Friday, December 28, 2018

Connections between AQUAMAN and the Prior DCEU Films

The following is an excerpt from an episode of the Justice League Universe podcast. You can stream the full episode or download the MP3.

What we want to do now is just quickly run through some initial connections that we saw between Aquaman (directed by James Wan) and the prior films in the Justice League Universe, also known as the DCEU. Overall, this movie -- although it has a tone of its own -- fits really well into the developing cinematic universe, with one main exception.

The exception stems from Justice League, which is the other main appearance of Arthur Curry. In Justice League, Arthur has a brief scene with Mera after Steppenwolf retrieved the motherbox from Atlantis. It seems very clear that Arthur is ignorant of the ultimate fate of his mother and he harbors a lot of anger at her for abandoning him. In the Aquaman film, however, this is shifted so that his anger is now toward Atlantis, not his mother. In fact, he is now quite sympathetic toward his mother and he understands why she left and that she was supposedly executed. So there’s a bit of discontinuity there, but being angry at Atlantis and missing his mother makes a lot of sense for the story they wanted to tell in Aquaman. And it’s not completely impossible to reconcile the two films, as it could be that Arthur has both anger toward Atlantis for what they did to his mother and also some residual anger that flares up at times toward his mother, because she did after all leave them to return to the sea. When he said in Justice League that his mother probably didn’t give him another thought, this might not be his true feelings but rather just something that boiled up for him briefly in the moment. After all, people can have complex and sometimes seemingly contradictory emotions, especially if they’ve been through something as traumatic as losing a mother.

Other than that shift from Justice League to Aquaman, there are a lot of connections to be drawn between this film and the prior ones. There actually were a few pieces of good continuity with Justice League. Mera said back then that Atlanna left Arthur there to save his life, and that it was painful for her to do so, and both of those are fully explained and are true here in Aquaman. Mera also mentioned in Justice League that her parents fought in the wars and that Atlanna took her in. This is not contradicted by anything in Aquaman, although it isn’t a big factor in this film. At first I thought maybe her parents had gone off and died in the wars, leaving Mera with Atlanna permanently. But that was a faulty assumption on my part. It was most likely a temporary situation where Mera’s parents, the king and queen of the Xebel Kingdom, had to go off to a war, perhaps with the Brine Kingdom, the Trench, or some factions within their own kingdom. And Atlanna, being another member of royalty from the allied Kingdom of Atlantis, would make sense as a temporary caretaker for Mera.

And one final note about Justice League -- I don’t think Arthur ever says her name in that film, so it makes sense here in Aquaman that he says he never asked her name.

Looking back to prior films in the universe, Aquaman continues the tradition of showing Justice League characters as children. In past films, we’ve seen young Clark Kent, young Bruce Wayne, and young Diana. Furthermore, MoS and Aquaman both show infancy as well as adolescence, and they both show bullying. Wonder Woman and Aquaman both show youth and then teenage training with a mentor. NexusPong on Twitter compiled some nice photos of the characters as kids:

Man of Steel and Aquaman have further connections -- they both use flashbacks as a narrative device, tying in moments from childhood to moments that are currently occurring with the character. And both of these origin stories involve the main character being a bridge between two worlds. There’s also a great shot in each film of the hero, wearing their full costume, zooming upward.

Speaking of which, Wonder Woman and Aquaman both end on a somewhat hyper-real hero shot of the main character. Those two films also have the commonality of mankind ruining the planet and being contrasted negatively with a different civilization -- although in the case of Aquaman, the other civilization also has some of its own problems, whereas Themyscira was fairly idealized.

Also, both Wonder Woman and Aquaman had some important relationship development that happened on a boat.

With regard to Batman v Superman, that film had a strong connection to Excalibur, as we’ve covered extensively in past episodes. And Aquaman here has strong overtones of the Once and Future King (or The Sword in the Stone, if we want to go with movie versions, like Arthur does). For example, at the beginning, Arthur is explicitly named after the legend of King Arthur, just like we explicitly saw an Excalibur marquee at the start of BvS. And Arthur learning to swim from Vulko is kind of like young Arthur learning lessons through swimming as taught by Merlin. And of course a big parallel is Arthur Curry being able to remove the trident, marking himself as the true king, just like Arthur Pendragon pulling the sword from the stone.

Alright, let’s quickly run through a few more connections:

    • BvS, Wonder Woman, and now Aquaman all have opening and closing narrations. Justice League also had a closing narration.
    • Man of Steel had the oil rig rescue, where Clark tears off the door at sea -- and Aquaman has the submarine rescue, with Arthur tearing off the door at sea. Both heroes then help the people get to safety.
    • We also think we might have caught a direct reference to the oil rig from Man of Steel, as there may have been a hologram of oil spilling from that rig when Orm was giving a speech about surface pollution.
    • Wonder Woman and Aquaman both have a circling camera shot around the characters at the top of the cliff, then a dive into the water.
    • Wonder Woman and Aquaman both have a mother who says that “only the strongest” will wield the special weapon.
    • BvS had Bruce saving a young girl from getting crushed by a beam while Aquaman had Arthur saving a young girl from getting crushed by a bell. 
    • Justice League and Aquaman both had Arthur surfing, the former on a parademon and the latter on a sea dragon.

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