50 Things to Know about James Wan’s Ambitious Spin on a Superhero Movie
Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) are on the hunt for an ancient artifact. As the two search the globe, they eventually end up in the desert, in a mysterious room below the surface. As they bicker about where they are and what they need to do, a mysterious opening in the floor slides to the left to reveal a bottle with a message inside. A moment later, director James Wan calls cut.
After Wan, Momoa and Heard talk about what they’ve been filming and how they need to tweak the sequence, the two stars go back to carry on the scene. As it continues, the mysterious opening actually reveals an audio message, and it’s a lot of important information about what they need to do. As the message ends, Mera asks Aquaman about the message and what it means. Awkwardly, Aquaman can only remember a few words and plays it off like it wasn’t important. Thankfully, Mera was paying attention and starts to quote back the message with frustration in her voice because of Aquaman’s attitude. Again, Wan calls cut.
Before going any further, let me back up a second.
Last year, right after Comic-Con, a few other online reporters and I got to travel to the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia, to visit the set of Aquaman when the film was in the middle of shooting. While there I learned so much about the next DC superhero movie, and I can say with absolute certainty Aquaman is going to be a cool film.
Unlike some of the previous DC films, James Wan is making his version of a superhero movie, which includes a fun tone (think Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark) and taking place in a lighter universe. Now before you start to think Wan is leaving his horror past behind, Aquaman is going to have a sequence or two that will creep you out. In addition, while looking at all the concept art and seeing how they are bringing Atlantis to life, I left the visit thinking they were doing everything right, and I’m beyond excited to see the finished film.
Over the course of walking around, doing group interviews, and just talking with people on set, I learned a ton about the movie and have listed off about fifty things to know about the film. Check it all out below.
Aquaman also stars Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry, Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master, and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna.
If you’re trying to stay completely spoiler-free, you might not want to read these ahead.
Aquaman takes place after the events of Justice League and is a stand-alone movie.
Two thirds of the movie takes place underwater.
The production is trying to be extremely faithful to the comics.
Everyone on set talked about how Aquaman is a “less dark” DC film.
James Wan wanted to make a superhero movie with a character no one has seen before. He was offered any DC character and specifically wanted to make Aquaman.
When Warner Bros. and DC gave Wan Aquaman, he said he was only interested in doing it if he could make it the way he wanted to make it and that it needed to be a departure from what DC had done before. He envisioned Aquaman as a Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone type movie where you would have great characters, real jeopardy, and great elements of comedy between Arthur and Mera.
When they were making Justice League, the production spoke to James Wan about what he wanted to reveal in Aquaman. That’s why Atlantis was never seen before Aquaman. Also, when they did reshoots on Justice League, they constantly spoke to Wan to make sure everyone was on the same page and the things that were important to Wan were always protected.
When Aquaman begins we will find Arthur Curry still being the loner, but as he goes on a journey with Mera (they’re searching for something very important), he learns the need to build bridges instead of pushing people away.
The film will have flashbacks throughout the film to explain who Aquaman is, how his parents met, and why the Atlanteans won’t allow his mom to stay on land. One of the flashbacks takes place at the Boston Aquarium.
Producer Peter Safran revealed the new 52 comic series of Aquaman heavily influenced the movie. He said, “The new 52 version of Aquaman was definitely our touchstone and our starting point. And even though the film is not a direct adaptation of that, that was certainly the…in terms of his origin, who he is, that Tom Curry is his father and Atlanna is his mother, who Orm is, etc. That all comes from the new 52. And, there are certainly creature elements from it, like the Trench. So, that was our biggest influence.”
Mera (Amber Heard) has the power of hydrokinesis – which means she can control water. This power will come in handy at many points in the film. Her father is the Xebellian king.
Producer Peter Safran says that while Orm (Aquaman’s brother played by Patrick Wilson) is the primary antagonist, Black Manta is a very strong secondary antagonist.
The main reason Orm hates the people on land and breaks the treaty with humans is due to the way the human race has treated the planet. Orm isn’t someone that wants to rule the world. He’s just sick of human’s taking all the fossil fuels, putting acid raid in the ocean, and not taking care of the planet.
In the beginning of the film, Black Manta and his father are pirates.
