembles the Tribunal of Arion. Tula takes advantage of his inattention. If they can get past the handful of guards posted, they might at least get away. Maybe they could find allies in Tritonis or Shayeris? Their little rebellion begins and they get past the first set of guards. But before long they find themselves herded to the throne room where their pathetic band tries to look cool in front of Orm and his new lap dog, dum dum dum Black Manta.
Cal and the Gang burst in. Orm is unfazed and fires at Cal with his Trident. But I promised Cal I wouldn’t wound him in this film, and Garth appears in midair looking a little bit older with some crazy tattoos. He diverts the bolt with a wave of his hand. Garth has returned from a magical dimension where ancient Atlantean wizards helped him unlock his magical heritage. He steps up and comes at Orm. With the big gun busy, the rebellion is emboldened and a war breaks out in the throne room. Black Manta and a handful of his cronies get in full-on pirate on pirate action. Cal and Manta find each other and get to square off. We’ve already stabbed and shot Cal successively in the movies. I think it’s time he won one.
Tula sees her opportunity and goes to the balcony to call upon any citizen who is loyal to Orin to rise up in his memory. She’s promptly shot in the back as skirmishes break out in the streets below.
Garth is good, real good, but Orm is terrifyingly insane and has the Trident thing going for him. Garth gets distracted when Tula falls and Orm knocks the young man back and bears down with the killing blow. That’s when Mera rolls up on him all nails and teeth. She knocks that ridiculous helmet off his head and he’s revealed to look like Orin only with black hair and a swarthier complexion. He shrugs off Mera and goes back for Garth. Aquaman kicks in the doors, holding his son, and getting blood all over the rug (harpoon hand optional). Mera rushes to her mens, and takes Arthur Jr. so daddy can go to work.
The fights resume, and Orin comes in swinging. He beats the one-handed snot out of the bad-hat wearing sonovabitch. He wrests the Trident from the usurper and holds it up ready to bring it back down again. Garth intercedes, telling Arthur and everybody that Orm is his brother.
Everybody gasps, etc. Orm didn’t know that either and takes it the worst. He begins to have a whole breakdown about it and takes hold of the Trident in a mad dash. Orin fights with him over it, but Orm wins by merit of having two hands and a head-full of crazy. He channels mad amounts of magic into the Trident screaming about how he’ll kill them all. Everybody runs and grabs some cover as the Trident goes critical and explodes. Orm’s fate is unknown.
I’m torn on whether to kill Tula or not. It would be a nod, but I don’t know that I want to go out on a downer. She’s secondary enough that it probably won’t be the thing people come out of the theatre talking about --what with the shark fight and all-- but still. Either way, the day is mostly saved. Sure, Poseidonis lay in ruins, the prophecy has indeed come to pass. But the Aquafamily still stands –except maybe Tula- and they can always rebuild. Reprise main theme, roll credits.
*I can’t kill the kid, canonical or not. Maybe I’m a big softy now that I have kids, or maybe I just don’t want my trilogy to end with such an utter tragedy that the character can’t recover by the end of the movie. Whatever the reason, I can’t do it.
I defy you to be making fun of Aquaman coming out of these movies. I’d hope the fanboys would recognize what I tried to include and forgive me my rearrangements. I’m lifting a bit from the Justice League for the hand loss, but really I’m lifting the whole story already, so bite me, fanboy. I feel confident any of the above could be done in two hours of action-packed screen time.
Well, there you go. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the water.