Hey, remember Justice League? Expensive movie with two directors? Came out a little over a year ago? Ben Affleck was in it, I think? He and his friends fought some CGI dude named … Stepstool? Stepdad? Steppenwolf! Right, the guy was named Steppenwolf. The film was conceived of as the culmination of years of world-building in Warner Bros.’ so-called DC Extended Universe of superhero sagas, linking together narrative strands and laying new ones out. However, by the time it got to market, Warner had largely abandoned the idea of a tightly woven cinematic universe for DC and seemed to be eager to just get the movie over with and move on. And yet, the DCEU has failed to fully perish. This weekend’s briny DC outing Aquaman is explicitly situated in that unified cosmology, picking its story up after the events of Justice League. Can’t quite recall what happened in that flick? We’ll get you up to speed.
We actually first saw Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa, in a wordless cameo in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There, he appears in footage obtained first by the supervillainous Lex Luthor, then by Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, of a mysterious encounter between camera-wielding NSA deep-sea drones in the Pacific Ocean and a water-breathing man who destroys them. In that same year’s Suicide Squad, he’s seen briefly in a file of superhumans that Bruce Batman gives to Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller. For more than a year, that was all we knew about Aquaman.
Then came late 2017’s Justice League, which gave the character significantly more depth (sorry). Early on, Bruce travels to Iceland to seek out this underwater champion he’s heard so much about. He finds him hanging out with the locals, says he’s heard about “the Aquaman” helping seafarers, reveals that he knows his real name — Arthur Curry — and tries to recruit him into his coming fight against the otherworldly hordes of Steppenwolf. Arthur declares that he’s a loner, mentioning that the people of his ancestral home, Atlantis, are constantly telling him what to do, too. He declines Bruce’s request and swims away with inhuman speed. A little while later, we get introduced to the Atlanteans, in a flashback about how they teamed up with the Amazons to fight Steppenwolf in ancient times. After defeating him, Atlantis — at that point still above water — became the home of one of Steppenwolf’s Mother Boxes, doohickeys of unimaginable power.
Back to the present for perhaps the most crucial scene to understanding Aquaman. Arthur saves a sailor who’s been attacked by Steppenwolf’s minions and ventures to Atlantis just in time to fight Steppenwolf, who has arrived there to take back his Mother Box and has attacked an Atlantean named Mera (Amber Heard). After a tussle, Arthur and Mera lose the Mother Box to Ol’ Steppy, who makes off with it. When the underwater dust has settled, Arthur and Mera have a chat. “At last, the firstborn of beloved Queen Atlanna,” she says to Arthur, implying that she knows him but that he doesn’t come around to Atlantis much, if at all. She says she knew Atlanna; “That makes one of us,” is Arthur’s reply. Mera says that, when her parents “fought in the wars,” Atlanna took her in. Arthur, wracked by mommy issues, isn’t impressed. Mera says Atlanna abandoned Arthur to save his life and that he has a duty to fight Steppenwolf. “Then I’m gonna need something from you,” he says.
We don’t learn what that something is for a bit. While Bruce and his fellow newly assembled Justice Leaguers do battle with Steppenwolf beneath Gotham City, the walls to the city’s harbor are breached, flooding the area and threatening the group with a watery death. Arthur shows up at the last second, bearing what he got from Mera: Atlantean armor that looks like it’s made of big, metal fish scales; and a “quindent” — a trident with five prongs. He uses the magical weapon to stop the waters long enough to help the heroes escape, then tells Bruce he’s decided to join the little squadron as a result of Steppenwolf’s theft of the Atlantean Mother Box.
The rest of the movie doesn’t give us much in the way of relevant information about Arthur. He fights Steppenwolf as a member of the nascent Justice League and they win. We get one last ending-montage shot of our guy swimming in the deep blue sea, and that’s it. So! Main takeaways: Arthur has underwater powers, doesn’t play well with others, has some kind of vaguely defined but frayed relationship with the lost city of Atlantis, is the son of an Atlantean named Queen Atlanna (whom he appears to have never met), knows another Atlantean named Mera (who seems to dislike him — and, by the way, uses a weird quasi-English accent that definitely doesn’t show up in Aquaman), and helped the Justice League fight an intergalactic baddie. Got all that? Great, now you’re ready for submersion.