So, the World’s Greatest Heroes have come together during a monumental crisis from beyond the cosmos and sent an otherworldly ruler packing. This time, even the oceanic depths can spawn a new spore of madness as we dig into…
Originally released on January 27, 2015, this film serves as the sequel to “Justice League: War”. Based on the 2012-13 story arc of the same name, it took place in the pages of Aquaman #14-16 and Justice League #15-17 and was originally written by Geoff Johns. What terror from the deep awaits Earth’s Champions? Let’s find out.
We open aboard a submarine called the U.S.S. California as it travels through the Marianas Trench, which is the deepest part of the world’s oceans and located in the Pacific Ocean. They’re on a mission to investigate an SOS beacon when they’re suddenly pursued by an ever-growing number of inbound targets. Just as the soldier on sonar duty starts to identify their pursuers as people, they’re suddenly hit and have stopped moving. The Captain radios down to the engine room, since it was the first place that was attacked, as water starts pouring in and their men start getting swiftly killed off. As the intruders make their way to the main area of the submarine, the captain radios in their own SOS. However, the ocean waters pour in as the invaders kill off the remaining crew members and the sea craft plummets towards the dark depths.
After the opening title card, we then cut to S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis where Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (voiced by Shemar Moore) is visited by the Justice League’s government liaison, Col. Steve Trevor (voiced by George Newbern) who tells him about the situation. Cyborg agrees to head out to the trench in order to recover the sub’s missiles and investigate the undersea wreckage. Trevor asks him to assemble the Justice League, but Victor wants to hold off on that until they gather further information. He even says that the rest of the heroes aren’t really interested in being a part of their superhero team as Trevor takes his leaves.
While Superman (voiced by Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (voiced by Rosario Dawson) continue to develop their relationship over in Athens, Greece…
…we then cut to the fictional town of Mercy Reef, Maine where Arthur Curry (voiced by Matt Lanter a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars: The Clone Wars film & cartoon) is drinking his sorrows away as a seaside bar. We learn that his deceased father was laid to rest during the past week and that he has no more immediate family members. As a woman from the opposite side of the bar watches, Arthur tells his woes to a lobster in a tank. Just as it’s taken out to be prepped for cooking, he stops the chef. Just then, a patron berates Arthur for interfering with his soon-to-be-cooked meal.
As such, a brawl ensues as both sides swap blows with each other. The fight works its way outside where Arthur ultimately prevails. While this is going on, a scientist watches from afar as he takes pictures from his car. Later on, one of Arthur’s attackers tries to strike him with a knife, but the blade surprisingly shatters upon hitting his chest. He responds by throwing his opponent into the ocean before returning the lobster to its rightful waters.
After he takes his leave, the woman who watched him earlier takes off her trench coat and hat. Knowing that she’s found her target, she proceeds to dive off the dock and into the ocean.
We then cut to the Marianas Trench where Cyborg is searching through the remains of the U.S.S. California. After discovering a fierce handprint on the ocean floor, he makes his way towards the vessel’s epicenter where he activates the still-functioning computer. He plays back the last security footage, but only sees the crew getting pummeled by ocean water. He then finds out that the missiles are nowhere to be found aboard the submarine.
Suddenly, he’s attacked by a small group of shadowed figures. Cyborg tries fighting back with his sonic cannon, but they easily dodge the attack and strike his servos with a hook-like hand weapon as he’s forced into retreating via a Boom Tube.
Upon returning to S.T.A.R. Labs, Victor sends out the call to assemble the Justice League. However, only Billy Batson a.k.a. Shazam (voiced by Sean Astin) and Barry Allen a.k.a. Flash (voiced by Christopher Gorham) were able to show up.
As such, they decide to head out and round up the remaining members. First up, the Flash speeds out to Ferris Airfield and summons Hal Jordan a.k.a. Green Lantern (voiced by Nathan Fillion, yea!) to action.
Back in Athens, Wonder Woman and Superman are in their civilian guises of Diana Prince and Clark Kent as they partake in some Greek delicacies. Just then, Clark’s fellow Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (voiced by Juliet Landau) arrives as the two women get properly introduced to each other.
Just then, a Boom Tube opens up in front of the restaurant as Cyborg and Shazam arrive to round up our two heroes.
