Aquaman Is a Surprisingly Lovecraftian Superhero Film

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Aquaman, in theaters now.

While the most obvious influence on director James Wan's Aquaman is the comic books themselves, another major inspiration behind the latest DC-based film comes from a rather surprising literary source: The works of noted horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

Early in the film, during the prologue showing the relationship between Arthur Curry's parents (Thomas and the Atlantean queen Atlanna), a copy of the book The Dunwich Horror and Others can be seen in the Curry home, as the couple fall in love while Atlanna recovers from an injury endured during her escape from Atlantis.

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The classic short story collection by Lovecraft contains the 1931 novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which is perhaps the most direct inspiration to the Aquaman mythos itself. The story largely takes place in a remote coastal town in New England where the locals interbreed with a race of aquatic beings known as The Deep Ones. The narrator discovers he is a product of the hybridized breeding, and accepts his fate and heritage underneath the seas.

Arthur Curry, the eponymous DC superhero, himself is the product of a similar cross-species relationship between humans and Atlanteans making him one of the most prominent biracial heroes in the DC Universe. But whereas Lovecraft's tale was a cautionary tale against interracial relationships reflecting the author's own bigoted, xenophobic views, Aquaman fortunately presents biracialism as a definite strength; while its hero does not fit in entirely with either culture initially, his mixed heritage makes him the true, logical choice to take the throne of Atlantis.

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Wan, of course, is familiar with Lovecraft's deeply prejudiced background, but also noted that the author had a strong influence on the film overall. As such, the filmmaker crafted a movie that both acknowledged Lovecraft's work while creating a modern superhero epic that deliberately flew in the face of the writer's outdated personal views. With this in mind, Wan had one of the film's main villains, Black Manta, directly quote Lovecraft when he makes his grand entrance, as he confronts Arthur and Mera for revenge.

The Lovecraftian influences don't stop with Aquaman's heritage and Black Manta quotes, either. The author imbued much of his work with stories revolving around lost civilizations and ancient, otherworldly creatures that defied conventional explanation. The prolific monster, Cthulu, began as a Lovecraft creation, for example. Aquaman is similarly full of forgotten civilizations and undefinable beasts lurking in the shadows of the old world, driving the plot forward.

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Much of the film has Aquaman and Mera out to recover the fabled Trident of Atlan, the legendary weapon of the Atlantean regent that put himself into a self-imposed exile after accidentally sinking his prosperous kingdom under the waves forever. This leads the duo to explore the ruins of the Atlantean Golden Age and puts them on a collision course with another forgotten civilization more in line with Lovecraft's horror background, the ravenous Trench. First created by writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis in Aquaman #1 as part of the publisher's 2011's New 52 relaunch, the creatures come from a forgotten part of the ocean not even Atlanteans dare venture into. They also more closely resemble the fish-like humanoids from The Shadow Over Innsmouth than the Atlanteans themselves.

Aquaman - The Trench

After narrowly escaping the Trench, Arthur and Mera find themselves at the Earth's core, where Arthur meets the mythical Karathen, an ancient leviathan guarding the trident in Atlan's final resting place. The underwater behemoth resembles the Old Ones from Lovecraft's stories, an inexplicable creature that has endured for eons in the depths. After claiming his destiny, Arthur then enters the film's final battle atop another kaiju-sized beast from the planet's depths, a Cthulu-esque deus ex machina that would fit right in with the other monsters and horrors from Lovecraft's literary works as the true King of Atlantis turns the tide of combat.

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James Wan's Aquaman is a film that is unafraid to wear its influences on its sleeve, including overt nods and references to the Indiana Jones films and the works of French author Jules Verne. But the one source of inspiration greater than any other is H.P. Lovecraft, even as the problematic as the early 20th century writer's personal views were. And given Wan's own acclaimed background as a horror filmmaker, the influence helps overcome its prejudice history to enrich the DCEU blockbuster overall.

Directed by James Wan, Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Amber Heard as Mera, Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master, Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, Temuera Morrison as Thomas Curry, Dolph Lundgren as Nereus and Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna.

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