Black Manta will have a connection to Orm that helps make him a more integral part of the story. Safran said, “We do show how Manta that we see in the comic books, became that character.”
James Wan had been using Nicole Kidman’s face in the concept art as Aquaman’s mom before he’d met with her about the film or even asked her to be in the movie. From the beginning he envisioned her in the role. When the production reached out to her about being in the film she immediately responded to the script and artwork and signed on.
Producer Peter Safran revealed that Wan will get to use his horror sensibilities in Aquaman. He told us the trench sequence, “Is his homage to Creature From The Black Lagoon type scary movies and that whole sequence is classic James Wan from the way characters are revealed. The way the creatures are revealed. To the actual action that goes into that entire sequence. And that’ll be a signature James Wan scary sequence.”
Over the course of the film, Aquaman learns he shouldn’t blame all of Atlantis for the killing of his mother by one person, and Mera learns the surface world is a place that’s really worth preserving and they need to find a way to coexist.
Atlantis fell into the ocean about five thousand years ago and it morphed into seven different kingdoms. Six of which are Trench, Brine, Xebellian, Fisherman kingdom, the missing kingdom and the Atlanteans.
The term Unite the Seven, that’s what it is about for Orm, who is the King of Atlantis and half-brother to Aquaman. He wants to become “Ocean Master” and unite the seven kingdoms.
The movie imagines that Atlantis is bigger than Los Angeles and could have fifty million people living there in the seven kingdoms. They have their own technology and have worked their whole life to not be discovered. But in this movie we discover them…
Only the Atlanteans and the Xebellians can breathe air.
The Fisherman kingdom are pacifists, nature-loving people.
The Brine kingdom are four-legged crustaceans that live on the bottom of the ocean.
The Trench people don’t have eyes and live in the Marianas Trench somewhere out in the middle of the Atlantic at about 8,000 feet below the water. At that level, it starts to hurt the Atlanteans to swim that deep. They don’t like it. Also, the Trench people only come out at night. They’re like the mole people of the sea.
There is a sequence with the Trench people where they attack a boat and want to eat and kill the people on board. There are thousands of them, like ants, coming out of the water to attack. They’re bad guys.
While we will learn a lot about the different kingdoms, they’re not going to have a lot of screentime.
Producer Peter Safran said the movie isn’t a love story between Aquaman and Mera. Instead, he said, “The movie is in the vein of Indiana Jones. James [Wan] wanted to tell this swashbuckling, fun, quest movie. Just, it’s a great time for everybody to see. So the relationship is a little bit Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, which is ultimately a romantic action movie. But, I wouldn’t say it’s actually a romance.”
From what I learned on set, it seems like the 2nd act of the film is a bit of a romantic comedy.
When the film was in production, they were still figuring out whether or not other DCEU characters might appear in Aquaman.
When we talked about the big action sequences in Aquaman, producer Peter Safran said they had a huge sequence that takes place in Italy where all the key characters (Aquaman, Mera, Black Manta) get to use their respective strengths.
Another thing Safran is excited about in Aquaman is the action will be unlike anything audiences have seen before but it’s all driven by characters. He said, “The good news is they’ve never seen our action because it’s happening underwater with dynamics and physics that nobody has really experienced before. But, we focused very heavily on the characters to make sure that, a trademark of James’ is to make sure you care about the characters before you see them go through the paces. But, our action sequences I think are pretty unique and James has always tried to craft things that people have not seen before and also to service the characters in a really good fashion.”
While we won’t be getting a Vinnie Chase cameo from Entourage in Aquaman, producer Peter Safran actually credits the show for helping to change people’s opinions of the character.
Wan is known for doing some very cool camera moves and long shots in his previous films. While he was guarded about what he was going to do in Aquaman, he did say, “I love my cool takes. I love my long takes and so I definitely … I have moments that I’m designing that tells a story. I like to interweave my action. If I have an action set piece happening over here and I have somebody else kind of going on over here, I like to sort of weave it in and out with my camera work. And so that all that stuff, I’m passionate about in my filmmaking that you guys probably see in my horror films, like Conjuring and Saw. I’m bringing that flavor to this as well.”
