By the end of Aquaman, we’ve seen just about every fish in the sea — literally, even. James Wan’s Justice League-adjacent standalone is a luminescent cavalcade of comic book oddities, and by the time a Lovecraftian horror emerges to push back against Orm in the Battle of Brine Kingdom, one wonders if there could be any depths to explore in a potential (or inevitable, if early box-office tabulations are any indication) Aquaman 2.
Thankfully, on cue during the film’s end credits, Wan opens a can of worms and pours out a bucket of sequel chum to tide us newly minted Aqua-stans over. According to the director, who spoke to Polygon about the scene, it was a pleasure to get to that moment, and he hopes his plans work out.
It’s a rare mid-credits sequence that feels like a surprise, so mind this spoiler warning.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Aquaman.]
Wan tees up his post-credits sequence like a Star Wars kid making good on Return of the Jedi. After losing yet another fight to Aquaman and plummeting to his demise in the crystal waters of Sicily, David Kane, a.k.a. Black Manta, disappears from the movie. While not even Atlantean technology could give him the upper hand in the fight against Arthur Curry, Black Manta was one of the DC movie universe’s best villains, one driven by a heartfelt purpose and wearing armor you absolutely want in action-figure form. When he takes a nasty spill down rocky Italian cliffs, it’s easy to assume this mortal man has kicked the bucket, destined to become the next Boba Fett, complete with swift, Sarlacc Pitt-like death.
But, a-ha! Kane can take a beating — and a beating, and a beating, and a beating. In the post-credits scene, we see Kane alive and well, his washed-up armor secured by Dr. Stephen Shin, played by Fresh Off the Boat and Ant-Man and the Wasp star Randall Park.
“I love Randall Park,” Wan tells Polygon. “I’ve been a big fan of his work for the longest time and I just wanted to get him in this movie somehow.”
Mission accomplished. After Orm’s first shot across the bow at the surface dwellers, a tidal wave attack that leaves mankind’s trash washed up on the shore, Park’s Dr. Shin takes to 24-hour cable news to lambast world governments for not taking the threat of secret underwater meta-human societies seriously. (I guess they forgot the whole Steppenwolf thing?) Shin is livid, both at the aggressive actions of underwater civilizations, and also that no one in Washington will believe his theories on Atlantis. His screaming TV commentator vibe makes the whole scene play more like a darkly comedic interlude than a potential setup for an Aquaman sequel.
“His character actually somewhat of a voice of reason,” Wan says. “I don’t actually have a lot of surface-dwelling characters, because most of this movie takes place in the world of Atlantis, and with all of the other wonderful characters, Randall’s character is really the only sort-of [...] normal human character. He’s on TV, he’s a bit of a crackpot scientist, and no one takes him seriously, but the reality is, he’s realized that there’s this big world that’s underneath right here on planet Earth, and he just wants people to take him seriously.”
Dr. Shin’s comic roots should have been a giveaway. Geoff Johns introduced the scientist in 2011’s Aquaman #2, as a friend of Arthur Curry’s father who was desperate to unlock the secrets of Atlantis. When Arthur denied his request, he went on the attack, recruited Black Manta to obtain a sample of the Atlantean’s blood. The ensuing fight results in the death of Tom Curry, prompting Aquaman to retaliate. In a fit of revenge, Arthur kills Black Manta’s father, assuming he is the man responsible. A feud between the two sons creates a rift, and Black Manta retreats to Shin, hoping to use his knowledge against Aquaman. It’s a slight reworking of what we see in the film, but what follows is another hunt for ancient relics that could easily be the basis of an Aquaman 2.
In the post-credits scene, we see Kane recovering from his run-in with Arthur, and Dr. Shin repairing the Black Manta armor. In a few seconds, they strike a deal: Shin will help the soldier get his revenge on the king of Atlantis if Kane agrees to lead him down to the underwater city. For a movie reveling in the Saturday Morning Cartoon-aesthetic of the 1980s, Park fits right in, playing the diabolical version of Shin like Baxter Stockman from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We can only hope that he transmutes himself into a shark in Aquaman 2.
Even if the gig was short, Wan says he had a ball conceiving and working on the character with Park, whom he hopes will be back if or when he makes an Aquaman 2.
“I don’t know what future adventures that might be,” the director says, “but you know, Randall is a cool guy to go on any future journey with.”