With a certain Caped Crusader being the only one who hasn’t shown up at all, Green Lantern takes it upon himself to go get him. Upon arriving in Gotham City, he finds Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) in the Batwing pursuing a group of Scarecrow’s henchmen who are fleeing in a car as their guns are unable to do any damage to our two heroes.
After a brief chase, Green Lantern takes care of the fugitives by using his ring to create a toy car ramp that ultimately leads the fugutives’ vehicle to crash into a green energy wall. As the Gotham Police arrive to arrest the thugs, Batman scolds Hal since he wanted to interrogate them in order to find and stop Scarecrow’s fear gas operation. The scene concludes with the Dark Knight taking his leave to join up with the rest of the Justice League.
While Arthur continues his depression over being the last remaining family member at his lighthouse home…
…the Justice League managed to haul the remains of the U.S.S. California back to S.T.A.R. Labs as they look over the damage. Figuring that it was a coordinated attack and ruling out a return from Darkseid, they head inside as Cyborg uses his holographic projector to playback his encounter. After showing his attackers to the rest of the team, Victor then shows off the weapon he picked up during the tussle. Wonder Woman recognizes it from her childhood studies and realizes that those figures came from the lost city of Atlantis. With the realization that the stolen missiles are going to be used against the surface world, the Justice League springs into action. Superman & Batman will go to the Atlantean expert named Dr. Stephen Shin while the rest of the heroes try to find the sunken city.
We then cut to the fabled lost city of Atlantis where Queen Atlanna (voiced by Sirena Irwin) has summoned her son Orm (voiced by Sam Witwer) and his right-hand man Black Manta (voiced by Gen. Swanwick himself, Harry Lennix) to the main throne room and berates them for their attack on the submarine. Orm wants to strike back on the surface in revenge for his father getting killed during the events of “Justice League: War”, but Atlanna will have none of it since the humans weren’t the ones who provoked them and that the city’s own magical prowess cloaks it from plain sight. After she dismisses them, she tells Mera to bring her son Arthur to Atlantis since his half-human, half-Atlantean status will be key in sustaining peace with the surface world.
We then proceed into a flashback where a young Arthur Curry has climbed up a seaside rock near his lighthouse home. After seeing a shadowy figure in the water, he dives in to investigate. To his excitement, he finds out that it’s his mother Atlanna. After giving him a kiss on the forehead, she then sends her son back up to the shore and disappears from sight. The scene ultimately ends with Arthur waking up from this dream.
Over at the massive cliffside home of Dr. Stephen Shin (voiced by Matthew Yang King), he contacts his assistant David to let him know that the pictures he took of Arthur have greatly helped his research and that it’s the key towards proving the existence of Atlantis.
However, it turns out that the assistant is none other than Black Manta. With the stolen missiles loaded onto his seacraft, he orders his men to kill both Dr. Shin and Arthur before he takes off on his mission.
After cloaking his ship into the resemblance of a normal-looking submarine, he proceeds to launch his attack as the Atlanteans are blown into oblivion from the missiles.
Meanwhile, Dr. Shin arrives at the lighthouse to tell Arthur of the latest discovery in his research. Just as he’s about to be allowed inside in order to give details, Black Manta’s soldiers catch up and kill him.
They then begin their attack on Arthur, ultimately forcing him up into the lighthouse. Having pinned him up on top, the Atlantean soldiers fire away at the building as they cause it to collapse. During the commotion, Arthur is knocked unconscious by a piece of debris.
Fortunately, Mera (voiced by Sumalee Montano) arrives in time to catch him. She orders the soldiers to stand down, but is forced into fighting back. Using her aquakinesis, she easily wipes out the attacking squadron before she takes Arthur back to Atlantis.
Later, Batman and Superman arrive at Dr. Shin’s home where they find the place ransacked and that his life’s work has been destroyed.
Just then, Superman discovers tiny pieces of paper within the aquarium. After using his super-speed to gather them up and place them together, Batman scans both the torn picture of Arthur, along with the letter from his father Thomas Curry which asked the good doctor to help his son as part of his Atlantis research. Shortly afterwards, he contacts the Justice League to find their target.
