Aquaman has now amassed over one billion dollars worldwide, not bad for one of the most derided superheroes in comic books. Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa brings his patented charm to the titular hero role, and horror movie icon James Wan took his love of the fantastical and applied it to the seven realms of Atlantis he becomes king of. Stunning visuals, imaginative choreography, and epic battle sequences make the underwater adventure the most successful of the DCEU productions. It improves on many of the latent issues with the Aquaman comics, including updating his image for a modern audience, as well as making improvements to his backstory and those of his allies. He no longer is inhibited being separated from water for too long, which lets him have adventures on land as much as under the sea.
But with these improvements comes some changes that hinder the Aquaman mythos more than help it. They may have changed Aquaman's look and Arthur Curry’s heritage for the better, but his bro type of personality clashes with what longtime fans consider Aquaman's sterling qualities of patience and stoicism. And was it really necessary to have him acquire his superhero moniker from social media, rather than taking on the mantle himself after pledging to defend both Atlantis and his coastal community? And while it gave King Orm, the main antagonist, more complexity and personal motivation, it reduced Black Manta (an infamous antagonist in the comics) to being nothing more than a stock hired thug. Love or hate the changes, there’s no denying Aquaman's success, and it couldn't have happened to a more deserving superhero.
20 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: AQUAMAN'S LOOK
At this point, Aquaman has had a few different looks since he premiered in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, but his most recognized involves a super suit of green and orange (most often made of scales) and finned bracers. He’s tall, pale, and fair haired. His demeanor is regal and introspective, befitting the King of Atlantis.
The Aquaman film depicts him as a fun-loving, rugged islander of mixed heritage, sporting long sun-bleached hair, a beard, and multiple tattoos. No longer looking like a preppy lifeguard that talks to fish, he has more in common with the churlish Aquaman from the ‘90s comics. The change greatly updates his aesthetic (without needing a harpoon for a hand).
19 MADE IT WORSE: VULKO TELLING ARTHUR ABOUT HIS MOTHER
For some fans and members of the audience, watching Vulko (King Orm’s vizier) explain to a young Arthur Curry that his mother had been executed was an odd moment. Vulko was featured in training montages helping Arthur develop his combat techniques, but his position in past Atlantean society was as murky as an oil spill.
This is because Vulko wasn’t Arthur’s mentor in the comics, and as far as the films were concerned, his expository scenes were cut in Justice League where Aquaman made his first appearance. So his connection to Arthur’s mother (the Queen of Atlantis) and his family isn’t fully flesh out, yet it’s his word Arthur trusts without any context, and who is in fact lying to him the entire time.
18 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: ARTHUR CURRY’S HERITAGE
A major theme in both Aquaman and the Aquaman comics is not belonging when you’re being pulled between two worlds. It’s driven even more home with the fact that Arthur Curry is biracial in the film, resembling both his human father and his Atlantean mother.
Superhero movies are getting more diverse all the time, but the fact remains that many of the most prominent superheroes are white (Batman, Superman, Captain America, etc). Aquaman was no different for decades, so the decision to make him biracial was inclusive to the fans he has of different ethnic backgrounds themselves. It also meant Arthur Curry may not always have felt included in his coastal community in Maine, but that his commitment to saving its inhabitants superseded the feelings of isolation.
17 MADE IT WORSE: SOCIAL MEDIA GIVING HIM HIS SUPERHERO NAME
As with most superheroes attempting to position themselves in the “real world” and not some fictitious universe, Arthur Curry’s exploits saving drowning submarine crews and wayward swimmers captures the attention of the present media. He’s a local celebrity around his island home, who moonlights on the weekends as part of the Justice League.
The point Aquaman makes is that Arthur Curry is no more desirous to be a world-renowned superhero than he is to be King of Atlantis, but the media makes him one because the plot demands he become it. Instead of adopting the mantle of Aquaman along with his newfound royal status, it’s given to him via social media, long before we even see him in the original costume.
16 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: MERA’S STORY
When Mera met Aquaman in the original comic series, there was no animosity between them and they got married quickly. When Mera first appears in the film Aquaman, there is established history between them of an uneasy trust and begrudging respect. This is more reminiscent of Mera's appearance in the comics, when her backstory was retconned in 2010 and it was revealed she was supposed to assassinate Arthur in the New 52 continuity.
Obviously this didn't end up taking place in the film, and from the fires of the original animosity a strong attraction was born. It’s a far cry from the simpering sidekick she was portrayed as in the comics, and more in line with her modern interpretation as an Atlantean ambassador.
