Aquaman: Early reviews, trailers, release date, cast, plot and more

Can Jason Momoa restore the reputation of a superhero who's most famous for talking to fish? Gurgle blub glug! (That means: We think so.)

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
10 min read
Warner Bros. Pictures

Poor Aquaman. It's been tough for the King of the Seven Seas to overcome the campy reputation he earned from the 1970s Super Friends cartoon, where he was famous for chatting with sea creatures. But DC Comics took a huge step toward redeeming the character by casting Jason Momoa, the tattooed, tough-guy actor best known as Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones. He combines that biker bad-guy attitude with a magnetic charm that makes Aquaman believable as a hero and winning as a personality.

What critics are saying

Early reviews started to come in Nov. 16, and they're looking like the water's fine.

DC aquatic epic is wet and wild
"Aquaman is an enormously entertaining slice of oceanic epicness, combining a seafaring sense of humor, spectacular visuals and Game of Thrones-style dynastic fantasy."    -- Richard Trenholm, CNET

A big, fun, wild ride
"Aquaman is a big, fun, wild ride. It's unabashedly melodramatic and over the top with the largest, most ambitious sense of scale imaginable. Parts of it are kind of bad but they are not the majority and, oddly, still fit in with the cartoony tone. 2nd best DCU movie. YEEEAAHH!" -- Germain Lussier, Gizmodo and io9

Best since The Dark Knight
Aquaman is the best DC movie since The Dark Knight. @creepypuppet delivers a swashbuckling epic full of big emotion, gorgeous undersea visuals, exciting action, and lots of laughs. WB should be handing the DCEU reins to James Wan, he's proven he can, ahem, right the ship. -- Tom Jorgenson, IGN

Gorgeous and crazy
Aquaman is the most ambitious DC movie to date -- a big, sprawling visual spectacle that is gorgeous, crazy, stuffed with terrific action, and a lot of fun to watch. James Wan, in my opinion, is the true star -- he elevates the material, makes it entertaining and conquers it." -- Erik Davis, Fandango

Trailers and more

The movie's first trailer made a huge splash at San Diego Comic-Con in late July, and as of early October, it's been watched more than 40 million times.

In early October, a five-minutes-plus extended look at the film came out, showing how Aquaman and Mera set out to find the mysterious water kingdom of Atlantis. It requires a trek through the exact opposite of a watery kingdom: the Sahara Desert.

As far as the movie itself, you know the basic plot: Momoa's Arthur Curry, also known as Aquaman, is half-Atlantean and half-human, and has superhuman strength and the ability to manipulate ocean tides. He can also swim at supersonic speed and famously can communicate with other aquatic life. The movie shows him as an adult and also as a child, a boy who felt like an outsider both on land and in the water.

 Don't expect your run-of-the-mill hero-in-tights offering.  

"I wanted our film to be more unique," Wan said at Comic-Con. "So my movie plays more like a science fiction fantasy film than a traditional superhero movie."

Nicole Kidman plays our hero's mother, Queen Atlanna, and Temuera Morrison is his father, lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry. The trailers also show a memorable scene of the young Arthur being teased at an aquarium, with the aquarium's swimming residents coming to his aid against bullies.

The film's two baddies are Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Aquaman's half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, while his love interest is red-headed Mera (Amber Heard).

The film's final trailer came out just before Thanksgiving, and pretty much includes everything from the prior trailers, plus a bit more. Young Arthur is seen training with Vulko (Willem Dafoe), being raised to reign by his mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and learning that his quindent may be fine, but there's a magical trident out there that will make it look like a toothpick.

Maybe the best scene released in trailers shows the warriors of Atlantis on great white sharks (YES!) about to battle the warriors of Xebel, who are riding sea dragons, a humorous poke at the cartoon image of Aquaman riding a docile seahorse. Apparently Wan watched Super Friends, too.

"My version of the seahorse is a sea dragon, or a super-charged seahorse, and they're terrifying," Wan told IMDb host Kevin Smith at Comic-Con. "They're scary. You don't want to go around one of these, because they will kill you," Wan said, laughing.

On Oct. 19, Wan tweeted a double image showing Orm riding his sea creature, called a tylosaur, and Willem Dafoe, who plays Aquaman's advisor Vulko, astride a giant, armored hammerhead shark.