Back at the famed sunken city, the deceased have been prepped for a proper burial. Orm uses the attack as an excuse to rile up the citizens into agreeing with him to assault the surface world, even sharing his father’s own hatred towards human beings. Again, Queen Atlanna refuses to go to war. However, she agrees into taking action. She orders for Black Manta to prep a meeting with the Justice League so that proper peace talks between the surface world and Atlantis can take place.
Later, Arthur wakes up within Atlantis as Mera tells him of his arrival via her mother’s request. When he scoffs at that idea due to feeling abandoned by her when he was just a baby, she tells him of what really happened back then. Atlanna met and fell in love with Thomas Curry and sometime later, she gave birth to her first-born son Arthur. However, due to Atlantean law, she wasn’t allowed to be in holy union with a human being and couldn’t be there to raise her son due to him being a half-breed, so she left Thomas against her own wishes. Back in the lost city, she was married to another man and eventually gave birth to Orm.
After letting Arthur know that Queen Atlanna has never stopped loving him (or his father) and that he’s the key to bridging the Atlanteans with the humans, Mera then takes him to a secret room where she reveals and gives to him the King’s Royal Garb.
Shortly after putting on the entire outfit, he ends up removing the exterior armor while talking about not being able to fully grasp the recent events. As such, he swims towards the surface to clear his head.
Shortly after Mera catches up to him, a large group of undersea creatures known as the Trenchers arrive as they proceed to fight our two heroes. During the battle, Arthur’s hand is bitten hard enough for him to bleed.
Fortunately, the Justice League arrive as they easily smack down the attackers and chase them off. Afterwards, they help Mera inspire Arthur to go take his rightful place and fulfill his destiny.
Back in Atlantis’ Throne Room, we learn that it was Black Manta who ordered the Trenchers to attack Arthur. With Orm furious about them failing their mission, Queen Atlanna arrives back as she prepares to meet the Justice League. Orm wants to unleash Atlantis’ wrath upon the surface since he knows of his mom’s loving time with a human man and having a baby with him. However, Atlanna says that she found out about his treachery towards his own people due to having scouts finding this out for her and that he’ll greatly suffer for his actions.
Black Manta tries to prevent her from taking action against her deceiving son, but Atlanna easily blasts him aside. Unfortunately, this gives Orm the time he needed to stab his mother in the back and kill her. With his plans still under wraps, he takes possession of the royal trident and prepares for war against the humans.
With Batman, Flash, and Shazam heading back to S.T.A.R. Labs to keep watch, the rest of the Justice League escort Arthur and Mera back to Atlantis. However, they notice that the city is strangely lacking its citizens. Not only that, but something is blocking Cyborg’s communication signal with headquarters. After noticing someone still out and about, Mera approaches and asks why the city’s deserted. The elderly woman (voiced by Andrea Romano in a cameo) tells our heroes that not only are the citizens bracing for war, but also breaks the bad news of Atlanna’s death.
It becomes a bittersweet moment for Arthur when he makes it to his mother’s tomb: He finally reunites with her as an adult, but her death prevents any proper reunion from happening. Just then, Orm shows up and admits to our heroes of being Atlanna’s murderer. Aquaman and company try to attack, but the newly-dressed Ocean Master used the royal trident and easily blasts them all unconscious as they’re instantly wrapped in aquatic cocoons. With no one left to stand in his way, Orm orders for them to be fed to the Dark Trench.
Afterwards, Ocean Master has gathered the entire Atlantean Army as he prepares them for the massive assault on the surface. He kicks things off by using the trident to create a gigantic tidal wave.
This gets the attention of S.T.A.R. Labs’ computers as Batman, Flash, and Shazam discover the massive wave is 20 minutes away from the eastern seaboard and that Metropolis will be the most heavily-hit area.
With our heroes tossed into the deep cavern by the Trenchers, the enormous creature comes out to feast on its new victims. Arthur wakes up in time and remembers what his brother Orm said before he passed out: “Only royalty can wield the magic of the trident”. As such, his royal blood allows him to tap into it just enough for him to break out of his imprisoning cocoon.