15 MADE IT WORSE: NOT ADDING AQUAMAN'S AQUATIC FRIENDS
There’s a moment early in Aquaman where a young Arthur Curry is bullied while at the local aquarium. They push him into the glass of a tank until a sort of sonar emission pings several of the massive marine life. Arthur turns and begins communicating with the sharks, dolphins, etc until they ram the glass and frighten the boys off.
That’s about as close to having marine sidekicks as it gets for Arthur. As an adult, he’s seen riding a sea dragon, but he doesn’t name his submarine steed like he does in the comics (Stormy), and he doesn’t hang out with Topo, his talking octopus friend, who was the source of much amusement and hijinks in the comics.
14 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: THE LOVE STORY
In the comics, much of the romance is focused on Mera and Aquaman, with their tumultuous relationship being the core love story. In the film, their chemistry develops slowly, and is taken for downright hostility in the beginning.
The love story is therefore reserved for Tom Curry, Arthur’s father, and Atlanna, his mother and the Queen of Atlantis. When she has to leave the surface and return to Atlantis for an arranged marriage, he waits at the dock every morning for her to return. It’s a touching tale of star-crossed lovers, who are seemingly not meant to be in the beginning, but then get one of the happiest endings imaginable.
13 MADE IT WORSE: NOT HAVING BLACK MANTA BUILD HIS OWN ARMOR
Much of Black Manta’s history as one of Aquaman's major antagonists is kept in the film. Most of his backstory remains, with slight adjustments. One of them includes building his armor, though it isn’t the way Black Manta fans expect.
In the comics he built his own armor, whereas in the film he simply augments a suit of advanced Atlantean technology. This diminishes his intelligence, innovation, and resourcefulness, and makes him look like a lapdog taking Orm’s table scraps rather than a mercenary for hire. We’re talking about a man who would go on to end Aquaman's son.
12 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: DIVERSITY OF THE CHARACTERS
The Aquaman of the comic book world was pale as they come, as were all of his Atlantean subjects and friends. Occasionally, he would encounter surface dwellers of different ethnicities, but for the most part diversity in Aquaman (as in many comics) didn’t become prominent for several decades after the series was created.
The film by contrast has changed the titular hero himself into a biracial character (to reflect it’s star Jason Momoa, who is half-Native Hawaiian, half-Irish/German). His father, Thomas Curry, mans a lighthouse off the coast of Maine, but is portrayed by New Zealander Temuera Morrison (who is of Maori descent). Black Manta is also portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who is half-Muslim.
11 MADE IT WORSE: TURNED AQUAMAN INTO A BRO
As refreshing as Aquaman's metamorphosis is from clean-cut lifeguard to tattooed brawler, a lot of his look and personality is attributed to the real-life look and personality of Jason Momoa. Momoa already sported the long hair, beard, and tattoos (depictions of his Native Hawaiian family crest), so much of the aesthetic given to Aquaman was built around that.
Momoa’s gregarious personality is both likeable and problematic. Because he comes across like any partying, inked up bro on Hawaii’s North Shore, his transformation into the King of Atlantis is less believable, whereas the Aquaman of the comics was much more regal and reserved acting.
10 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: KING ORM’S MOTIVATIONS
King Orm could easily have come across as your typical megalomaniac supervillain -- power hungry, ruthless, and myopic in his pursuit of Aquaman's destruction. Instead, director James Wan decided to pull a page out of Black Panther’s playbook and create a villain that was complex and even sympathetic.
Orm wanted to give payback to the surface dweller’s that polluted his ocean, and to Aquaman for, he felt, condemning their mother to her demise. To him, the ends always justifies the means. In this case, the means were all born from personal pain, which Aquaman ultimately recognized when he decided to spare his life.
9 MADE IT WORSE: CHANGING CHARACTER BACKSTORIES
Sometimes changes in character backstories are a good thing; changing Arthur Curry’s to be more reminiscent of his New 52 origins, and changing his mother’s motivations for leaving him and his father (a previously arranged marriage as opposed to leaving out of her own self interest or because she passed away) come to mind. However, sometimes changing character backstories can make plot developments not make sense.
For instance, Nereus was once Mera’s love interest, not her father. Atlan was once Arthur Curry’s father, and a wizard at that. Orm was once the second son of Tom Curry, not Atlanna. It may not seem like a big issue for new fans, but long standing Aquaman fans may be confused at the plot with all the names switched.
8 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: ATLANTIS
Originally, Aquaman had to spend all his time underwater in the comics, then soon it was less and less of a requirement as author’s wanted to eliminate his dependency through different storylines. But the seven realms of Atlantis always remained a huge part of what made Aquaman's adventures so distinct.
