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Aquaman: King of Atlantis Series Premiere Review – “Chapter One: Dead Sea”

Note: this is a spoiler-free advance review of the series premiere of Aquaman: King of Atlantis, which debuts on HBO Max on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Jason Momoa and his rock-hard muscles have done such a thorough job of reinvigorating Aquaman in the pop culture consciousness that it’s easy to forget the time when the superhero was among DC’s most ridiculed characters. But that’s where HBO Max’s new animated limited series Aquaman: King of Atlantis comes in. It doesn’t ignore what makes the DCEU version so cool, but it also reminds us it’s perfectly fine to celebrate the silly side of Aquaman.

King of Atlantis is a three-episode series that uses the 2018 movie as a loose sort of starting point. The status quo here is more or less identical to that of the movie’s ending, with a triumphant Arthur Curry having recently ousted his half-brother Orm and assumed his place on the throne of Atlantis. None of this is to say King of Atlantis should be taken as a literal sequel to the movie (despite the involvement of director James Wan as executive producer). As producers Victor Courtright and Marly Halpern-Graser told IGN, the goal is more to give fans an easy vector into the mythology without having to establish a lot of backstory.

Aquaman: King of Atlantis Gallery

It’s a decision that quickly pays off in the first episode. The series doesn’t waste much time on setup before sending Aquaman (Cooper Andrews) and Mera (Gillian Jacobs) on a goofy new undersea quest. Suffice it to say, this is probably not the direction 2022’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is headed.

Aquaman and Mera themselves are easily the show’s biggest selling point right off the bat. This episode manages a delicate balancing act with its depiction of a very put-upon Arthur Curry. It’s not that the show dumps on him for being the lame hero who talks to fish. In many ways, this Aquaman is just as strong and imposing a figure as he is in the DCEU (as imposing as anyone can be rendered in such a stylized animated fashion, anyway). Aquaman’s struggle is more than he can’t get his new subjects to take him or his crown seriously. He has something to prove, and that immediately gives the series a leg up over the movie. Entertaining though it is, the first Aquaman film suffers heavily from the fact that it never feels like the title character actually wants anything or struggles with any internal conflict.

There’s a good balance here, with the premiere establishing a clear arc for Aquaman while still finding ample room for goofy humor and outlandish visuals. Mera herself provides ample entertainment value. She’s essentially the Wolverine to Aquaman’s Cyclops here — ready to fly off the handle at a moment’s notice and punch anything anyone that proves even mildly inconvenient.

Both Andrews and Jacobs are right at home in their respective roles. Andrews finds that fine line between crusading king and vaguely neurotic fish-man, while Jacobs embodies the excitable but well-meaning Mera. Dana Snyder and Thomas Lennon are also impeccably cast as Ocean Master and Vulko, respectively, though both are relegated to smaller supporting roles, sadly.

This is a fun start, but ideally the plot will take on a few added layers in the middle act.


King of Atlantis looks as good as it sounds. It’ll probably surprise no one that Courtright and Halpern-Graser previously developed ThunderCats Roar for Warner Bros., as this series shares a lot in terms of its bombastic, cartoonish animation style. That style may not appeal to everyone, but anyone who craves a bit of Adventure Time-meets-DC Universe will be happy with the look and general vibe of this series.

Perhaps the only real complaint to lodge at the premiere is that it doesn’t establish a clear, overarching conflict for the series. King of Atlantis is a bit unusual in that it’s neither a feature-length special nor an ongoing series. It’s three 45-minute episodes. That would seem to suggest a more story-driven approach, but apart from a minor cliffhanger ending the premiere plays out like a simple, standalone adventure. Nor does it attempt to mine very deeply into the Aquaman mythos or the wider DCU. This is a fun start, but ideally the plot will take on a few added layers in the middle act.

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