After his newly-discovered echolocation does nothing to sway the Dark Trench’s appetite, Arthur manages to free Superman who uses his Heat Vision to slice off the creature’s tentacles. With the Man of Steel keeping the gigantic sea beast busy, Arthur uses his newfound ability to summon a humpback whale and have it carry his friends to safety. Shortly afterwards, Superman manages to best the Dark Trench by shoving massive amounts of sea rock onto it and crush it underneath the rubble. After freeing the remaining heroes, a communication link gets reestablished as Cyborg tells them about the impending wall of water that’s heading for Metropolis.
With his armada in position, Ocean Master actually halts the tidal wave and splits it apart to reveal themselves as they make their way onto shore. The U.S. Army arrives armed with guns, jeeps, and tanks as they attempt to defend their land. As expected, Ocean Master’s forces are easily able to withstand the attack as they effortlessly slice through the human resistance.
Fortunately, our heroes arrive and proceed to smash through the Atlantean armada.
As Arthur fights on, he’s suddenly confronted by Black Manta who easily manages to knock him around. During the scuffle, we learn that Orm’s right-hand man had an ulterior motive in the grand war plan in that he convinced his master to go fight the humans. Once Ocean Master conquers all of humanity, he would kill him and then claim the ultimate title for himself.
Thankfully, Arthur kicks that plan to the curb by using his echolocation to summon a shark towards the surface. Black Manta is caught in the surprise attack and ends up getting eaten.
Mera attempts to confront Ocean Master, but he easily defeats her and takes her captive. Shazam tries using his magic lightning on him, but Orm resists it and uses the trident to summon a massive lightning bolt of his own. This hits Shazam hard enough to transform him back into young Billy Batson and knock him out cold.
Cyborg uses his sonic cannon to make Orm relinquish his hold on the boy, but is easily overwhelmed. Even worse, Ocean Master jabs the trident into Victor’s chest and critically injures him.
Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth to snatch it from Orm’s hands. However, since she’s not of Atlantean royal decent, its defense mechanism gives her an intense shock. As such, Ocean Master’s royal blood allows him to reclaim the trident and subdue her. Other heroes try their best to take him down, but Orm ultimately takes care of every last one of them.
Batman glides down to the building that Green Lantern was blasted into and tells him that they’re not going to win with just brute strength. Wanting any key piece of information that will turn the tide in the fight, Bruce learns from Hal the one key fact that they know from Ocean Master: He killed his mom.
Arthur finally confronts his power-crazed brother as the two of them begin their final battle. They punch, smash and blast each other throughout the city as things finally start looking up against Orm. However, Ocean Master uses the trident to deliver a powerful strike that knocks Arthur out.
Meanwhile, Batman finds the gravely-injured Cyborg as his systems continue to fail. As such, the Dark Knight saves him by using his taser to jumpstart him back into consciousness. Afterwards. they get to work on exposing Orm’s hidden secret.
Just as Ocean Master beings impaling Arthur on his trident, Cyborg’s holographic projectors pop up and replays Orm’s confession of killing his own mother. This convinces the Atlantean armada to stop their assault and see him for the traitor that he his.
With the truth finally revealed, Arthur delivers the knockout punch and brings Ocean Master’s plans of conquest to an end.
With Orm now out of the way, Arthur fully embraces his destiny. He tells his fellow Atlanteans that because of his dual citizenship, he can be the one that bridges their relationship with the humans. The armada responds by removing their helmets and kneeling towards their rightful king.
Sometime later, the Atlantean citizens gather for the coronation ceremony as Arthur is officially crowned. At that moment, he became the King of Atlantis.
The Justice League was also on hand to witness the momentous occasion. With the growing rise of threats popping up in the world, Batman suggests on solidifying the team. They agree as Cyborg mentions his plans on building the Watchtower. Even better, Aquaman (which is what people online had been calling him) officially joins their ranks in order to strengthen the bond between Atlantis and the surface world.
And so, their story closes with Arthur and Mera heading out to take care of a group of Trenchers just outside the city. With his echolocation, various forms of sea life join in to help him in the fight.
During the end credits, we get stills of our two aquatic allies as they manage to hold their own against the scourge of the deep.
And so, the film ends on a post credits scene with Orm being held in Belle Reve Prison. Just then, he’s visited by Lex Luthor (voiced by Steven Blum) who offers him a proposition.
