Aquaman has always been a pop culture punching bag. But those days could soon be over.
That’s what happens when you cast the guy who played Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones, pouring molten gold on Visnerys Targaryen’s head (then watching him die face-to-face) and pulling a guy’s tongue out through the gash he cut in someone’s throat. He was Conan the Barbarian. He fought Sylvester Stallone with an axe in Bullet to the Head.
Jason Momoa is an on-screen badass. I’m going to presume he’s pretty badass off the screen too and wouldn’t presume to suggest otherwise. And he’s going to be Aquaman in 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, according to HitFix’s Drew McWeeny.
Well, we don’t know if he’ll actually be called Aquaman or if that’s a nickname someone hangs on him, as happened to Superman in Man of Steel.
Maybe he’ll go by Arthur Curry, his human name. Perhaps he’ll answer to Orin, his Atlantean name. Or he’ll just scowl and flex while emerging from the water and no one will care what his name is, except for comic-book geeks hoping for a reference that affirms their deep knowledge of such characters. (I don’t know anyone like that. I looked up those names on Wikipedia.)
Whatever he’s called, he’s going to be pissed at Superman, according to McWeeny’s report. If you saw Man of Steel, you might remember that one of the “World Engines” General Zod was using to terraform Earth into a new Krypton did serious damage in the Indian Ocean. That’s part of the 70 percent of the Earth’s surface that Aquaman calls his turf.
Yet since the movie is titled “Batman v. Superman,” Momoa isn’t expected to have a big role. He’ll likely be part of the setup for the “Justice League” flick that Warner Brothers has planned for a year later, in summer 2017. Despite the presence of Aquaman, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) and Ben Affleck’s Batman, this threatens to be another unsatisfying, world-building middle chapter that’s become business as usual in these massive, multi-film superhero epics.
What we see of our seafaring crusader, however, doesn’t appear to be what we’ve seen before. Aquaman has always been a laughingstock among big-time superheroes, especially among his contemporaries in the Super Friends or Justice League.
Superman can fly, shoot heat from his eyes and lift ridiculous amounts of weight. Wonder Woman also has superhuman strength, a magic golden lasso and indestructible bracelets. The Flash can run at nearly the speed of light. Green Lantern can create anything his mind imagines with his power ring. Batman has an arsenal of gadgets and weapons fueled by a vast fortune and keen tactical mind.
What does Aquaman contribute to the everlasting battle between good and evil? Well, he swims and talks to fish. At least that’s the easy joke made about the King of the Seven Seas.
Sketch comedy troupe The State wrote a skit in which the Justice League divides up their duties for the day, and Aquaman is told to “go talk to some fish.” (Unfortunately, video of the sketch is nowhere to be found online.) Adult Swim portrayed him as someone left behind to do chores and housecleaning while the other heroes were off saving the world. On The Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson had a recurring gag in which Aquaman provides lifestyle advice to viewers.
Then there’s the brilliant essay Glen Weldon wrote for McSweeney’s, titled “Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, Has Fucking Had It With You, Man,” in which he depicts how irritating life has been for the amphibious superhero. First of his gripes: He doesn’t talk to fish, he commands them, OK? And he has a lot of soldiers ready to do his bidding.
“Dude, I can get 6 million krill to gunk up the engine of a getaway ship by having them hurl themselves up the intake jets. Mass sea-monkey suicide. OK? Try that shit with operant conditioning, with some big-titted blondie waggling a smelt, see what you get. Think they’re meting out kick-ass sea justice over at EPCOT? Shyeah.”
But Aquaman was also Vinnie Chase’s breakout Hollywood role on Entourage, starring in a big-budget aquatic spectacle directed by James Cameron that earned a record $116 million during its opening weekend and became the highest-grossing film of all time.
Though that whole storyline was obviously tongue-in-cheek, it hinted at a growing interest in the character. The WB Network developed a pilot for an Aquaman series called “Mercy Reef” that was never picked up. (But you can watch that pilot online.) He was a recurring guest character on Smallville. The rest of pop culture was catching up to the following Aquaman was gaining in comic books and cartoons.
DC Comics has previously attempted to deconstruct Aquaman’s image as a feeble guppie. In 1994, creators went so far as to have his left hand gnawed off by piranhas (he had lost the ability to communicate with aquatic life) and replaced by a harpoon.
Aquaman was given a bit more noble reason to lose his left hand in the Justice League cartoon, severing the hand off to escape from a shackle and save his infant son from falling into molten lava. (James Franco should’ve made a movie about that, man.)
Back in the comic books, the hand was replaced by a variety of appendages, including a retractable hook, a bionic hand and a mystical hand made of water. They should’ve stuck with the spearhead. Aquaman was never more badass than when he could stab you with the end of his left arm. Let’s see the other Super Friends make fun of that. He would even be intimidating at the dinner table.
We don’t know what Momoa’s version of the character will look like. But it seems safe to say that he won’t be wearing an orange top covered in scales and green tights with fins on the back of his legs. Maybe there will be a nod to those somewhat iconic features and a color scheme that’s easy to associate with a second-string (maybe even a third-string) superhero.
Yet both the comic books and cartoons have shown a willingness to play with Aquaman’s look, and director Zack Snyder (who’s reportedly already settled on costume designs) will surely follow that path.
You don’t cast Conan the Barbarian, you don’t cast Khal Drago and make him wear an orange-and-green wetsuit. Maybe he’ll wear some skin-tight, textured suit that resembles armor, much like what Henry Cavill’s Superman and Affleck’s Batman will sport on screen. But why not push it further and make Aquaman look like a warrior? Casting Momoa already seems to be going in that direction.
No more talking to fish jokes. Or Aquaman might kick your ass.