In the film, while the costumes in the film look like they are ripped right from the pages of a comic book, each outfit is designed with story in mind. Wan told us Black Manta’s outfit is the way it is for a reason. King Orm’s outfit is his military outfit as Ocean Master. He also revealed the movie will show us why Black Manta has the two glowing red eyes in his helmet. It’s not just there to look cool.
Regarding how Aquaman has his powers, Wan revealed he wanted to make sure they weren’t making another character like Superman. He said from a story standpoint, there’s a reason why Aquaman is so powerful and that’s because Atlantian’s bodies are built to withstand the pressure of living so deep in the ocean. So when they come up to the surface, their bodies are naturally stronger. However, while bullets will bounce off Superman, Wan told us, “bullets can maybe break their skin and break their flesh, but it doesn’t necessarily penetrate ’cause their muscle mass and their body mass is much more dense.” He went on to say while “surface war weapons may have a hard time taking him down, Atlantian technology can cripple him for sure.”
Nicole Kidman plays Aquaman’s mom and while she doesn’t have a big role in the film, her character is very integral to the emotional arc of the movie. While Atlantis sees Aquaman as a half-breed, which is a negative thing, his mom tries to teach him that being a half-breed is not bad.
Aquaman and Mera have to go on a quest in the film and along the way will meet a number of “creatures of the deep.” Since Wan has a history of making scary movies, we asked him if was working in any of his horror background. He said, “I want to capture the fear that we have of the ocean, the scariness, but at the same time, the magical and wonder that comes with it as well. The ocean’s such a beautiful place and so just naturally built into my story for this film.”
Amber Heard was drawn to the project because it’s not just one genre. She said, “It’s as much adventure as it is classic superheroes, as it maintains elements of rom-com. I mean, it has all of these elements. And, of course, done by a horror master. So I really like that our film kind of respects all these different genres. I was drawn to the adventure probably the most.”
Unlike a lot of movies where one character takes the lead, Aquaman has a more modern approach, where Aquaman and Mera are equal partners. That’s because when Mera is on the surface, it’s an alien world. And when Arthur is in Atlantis, he’s completely out of his element.
Mera is not a damsel in distress. Aquaman isn’t going to rescue her. In fact, she rescues him, which is one of the things Heard loved about the character. She went on to say, “I was doing my research and was reading the graphic novels, and in one of the first ones I read, there’s a scene, some natural disaster in open water, a tsunami hits on the land, and of course Aquaman comes in and saves the day and civilians are like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Aquaman!’ And they turn to Mera, who has done equal work in saving this village, and they’re like, ‘Who are you? Are you Aquawoman?’ And she’s like, ‘No, I’m not Aquawoman. I’m Mera, I have my own name.’ And I was like, I like this. I like this woman. I respect it as a character, I respect it as a person. I also respect it as the average modern woman, who is sick and tired of seeing the same old, two-dimensional, reactionary, passive roles that are limited to being rescued or enchanting the male protagonist. I feel I have a lot more to offer in life and I’m bored with those characters when I watch them.”
Even though a lot of the movie takes place underwater, Heard said this might be the driest she’s ever been in a movie. That’s because all the underwater stuff they have wig caps on and they have to actually make diffused mattifier on her skin. It has to do with the VFX. But when they’re in air bubbles underwater, they have to soak her down. She said, “Part of my routine at work is I show up and get hosed down. This happens throughout a day of filming the same scene because it takes so long to shoot these enormously complex scenes. There are many days when I spend my entire day, every 15 minutes, getting hosed down! And it’s still the driest I’ve been in a movie.”
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who plays Black Manta, says his character isn’t out to take over the world. He’s just out for revenge against Aquaman. And he will stop at nothing to get it.
Manta plays a small, but key role, in Aquaman, but his role would be expanded if they get to make a sequel.
Black Manta will have two different suits in the film.
The production promises plenty of Easter eggs for fans to pick up on.
We’ll see a full-on gladiator fight in the film. The sequence will have thousands of people in a coliseum that goes back to ancient Atlantis when they used to have gladiator fights.
By the end of the movie, he will become the Aquaman we all know from the comics and he’ll probably be wearing the orange and green classic costume from the comics…