There’s a couple of differences between the original source material and this film, so let’s “dive” right into them. In the comics, Atlantis’ assault on the surface world was sparked when a carrier ship called the U.S.S. Mabus was doing a missile test. All of a sudden, one of the warheads fired against their control and was rerouted to strike the lost city. Here, the U.S.S. California was purposely attacked by Orm’s forces as a means to start a war.
For Victor Stone, removing his one remaining human lung was key for him to traverse the oceanic depths without drowning. In the source material, it’s not until Part 4 of the original five-part story that he has the operation. In the film, he’s had that taken care of before he appears. Something that was also added here was that he starts to develop a relationship with a young scientist named Dr. Sarah Charles (reprised by Melique Berger). It wasn’t important to the story, since she’s only in three scenes. If it continues to develop when Gods & Monsters comes around, then maybe this budding romance can be expanded upon. One other difference: the JLA Watchtower had already been established in the continuity prior to the story.
Notable character exemptions and additions also make up some of the differences. Flash was unable to be with his teammates as Cyborg said that “he was dealing with some kind of primal attack (Grodd, maybe?), Green Lantern had left the league by this point, and even though Shazam appeared in prior issues of Justice League and was shown at the end of Part 3 in a list of superheroes that are asked to join the fight against Ocean Master, he doesn’t appear in the story. The heroes that do arrive (but don’t appear in this film) are Firestorm, Black Canary, Hawkman, Vixen, Black Lightning, Element Woman, Zatanna, and even a female Atom.
Next, we have minor differences of the Atlantis theorist that is Dr. Stephen Shin. Originally, his studies actually allowed him to meet Arthur at a young age where he studies his developing powers. After Cyborg saves him from the Trenchers, he’s brought up to the Watchtower as he overseas the fight alongside Vulko. Also, the biggest injury he ever got was a vicious slap to the face. Here, he studies him from a distance to order to prove his theories and only meets him right before Orm’s Atlantean forces kill him.
Ultimately, a right-hand man is responsible for Ocean Master’s war with the surface happening in the first place. While Black Manta takes the job, the comics’ culprit belongs to a close Atlantean friend named Vulko. He was the royal adviser for both Arthur and his mom Atlanna. He knew that Orm killed her, but couldn’t prove it. Hunted by the royal guard, he went into exile in Norway. As for Black Manta, his only appearance in the source material was in Aquaman #14 (the prelude issue) where he’s a prisoner at Belle Reve as Amanda Waller tries and fails to recruit him into the Suicide Squad.
The final batch of differences is also where my character analysis starts. As I stated in my review of JL: War, he joins the Justice League as he helps them fight Darkseid. Here, the original story’s been reworked into being his origin. Until he discovers his Atlantean bloodline, he’s only had his father to be there and support him throughout the majority of his life. One wonders why he doesn’t seem to have any other human family members to fall back on upon his father’s death, but it’s probably because they’re not immediate and/or they live far away from the particular Maine town. Also, he most likely inherits the family lighthouse as his own personal surface home. Of course, it all changes when his Atlantean heritage come around. He goes through the process of trying to absorb his undersea heritage and gains superpowered allies who help him out during this phase as his character arc is ultimately rewarded in the end. Matt Lanter does a fairly good job in the role. He tackles Arthur’s emotions and tribulations head on and feels very comfortable in the role. He carries his role really well, since this is an Aquaman movie first and a Justice League film second.
With Mera, I get the feeling of her character being a love interest that’s turning that archetype on its head. She’s the royal guard to Queen Atlanna and in following her order in trying to get Arthur to come to Atlantis and embrace his legacy, she comes off as something of a wise mentor. Not in teaching him fighting moves (since his Atlantean genes prevented a regular knife from piecing his skin), but of explaining his backstory to him. She doesn’t really fall into the “damsel-in-distress” category, which is good, since the rescue from the Dark Trench by Aquaman also involves him saving the majority of the Justice League as well. Also, even though she’s easily defeated by Ocean Master during the final battle, she’s not in the kind of peril that requires Arthur to rescue her in order for the climax to help get resolved. On the battlefield, she’s a tough warrior and uses her fighting skills to fend off attackers. For what she has to work with in the role, Sumalee Montano does the job well enough. She properly emotes a serious business to Mera’s job while also shows off a fair share of compassion towards Aquaman during his times of weakness.
