Black Manta’s power upgrade in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom takes away the DC villain’s main appeal. Many DC villains have showcased a wide variety of superpowers and abilities on the big screen, from General Zod and Doomsday’s extraterrestrial nature to Enchantress and Dr. Sivana’s magical sources of power. Very few others, like Black Manta, are purely driven by rage, which makes their attempts to defeat the heroes despite their lack of special abilities all the more impressive.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom brings back Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Aquaman villain Black Manta in a quest for revenge against Aquaman a few years after the King of Atlantis refused to save the villain’s father. With the help of highly advanced underwater gear inspired by Atlantean technology, Black Manta manages to explore the depths of the ocean and acquire the mythical Black Trident, a mythical weapon that provides him with an ancient source of dark power. But as much as the Black Trident makes Black Manta an even more dangerous threat than he already was, the weapon also dilutes the character’s essence.
A big part of Batman’s allure comes from his lack of superpowers. Bruce Wayne relies on his intelligence, resourcefulness, strategy, and sheer power of will to become one of the world’s greatest heroes and earn himself a leader role in the Justice League. Similarly, Black Manta accomplishes impressive villain feats with no superpowers to aid him. He usually invades Aquaman’s kingdom by himself and makes his life a living hell before joining forces with superpowered villains to fight other godlike heroes. Like Batman, Black Manta also begins his journey with the promise to avenge his father, which leads him to exploit his intellect and push his body to the limit.
Batman and Black Manta take very different paths, with Batman using his skills to avenge Gotham and defend the Earth while Black Manta kills Aquaman’s son after swearing revenge on him. However, the main appeal of both characters lies in their unbreakable will, as every victory over superpowered individuals has more merit behind it when it’s clear that there’s a vulnerable human being behind the mask. If Batman’s stories are exciting because he climbs his way to the top, Black Manta’s appearances are also exciting because he flips the typical villain dynamics as an underdog antagonist facing a nearly invincible hero.
Black Manta’s Black Trident in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom may give him the power he needs to “kill Aquaman and destroy everything he holds dear”, but it ultimately downplays his ingenuity and resolve. Any other villain could signify the same threat to Aquaman and Atlantis with extra powerful abilities and a magical weapon. And if Black Manta wins, his triumph could be credited more to his newfound powers than to his own efforts. Instead of finding clever ways around his limitations, Black Manta may rely on the Black Trident’s power and expect it to do most of the work for him. Aquaman could defeat him a second time by simply taking away the weapon.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom can still display Black Manta’s characteristic ingenuity despite the Black Trident’s convenient advantage. Black Manta could find himself forced to go through grueling challenges to obtain it, having to venture into the titular Lost Kingdom that not even Atlanteans are familiar with. Considering Black Manta’s canceled The Trench movie was set to focus on him, it’s possible that the villain will need to subdue the Trench monsters and other creatures before he earns the Black Trident with only the help of his makeshift gear and his thirst for revenge.
Already wielding the Black Trident, Black Manta can still showcase his natural skills by exploiting the weapon’s abilities in creative ways and breaking Aquaman’s life apart with strategic attacks. Once Aquaman has leveled the playing field, Black Manta could also demonstrate that he’s just as dangerous without any special weapon. He could prove that he has honed his fighting skills since Aquaman humiliated him in Sicily during the first movie and perhaps flip Aquaman’s final battle scene by keeping the upper hand on a one-on-one fight against the hero. Whatever Black Manta does in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, his signature drive and intellect need to shine through.