WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Aquaman
James Wan's Aquaman expands the DCEU greatly by not only fleshing out Jason Momoa's Arthur Curry, but introducing several brand-new civilizations. Aquaman isn't the first time that the lost city of Atlantis has been explored in live-action. It is, however, the first time that the DC Comics version of the ancient world has come to life... but ignores one of the most important parts of its comic history.
The truth is that while Aquaman's Atlantis and its history is engaging, colorful, and original, it's not all that accurate to the source material. In some respects Aquaman does hew closely to the comics. Atlantean society and royalty, the undersea races (and the monstrous Trench) are pulled straight from the comics. But when it comes to the ancient sinking of Atlantis, and its greatest leader King Atlan, Aquaman is anything but an adaptation of the comic book version.
How The Movie Changes King Atlan
King Atlan only appears in a few brief scenes of Aquaman, with only a few lines of dialogue. And yet, he’s an incredibly important figure who has huge ramifications on Aquaman’s plot. As fans who studied our complete timeline of the DCEU know, the movie's version of King Atlan is the first ever king of Atlantis, and therefore Arthur Curry’s ancient ancestor. It’s Atlan's mythical trident that drives most of Aquaman’s plot, as the one item Arthur and Mera need in order to depose Arthur’s half-brother Orm as king and stop a war with the surface. In these most basic and overarching terms, Aquaman didn’t change much with Atlan. In the comics as in the movie, Atlan is the first King of Atlantis and is known for his powerful golden trident. It’s the crucial specifics that the movie rewrote.
In the comics, Atlan was known as a great king who led Atlantis to prosperity and wealth on the surface...before being betrayed by his brother Orin. Orin attempted to wrestle control of the throne from Atlan, and a civil war ensued that destroyed Atlan, mentally and physically, turning the once great King into a paranoid mess. By contrast, it’s assumed that before the fall of DCEU's Atlantis, Atlan was respected and loved by all. After all, he joined the Amazon to fight Justice League’s villain Steppenwolf during his first invasion of Earth. It’s only after Atlantis was sunk that King Atlan’s reputation did the same, since Atlan tried to draw more power from his famous trident, to terrible results. Ashamed, Atlan went into exile, never to be seen by another person (until Arthur at the conclusion of the movie).
The Movie Changes The Fall of Atlantis
Aquaman changes the fall of King Atlan, but it changes the fall of Atlantis even more. In the comics the Fall of Atlantis is related directly to the Atlantean Civil War and the consequential madness of King Atlan. The war between Atlan and his brother Orin only ends because the disgraced King decides to sink the city in one massive act of revenge. Atlan can't win the war against Orin, meaning the only option is to doom all of Atlantis to the bottom of the ocean. It's grand, epic, and full of Arthurian legend (like so much of Aquaman lore).
The movie simplifies the Fall of Atlantis in a huge way. It's no longer the direct result of Atlan's mad actions, but basic "greed" that sinks Atlantis. At least that's how the sinking of the city is explained to Arthur Curry. It's implied that Atlan's trident experiments are to blame for Atlantis' fall, but even if that is true, it was an unintentional consequence. In the comics Atlan means to sink Atlantis. It's no accident.
It makes make sense why Aquaman decided to change the Fall of Atlantis. The movie throws a lot of Atlantean mythology at its audience with not much prepping beforehand, so there isn't much time to create a dramatic, tragic back story for Atlan or Atlantis, as well. Greed sinking the city is cliched but it's at least a nice shorthand that Aquaman uses to move the plot along. It also gives the DCEU the opportunity to expand on this story in future installments. Whether or not they choose to... remains to be seen.
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