Wilson then tweeted, "I miss my tylosaur," and Wan wrote back, "The blue, mechanical bull you sat on?"

A new poster was released on Oct. 4. It shows Aquaman clutching not a quindent, but a trident, believed to be the royal weapon that gives him control of the oceans. The colors of the outfit also hint at Aquaman's classic green-and-yellow costume.

Release date, production info

Various takes on an Aquaman movie have been shopped around since 2004. This movie began filming in Australia in spring 2017, with scenes shot in Canada and Morocco too.

Momoa made his first appearance as Aquaman in 2017's Justice League. This standalone film is set after that movie's events. Justice League was a good preview for Aquaman, as fans saw Aquaman swimming and didn't burst out laughing.


You might laugh at Aquaman, but not when he's played by Jason Momoa.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Director James Wan is perhaps best known for his work in horror films. He directed 2004's Saw, as well as Insidious and The Conjuring. Will Beall wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Wan and comic-book writer Geoff Johns.

And when the film's official credits were added to the film's official website, Zack and Deborah Snyder were listed among the executive producers. The Snyders have produced every DC Extended Universe film, but as ComicBook.com notes, there were behind-the-scenes whispers that Zack Snyder's role might be changing. After his daughter Autumn's death in 2017, Snyder withdrew from post-production work on Justice League to be with his family.

The film is rated PG-13 for "sequences of sci-fi violence and action" and "for some language."

Aquaman opens Dec. 14 in the UK, Dec. 21 in the US and Dec. 26 in Australia. That'd make for a merry underwater Christmas for sure. But as of August 2018, some reports say the Australian release date could be moved to Dec. 14 as well. (Warner Bros didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Want to see it a week early? Amazon Prime members in the US can buy tickets to see the film starting Dec. 15, the company announced on Nov. 19, and people who aren't already using the service can use Amazon's 30-day free trial offer to get access. 

And once the movie is out, you may not have seen the last of Aquaman, if Momoa has his way. According to Syfy Wire, the star told Total Film that he already has ideas for a sequel.

"I definitely have an opinion," Momoa said. "Even when we were shooting Aquaman, I have the opening of Aquaman 2 ready. I went in and pitched it to [producer Peter] Safran, and I pitched it to [Warner Bros. chairman] Toby Emmerich. They loved it. It's awesome ... But yeah, I have plans for Aquaman 2."

Enlarge Image

Patrick Wilson is Curry's evil-looking half-brother.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Cast: Who's who?

Plot news, rumors and theories

Early reviews: Reviews started to trickle out in late August, with CNET sister site ComicBook.com reporting that the film is "shaping up to be a good movie, but not anything that's going to change the game for superhero cinema."

The ocean is alive with the sound of music: Julie Andrews, the legendary Oscar-winning actress, has a role in Aquaman, producer Peter Safran told Entertainment Weekly.  She's providing the voice of "the mythic Karathen, an undersea creature that holds the key to Arthur Curry's quest to unite the Atlantean and surface worlds," the site reports. Safran said the filmmakers wanted to use the digitally altered voice of a classic British actress, so casting Mary Poppins/Maria von Trapp was "a no-brainer."

Who's the villain in Aquaman? Aquaman's comic nemesis, Black Manta, will be played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Black Manta has a number of complicated backstories in the comics, so it's anyone's guess which one will make it into the movie. He's also famous for his cartoony look, a black wetsuit with a bug-eyed, alien-style helmet. And the helmet will make it into the film: In February, director James Wan shared a photo of Abdul-Mateen recording lines by talking into a trash can, explaining that it was a "fancy way of simulating the inside of a certain large helmet."

But don't for a minute think that Black Manta is the only bad guy. Patrick Wilson will play Aquaman's evil half-brother, Ocean Master, also known as ORM and Orm Marius. Ocean Master's origin varied somewhat in the comics to match Aquaman's, but he shares one parent (sometimes dad, sometimes mom) with the superpowered swimmer. In fact, Wan says it's Orm, not Manta, who's the real villain. "It's almost a very classic Shakespearean story about brother from another world vs. brother from another world," Wan told Entertainment Weekly. "And it really is a classic story of sibling rivalry."

