If you watched the Aquaman trailer and thought it all looked a bit familiar, you're not alone. The first big screen outing for Arthur Curry is the start of a new, post-Justice League era for the DCEU, yet it bears a striking resemblance to Marvel's 2018 release Black Panther.
Contextually, Black Panther and Aquaman already have quite a bit in common before we get to the content of their movies. They're well known comic book characters yet have rather small dedicated readerships (at least compared to their publishing counterparts), and were both introduced on the big screen as part of bigger ensemble movies within their shared universe (Captain America: Civil War and Justice League respectively) that teased their homeworlds (Wakanda and Atlantis) before it was explored properly a year or two later.
But, taking a look at the resulting movies, the similarities stand out so starkly they could almost be described as "twin movies". However, diving into parallels reveals one starting difference bigger than an ocean trench: Black Panther's villain is Aquaman's hero.
It's worth clarifying that in citing these similarities and contrasts, there's no implication of "copying" or "responding". Black Panther was heavily influenced by all eras of the comic book, pulling threads from the character's 52-year history to create a sprawling, best-fit adaptation, while Aquaman is more directly influenced by Geoff Johns' New 52 reboot (a brand-wide reboot that also has a major influence on Shazam!). Crucially, both films have been in development for a long time - first slated in 2014, both shot in 2017 - so like many so-called "copycat" films, there's little way for specific details to be influenced. Nevertheless, that both have ended up in a similar place says a lot about superhero genre worldbuilding, the increasing acceptance of a character's full, often crazy mythology - and who our modern gods really are.
- This Page: Black Panther and Aquaman Are Basically The Same Movie
- Page 2: Aquaman and Killmonger: Hero and Villain
Black Panther and Aquaman Are Basically The Same Movie
Atlantis of the DCEU was teased in Justice League as a rundown, primitive society, yet here is revealed to be a vibrant utopia, with futuristic aquatic vehicles and careful integration with the nature around it (fish and other water creatures are part of the ecosystem, itself built into the coral reef). In a post-Black Panther world, this can't not be compared to Wakanda, whose farmer exterior making way for afro-futurist design was an essential design choice. The Aquaman trailer even enters Atlantis with the same smash shot, only breaking through the waves instead of a forcefield. The societies, too, have comparable makeup. Along with the main group surrounding the hero and his relatives, there are other tribes of varying alliances. Black Panther has five tribes (most prominently the Border Tribe and Jabari) while Aquaman's seven kingdoms include Atlantean, The Trench, Brine, Xebellian, and the Fisherman kingdom. Plot-wise, many of these have some sort of role to play in the plot, eventually forming alliances against each other for a final battle involving giant mounts: either rhinos or sharks and seahorses.
In the mix, you also have a secondary antagonist, a pirate terrorist who's an outsider to the main society but either by stealing or gifting has its tech: Andy Serkis' Klaue is an arms dealer who uses a vibranium sonic canon; while Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's David Hyde becomes Black Manta using Atlantian armor given to him by Orm. Here, though, comes an interesting distinction. While Serkis character never got to fulfill his comic book promise, it looks like Black Manta might; Abdul-Mateen is signed up for more sequels, possibly building to an Injustice League.
There's a lot of other parallels already becoming apparent (both movies have the hero quipping before jumping out of a plane, and trailers were criticized for mid-level CGI), but it's in the central narrative where the comparisons become most pronounced. Black Panther and Aquaman have the hero going up against a villain who acts as an enforced ruler of the alternative society and plots to wage a war against the outside world by manipulating or otherwise taking control of various factions. Crucially, that villain is the hero's close relative, with the fight not only for the survival of the realm, but a personal conflict for the throne. In fact, just as Black Panther has the Warrior Falls coronation, Aquaman's king is similarly challenged in a public ritual combat.
However, in drawing up the comparisons you'll immediately notice that's something off; there is, in fact, a much bigger difference than overshadows every parallel discussed so far. In Aquaman, Killmonger is the hero.
Page 2 of 2: Aquaman and Killmonger: Hero and Villain
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020