Next in line, we have Ocean Master. His motive was established at the end of JL: War, when his father was unintentionally killed during the massive invasion from Apokolips and blames the humans for said event. Throughout his whole life, this pure-blood Atlantean has had a hatred for the surface world. Orm talks about the pollution and various problems that the human race has done to the oceans in the past, which may serve as some social commentary if looked in the right state-of-mind. This lifetime of anger towards those who live above the waves is pretty much his backstory. I can’t help but feel like he could have used a bit more development and show off the various moments in his life that contributed to his hatred towards the humans. Sam Witwer turns in a really nice performance, giving a grandiose ora, a confident arrogance and an indimiating presence in his voice.
Last up for character analysis is Black Manta. As stated earlier, he replaces Vulko as the figure who manipulates Ocean Master into going to war against the humans and then eventually usurp him for the throne. Because he gets a bigger role here than what he got in the source material, a task befalls upon the creative team to find a way to make this work. In the end, it only partially works. He’s a loyal right-hand man to Orm’s plans and will help him fight anyone who stands in his way. However, the revelation of his ulterior motive feels sort of out of nowhere. In the earlier scenes, I didn’t notice anything about him planning to ultimately take Orm out of the way in order to claim the royal power for himself, not even when he prentended to work for Dr. Stephen Shin was this brought up. With a much tightly-written script, it would make him a much more enganging character. Harry Lennix does fine with the role, but doesn’t have many chances to stand out.
Like its prior entry, the plot is essentially another invasion story. However, that takes place later on instead of about halfway through the film. The fights are better here in that they’re all in their respective scenes. That way, the film gives its audience time to breath with some plot and character development rather than a chaotic invasion that goes on for long that it can be exhausting by the end. As far as the invasion itself, it feels weak when compared to its source material. In the comics, Ocean Master led off with a massive tidal wave that struck not only Metroplis, but also Gotham City and Boston. Beantown was the most brutally hit out of the three as Orm and the Atlantean forces set up specific bombs to sink the city as a way to show off their power. Also, Ocean Master had his own staff that leads to another difference. Originally, he possessed the Relic Specter which allowed him to control the Trenchers. Here, he hides his forces underneath a tidal wave and once he and the Atlanteans arrive at Metropolis, he disperses the massive wall of water and just lets himself and his army do the damage. Also, out of the entire Justice League, only three of its original members seem to have a resemblance of character development. In addition to Cyborg’s newfound romance, Superman and Wonder Woman continue their relationship from the first film. Lois Lane appears in the story, but her presance feels as moot as the source material. If Kal and Diana’s relationship is paid off somehow in Gods & Monsters, then that would be something. Other than that, it’s only addressed while they’re in Athens early on and in Atlantis near the end.
Finally, there’s a neat Easter Egg for those who’re knowledgeable enough about their comics history. During the final fight in Metropolis, the Atlanteans are on the assault. In one scene, they attack some workers at a construction yard. One of them protects his boss by smacking one of the Atlanteans with a sledgehammer before Superman comes in and finishes them off. This man here is John Henry Irons, otherwise known as Steel. Originally, this guy came around during The Death & Return of Superman saga where he was inspired to become a hero after Supes saves him from falling to his death while working on a tall building. Sometime afterwards, he creates a metallic armor and is one of the four “Supermen” who shows up after the Man of Steel dies. It’s not known if he’ll show up again to become Steel because of this incident inspiring him, but it’s long time that he joins the fight in this series.
Overall, this film is above average. Aquaman makes the most out of his chance to shine and the action scenes are simple and non-exhausting. While the story is basic enough to follow, the villains aren’t developed enough and doesn’t feel like a bigger follow-up to its predecessor. Maybe if this was the opening story arc for the Justice League, then it would feel like a better tale. Other than that, it’s a mild recommendation for those interested.
Next Time: The son may be completely reunited with the father, but Bruce and Damian will be going through more than just growing pains as Gotham’s hidden and ancient evil threatens to tear this team apart. This Dynamic Duo will either stand united of fall apart divided next time in “Batman vs. Robin”.
Aquaman (created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris), the Justice League (created by Gardner Fox) and all related characters are owned by DC Comics.