With Christmas in the rearview, Aquaman is finally in theaters, and chances are you’ve seen it–which means you inevitably have a lot of questions. We kind of, sort of, mostly loved the movie, despite its problems, but we were also pretty confused about much of its worldbuilding and plot points. For example: What exactly is the timeline of Atlantean history? How long did King Atlan spend in his self-imposed exile after the fall of Atlantis? And how long ago did he record that message for the future king? How much time has passed since Atlanteans lived in what is now the Sahara desert, and how could a clue that’s seemingly millions of years old point Arthur and Mera to a Greco-Roman era statue in Sicily?
Luckily, Warner Bros. gave us the opportunity to sit down with Aquaman’s screenwriters, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, as well as DC’s famed writer and Aquaman executive producer Geoff Johns. Of course, we asked them to clear this all up.
The main Aquaman timeline problem comes from the fact that Arthur and Mera surmise the Deserters Kingdom under the Sahara desert has been there since “before the Sahara was a desert,” which a quick Google search tells us was around 7 million years ago. In addition, Atlanteans who broke off into the various Seven Kingdoms of Atlantis went down wildly divergent evolutionary paths, transforming over time into CGI fish people, CGI crab people, and CGI deep sea monsters, which doesn’t happen overnight. Those facts suggest that the fall of Atlantis may have really occurred millions of years ago.
Yet at the same time, Atlan’s voicemail message–the one that Arthur and Mera viewed in the chamber under the desert–pointed them to a statue in Sicily that’s at most a few thousand years old. How do the writers explain that seemingly kraken-sized plot hole?
“Well, there’s definitely a lot of different ways to skin this cat,” Johns told us. “One is that Atlan actually lives longer than [other Atlanteans]. Atlanteans live longer than humans, and he’s a king, with that trident, so clearly he lived a long, long time in isolation. I think that is probably the easiest explanation.”
In other words, King Atlan–the same king who reigned during Atlantis’s downfall–may have survived in exile at the Hidden Sea at the Earth’s Core for millions of years. His trident’s vaguely defined magical powers, which are never really explicitly defined in the movie, might have had something to do with it.
“[Atlan] is hanging onto the trident, and it’s holding him together in some way,” Beall added.
“Yeah, it’s holding him together,” Johns agreed. “I think he was there a long, long time.”
Does that mean Arthur is effectively immortal as long as he wields it? Maybe we’ll find out in future Aquaman movies (fingers crossed). But if the trident isn’t responsible, the writers have another theory that could explain Atlan’s long life: The energy blast that sank Atlantis may have had unknown effects on those who would have been nearest its epicenter.
“I think [Atlan] had some power beyond other Atlanteans, and he was at the ground zero of that explosion, so who knows how that energy affected him?” Johns posited.
One problem with that theory is it means Atlan survived in exile on the other side of that weird portal thingie for millions of years, then at some point swam back up through the Trench Kingdom, scouted around for potential clue locations, found that statue in Sicily, recorded that cryptic voicemail, and then swam back down through the portal and resumed his lonely vigil. Maybe he decided that the quest for his trident was a little too difficult, like video game developers who add more objective markers in a post-release patch. On the other hand, the Karathen–which, by the way, was voiced by Julie Andrews–seems to have had plenty of victims over the years, although it also states that it hasn’t feasted in ages. So who knows?
There’s yet another theory that has less to do with Atlan’s age: The Deserters Kingdom in the Sahara may have actually survived into much more recent history. That’s only possible if a hidden body of water once existed under the Sahara, which real life science suggests is actually possible. Johns floated this theory as well:
“Also, just because we believe that the Sahara was dry for millions of years doesn’t mean there wasn’t some water underneath it in this hidden kingdom at some point,” Johns said.
Either way, it’s pretty incredible that the best Aquaman’s writers and executive producer can offer about the movie’s timeline is theories. If anyone should be able to explain this stuff, it’s them. Of course, they could have also taken the route chosen by Venom director Ruben Fleischer and simply fessed up to the plot hole. Instead, Johns and Aquaman’s screenwriters decided on a middle path: They’re not sure exactly how the movie’s timeline works out, but according to them, it’s not impossible.
Considering we’re really just nitpicking here, we’re going to say that’s good enough for us and officially close this investigation. Aquaman is in theaters now.