Aquaman’s final “I am Aquaman” speech at the end of his first solo movie isn’t just a classic example of superhero pomp; it’s also by far the most Dark Knight-esque moment in the DC Extended Universe so far.
Directed by James Wan, Aquaman is a bright and adventurous affair that sees Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) overcome the distance between his life on the surface world and his legacy as the heir to the throne of Atlantis. Born the son of a lighthouse keeper called Tom Curry and Queen Atlanna, a runaway royal, Aquaman is denigrated as a “half-breed” by his brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who has become leader of Atlantis in his absence. When Orm gathers the ocean’s armies in preparation for a war against the surface world, Mera (Amber Heard) compels Arthur to rise to the challenge and claim the throne for himself by finding King Atlan’s lost trident.
Aquaman might not immediately remind any one of The Dark Knight, the middle chapter and most critically-acclaimed entry in director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies. After all, The Dark Knight is easily one of the most mature and grim in tone movies ever made about a mainstream superhero, whereas Aquaman is a movie that features a cover of Toto’s “Africa” by Pitbull and a giant octopus playing the drums. However, what the two movies do have in common is how they conclude by setting up their central characters as a mythic hero with a final, dramatic speech – in The Dark Knight, by Jim Gordon, and in Aquaman by Arthur himself. A side-by-side comparison of the two quotes makes the similarities particularly obvious:
We have to chase him. Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A Dark Knight.
My father was a lighthouse keeper. My mother was a queen. They were never meant to meet, but their love saved the world. They made me what I am. A son of the land, a king of the seas. I am the protector of the deep. I am Aquaman.
From the use of the word “protector” to the final sentence that names not only the superhero but the movie itself, Aquaman and The Dark Knight‘s ending speeches are structurally extremely similar. Given how incredibly influential The Dark Knight has been on the genre of superhero cinema in the decade since its release, there’s a good chance that Aquaman screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall deliberately modelled Arthur’s final lines on James Gordon’s famous speech about “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” It is, after all, an incredibly effective way to establish a superhero as a mythic figure.
While Batman Begins may have been the first of Nolan’s three Batman movies, Aquaman is actually closer to The Dark Knight in terms of the role it serves. While it tells Arthur Curry’s origin story in flashbacks, this is not the first time that we’ve seen Jason Momoa’s take on the character in action. Justice League was really Aquaman’s Batman Begins, while Aquaman is the movie that – like The Dark Knight – digs deeper into the superhero’s identity and his role in the world that he inhabits.
In that respect, it’s perhaps not surprising that Aquaman has a quintessentially Dark Knight moment that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice never quite got around to. Bruce Wayne certainly makes his share of speeches in Batman V Superman, but the movie isn’t really about Batman, and it’s certainly not about defining Batman at the start of his superhero career. While most people would probably agree that Aquaman doesn’t reach the same heights as The Dark Knight, the movie’s final speech is a reminder of exactly what The Dark Knight did so well, and it’s an excellent way to establish Aquaman’s as a legend in a world full of legends.