Wilson has a take on his character too. "He's kind of an eco-warrior," the actor told EW. "He's got a very clear gripe with the surface world, which has been polluting his oceans for centuries."

A peek at the plot: Director James Wan spoke to CNET sister site GameSpot, and the site sketched out the basics of the plot. (Spoilers ahead.) The first part of the movie is said to focus on the romance of Aquaman's parents, developing the sense that because he is half-human and half-Atlantean, he doesn't really feel he belongs anywhere. There's also a fight in which his mother, played by Nicole Kidman, must defend her son and human husband from Atlantean soldiers. When the movie moves on and the hero is now an adult, the battle for the Atlantean throne includes a giant fight with Orm (Patrick Wilson) in a huge underwater arena with, uh, an "octopus drummer" present.


Nicole Kidman plays Aquaman's mother, who falls in love with a human lighthouse keeper.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Best of both worlds: Jason Momoa's own father is of native Hawaiian descent, and his mother is of German, Irish and Native American ancestry. Wan told GameSpot that Momoa was the perfect actor to play the conflicted Aquaman. "He doesn't feel like he fits in on the surface world, or in the underwater world, and that's something that Jason has always felt growing up," Wan said.

Splish-splash: The underwater scenes weren't really shot underwater, Wan told GameSpot. The filmmakers used "dry for wet" techniques, utilizing special effects to make things look like they're below the waves. Not that he didn't try. "We built props, we built sets, and we submerged everything underwater, and we did tons of study just to see what things would look like," Wan said. "And then ultimately what we realized is, what we can do underwater was still very much limited by what we're capable of doing, because we're normal human beings, we're not Altanteans, right?"

Sand and sun: In the extended video footage released Oct. 5, fans see Arthur and Mera trekking through the Sahara Desert, which apparently is right above the entryway to Atlantis. Mera shows off some superior brainpower, nabbing a drop of sweat from Arthur's brow and starting up the ancient mechanism that opens the gateway. She also proves she's pretty good at memorizing things quickly, unlike her half-human friend.

The lighter side: Wan is well aware of Aquaman's goofy SuperFriends rep, and while he's not going for full-on comedy, he told GameSpot he sees the humor in a hero who's famous for talking to fish. "Like, yes, he rides seahorses, but in our movie, it's a different kind of -- you wouldn't be laughing at a seahorse like that," Wan said. (See above mention -- they're more "sea dragons.")


Mounting up for battle looks a little different in Atlantis.

Warner Bros. Pictures

How will Aquaman speak underwater in the movie? It was OK in Super Friends for Aquaman to converse with fish via underwater bubbles, but that would be campy and laugh-inducing in a Serious Superhero Flick. As early as 2016, director James Wan has addressed the communication issue, saying,"I love the idea of underwater speaking but with a real sort of sonic, aquatic quality to it." Expect a "sort of aquatic, almost sonar/whale thing," Wan said. Aquaman will speak in human language, but with a "slight sort of underlay to it, this ping to it."

Quindent to trident: In Justice League, the hero wields a five-pointed weapon, officially known as a "quindent." In late August, ComicBook.com reported that the film features Aquaman trying to find "the true trident, the king's trident," not the quindent used in Justice League. With that trident, he can "control the whole ocean," a DC publicist said.

Who will Dolph Lundgren play in Aquaman? The Swedish actor and martial artist, 60, will play King Nereus, ruler of Xebel, Wan said in 2017. But there's some debate about how Nereus fits into the plot. In the comics, Nereus competes with Aquaman for the love of Mera, but Lundgren told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his Nereus is Mera's father. "We're trying to avoid war between the surface (dwellers) and the people of Atlantis," he said.

Chill out with the Khal: Wan told CinemaBlend he actually had to stop Momoa from being too angry in some scenes. "There were a few moments when I was directing him that I said, 'Jason, you're playing this a bit too angry,'" Wan said. "And he'd look at me and say, 'James this is what they paid me money to do! Khal Drogo! That's why they paid me.' I'd say 'Great, that's good for Khal Drogo. We're creating a very different character here."

Sorry, Junior: Some of us remember Aqualad, the hero's sidekick (voiced by Wil Wheaton in the Teen Titans animated series!) but don't look for him in the film. Take it from Black Manta himself.

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This piece was originally published June 12, 2018, and is updated as new information floats in.

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