In 1985, on the coast of Maine, lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescues Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), queen of the underwater Kingdom of Atlantis, during a storm. They fall in love and she bears a child named Arthur (Jason Momoa) who has the power to converse with the creatures of the sea. King Orvax, ruler of Atlantis, arrives to bring Atlanna back for her arranged marriage. She defies the attackers but to protect her husband and son, she returns to Atlantis. But she arranges for her advisor Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) to train Arthur. Arthur rejects Atlantis when he learns that his mother was executed by Orvax for bearing a half-breed son.
In the present, one year after Steppenwolf’s defeat by the Justice League, Arthur confronts a gang of pirates hijacking a Russian submarine. Their leader is killed trying to kill Arthur, and the pirate’s son David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Aten II) vows revenge. The present King of Atlantis Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson), son of Orvax and Arthur’s half-brother, convinces King Nereus of Xebel (Dolph Lundgren) to help unite the Atlantean kingdoms and destroy the surface world for polluting the ocean. Should Orm unite four kingdoms, he will be Ocean Master. After being attacked by the hijacked submarine, Nereus agrees.
Nereus’ daughter Mera (Amber Heard), betrothed to Orm, refuses to help them and asks for Arthur’s help. He returns to Atlantis with her, where Vulko suggests he find the Trident of Atlan, which once belonged to the first king of Atlantis, and reclaim his rightful place as king. They are Ambushed by Orm’s men and Arthur is captured. Orm blames him for Atlanna’s death and nearly kills him in a duel before Mera saves him. Arthur and Mera travel to the former Kingdom of the Deserters hidden under the Sahara desert, where the trident was created, and unlock a message that leads them to Sicily, where they obtain the trident’s co-ordinates.
Orm gives David a battle-suit, imprisons Vulko, and forces the Kingdom of the Fishermen to pledge allegiance to him by killing their king. It is revealed that Orm hired David and his father to hijack the Russian submarine to win the support of Nereus. Armored up, David calls himself Black Manta and injures Arthur, but Arthur defeats him. At the Trench, Arthur and Mera fight off amphibian monsters and a wormhole transports them to an ocean in the center of the Earth. They find Atlanna still alive, who was sent there in punishment for Arthur’s birth 20 years before.
Arthur faces the Karathen, a mythical monster and keeper of the trident, defeats him, and claims the trident which gives him control over the Seven Seas, Orm and his troops attack the Kingdom of the Brine and Arthur, Mera, Karathen, and the Trench lead an army of sea-creatures against him. Orm’s followers embrace Arthur as their true King. Arthur defeats Orm but spares his life and Orm accepts imprisonment when he learns that Arthur rescued their mother. Atlanna reunites with Arthur’s father and Arthur ascends the throne. In a mid-credits scene, David is rescued by scientist Doctor Stephen Shin (Randall Park) and they plan to attack Aquaman.
The film was directed by James Wan from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beal. The undersea kingdoms were gorgeous and the special effects triumphant, from the bizarre creatures to the movement of hair under the non-existent water. It was the highest grossing D.C. Extended Universe film at the time and received abundant praise for its effects, production design, action, and Jason Momoa’s likable performance, though the logic of the story was criticized.
Two thousand three hundred visual effects shots were taken by Industrial Light and Magic and ten other companies. There were 7000 buildings over 600 square miles for action under the sea. The ships were modeled after real undersea creatures. 700 shots were required to make the actors’ hair move realistically. 150,000 vessels were built. Nicole Kidman, Remuera Morrison, and Willem Dafoe were de-aged digitally for flashback scenes and a tidal wave was created. Visually, the movie was a triumph and was compared to Lord of the Rings.
The character of Aquaman first appeared in More Fun Comics #73, November 1941. Though born in Amnesty Bay, Maine, the half-human Aquaman ruled a kingdom beneath nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface. At one point, he was abandoned by Atlantis because of the belief that his blond hair was the mark of a curse. It was kind of a curse in the real world too, as Aquaman was not very respected by the fans, partly because his wholesome blond good looks clashed with his role as a barbarian king in the ancient world. For the film, his evil brother was given the blond hair and Aquaman the dark, brooding, half-feral look of Jason Momoa. Clearly, the King of the Sea should be played by a Polynesian. The film primarily draws on the Geoff Johns Aquaman comic series, including the Throne of Atlantis story. In the comics, the war was worldwide and the whole Justice League was involved.
Momoa specifically asked that his idol Temuera Morrison play his father. The underwater waterfall is a real phenomenon, involving temperature and density. The octopus playing drums is from the comic in the Fifties and Sixties. His name is Topo. Director Wan insisted on putting him in after seeing the guitar shooting flames in Mad Max Glory Road. The Trench Monsters were inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the center of the Earth was inspired by Jules Verne’s novel. There were little nods to the movie Splash. The closing credits were fashioned after those of Game of Thrones. Six of the seven Atlantean kingdoms appear in this film. The seventh is to appear in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, coming out soon.