James Wan and his crew outdid themselves making Atlantis come to life in a way that only movies can, even developing new special effects to show actors in it. Where it may have seemed static in the pages of comic book, it was a 360 degree environment where the majority of the action in Aquaman takes place.
7 MADE IT WORSE: FOCUSING ON STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
There’s no doubt about it, Aquaman is a visually stunning film. From the art department to the cinematography, it captures the imagination with its beautiful environments, costumes, and action sequences. But sometimes, style prevails over substance, and all the glossy visuals in the world can’t make up for an oversimplified plot and weak character development.
Marvel films have learned that for every spectacular action sequence, there has to be a small moment of personal growth in the narration to tie it together. The pace of Aquaman allows for almost no “rest” scenes for the characters to situate themselves in their own dramatic narratives, resulting in empty dialogue that carries no real weight or explain what audiences see.
6 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: HOW BLACK MANTA’S FATHER DIED
In Aquaman, a serious moment of personal motivation occurs when Aquaman encounters David Kane and Jesse Kane, two pirates out for fortune on the high seas. In the ensuing fight that results in Aquaman preventing their heist, Jesse is mortally wounded. David pleads with Aquaman to help his father, but he refuses, telling him to “ask the sea for mercy”.
This is better than the comic book version of this pivotal moment. Instead of Aquaman accidentally ending Jesse, he is shown to willfully seal his fate when he could have helped. It motivates David to take revenge on Aquaman and become Black Manta, and also motivates Aquaman to spare King Orm later on, feeling guilty over previously being the arbiter of someone's fate.
5 MADE IT WORSE: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Obviously a long running comic book series has the time to develop its characters. A film doesn’t always have that luxury with its runtime. As it is, Aquaman was two and a half hours, and the character development was still superficial.
Prominent characters like Black Manta and Vulko become stock filler figures in the background. The relationship with Arthur Curry and Mera is never explained; they simply know each other and always have, with their relationship never moving much beyond insults. Arthur’s motivations are never clear, except that he feels guilty for turning his back on his Atlantean heritage, and he is the same at the start of the film as at the end.
4 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: NOT WRITING TOM CURRY OFF
In Aquaman's backstory, beginning with DC’s New 52 retconning of most superheroes original origins, Arthur Curry’s father, lighthouse keeper Tom Curry, is ended by Black Manta as an act of revenge against Aquaman. It inspires a lot of personal rage and lead to many angst-ridden storylines.
In the film, Tom Curry’s passing isn’t used as a pawn to toy with Arthur’s emotions. While his safety being put in jeopardy by Orm ultimately makes Arthur commit to trying to stop the would-be Ocean Master, allowing Tom to live allowed for a much more satisfying ending to his own personal character arc with Arthur’s mother Atlanna.
3 MADE IT WORSE: MAKING ARTHUR AN EXTROVERT
Arthur Curry wasn’t only Aquaman and the King of Atlantis, he was also one of the founding members of the Justice League. Spending time around Superman and Batman, Arthur Curry was distinct for his introverted nature, reserved personality, and regal bearing. He wasn’t the arrogant, jocular extrovert depicted by Jason Momoa.
As charming as Momoa is, the audience gets the impression that it’s his demeanor that’s overshadowing the character archetype. He isn’t attempting to personify the Arthur Curry of the comic, but rather play to his own personal strengths. His Arthur Curry and the Arthur Curry fans have come to love are completely different, and it has nothing to do with appearance.
2 CHANGED FOR THE BETTER: NEEDING TO BE IN CONTACT WITH WATER
Beginning with Superman, every superhero needed their own “kryptonite”. Otherwise, they were superhuman beings with no weaknesses that made for boring icons with no relatability. Aquaman was no exception, as for a while he needed to be in contact with water hourly or he would grow too weak.
Luckily the movie completely disregards that aspect of the character. It allows for Arthur Curry to have a rich backstory of growing up on land before he embraces his Atlantean heritage, and means that when fighting alongside the Justice League he can still manipulate water as part of his powers without being submerged in it.
1 MADE IT WORSE: NOT INCLUDING DOCTOR STEPHEN SHIN
Though he was included in the film for all of a few seconds, Doctor Stephen Shin was the man that once mentored Arthur Curry in the ways of his powers, not Vulko. Instead, he’s molded into a conspiracy theorist talking head on TV rather than the mentor who had known Arthur all his life in the comics.
The man who once pressured Black Manta into getting a sample of Arthur Curry’s blood to harness the extent of his powers, he is now reduced to a mid-credit sequence taking Black Manta in and nursing him back to health. The complexity of his character, a mentor turned obsessed villain, is ruined by not giving him more screen time.