Why ‘Aquaman’ Feels Like a Fresh Approach for DC

Aquaman: The extended trailer blends comic book lore with elements of a quest movie.
What could be greater than a trailer? A five-minute footage reel. That’s exactly what Warner Bros. released Friday morning for James Wan’s Aquaman. The extended look gives viewers a greater glimpse at the scope and tone of the first cinematic adaptation of DC’s most underrated hero. While DC’s cinematic universe, outside of Wonder Woman (2017) has divided fans and critics, Aquaman looks unlike anything else superhero films have offered before. Let’s dive in.

The five-minute clip centers on Jason Momoa’s titular hero and Amber Heard as the Atlantean aquakinetic known as Mera. It explains a lot of the basic background of the movie: the origin story of Aquaman a.k.a. Arthur Curry; the introduction of Black Manta, the energy beam-wielding villain; and the impending war that the whole world, surface dwellers and underwater denizens alike, hinges on.

In between all that setup, though, we also get big bursts of color and humor, in the form of glimmering CGI underwater creatures and copious wisecracks from Momoa, respectively.

It all adds up to a clip that suggests a tonal shift away from previous Warner Bros. superhero movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel, toward a brighter, more colorful strain of superheroism that feels in line with the mega-hit Wonder Woman.

The undersea scenes are full of bright reds and pinks spangled onto a banner of crystal blues and greens. Momoa’s more buoyant, slightly sardonic take on the hero — not to mention his shiny golden version of Aquaman’s classic costume — is a pronounced departure from the grimness of the studio’s recent iterations of Batman and Superman (and not totally unlike the recent direction Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has taken over in the Marvel universe).

The clip also features an extended chase scene that provides a sense of what director James Wan might bring to Aquaman. Wan made his name with horror hits like Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, but broke out in a serious way with his work on 2015’s Furious 7, which feels in some ways like a direct precursor to Arthur and Mera’s high-flying, explosive rooftop pursuit.

Following the relatively tepid response to last year’s messy misfire Justice League, the best-case scenario for fans and everyone involved would be an Aquaman that’s not only a breakout hit but also a great movie. While we won’t know whether it succeeds until Aquaman hits theaters on December 21, 2018, this clip suggests the ingredients are all there.

The footage opens on a snowglobe, resting on top of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. While it may seem like simple set dressing, the two objects hint at the film’s tone and influences, suggesting both otherworldly fantasy and beauty, alongside extradimensional horror with far-reaching consequences. But before the footage takes us down those paths, it establishes the love story between Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Over the decades, Aquaman’s origins have gone through numerous iterations.

When the character debuted in More Fun Comics No. 73 (1941), he was the son of human parents, whose widowed father, a scientist, taught him how to survive underwater while studying Atlantis. In the late ’50s, Aquaman’s heritage was rewritten and he became the son of a lighthouse keeper and an outcast from Atlantis. 1989’s The Legend of Aquaman Special, rewrote his Aquaman’s origins yet again, making him the son of Queen Atlanna and the wizard Atlan who was abandoned and then found by the aging lighthouse keeper Arthur Curry who gave the child his name.

21st century comics have blended these origins together, and the result is the one we see established for the film. Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) as “a product of love that never should have been” opens up interesting avenues for the character, both as a man of two worlds, and one who feels abandoned by a mother and kingdom he never truly got to know. For all the spectacle that’s shown here, the opening scenes serve as a reminder that Aquaman’s story is one of abandonment and inheritance and the reconciliation of the two.

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