SAN DIEGO – “Aquaman” director James Wan is on a yacht, smiling and sitting next to a toy of himself and a mini-wall of Jason Momoa action figures, and things couldn’t be going any more swimmingly.
Wan dropped the first trailer for his DC superhero epic (in theaters Dec. 21) at Comic-Con, but 24 hours earlier, he was as cool as the other side of the coral bed. “Coming to Comic-Con with a comic-book movie at this level is pretty much as big as you can get, right?” the filmmaker says excitedly.
While "Justice League" introduced reluctant hero Arthur Curry (Momoa) into the world of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, "Aquaman" sends him on his own solo hero’s journey as he figures out his place between the surface world of his father, lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison), and the underwater landscape of his mother, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) of Atlantis. Aquaman also has a major foil in his half brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson), whose nefarious plans threaten the entire Earth.
Wan runs down five things “Aqua”-fans need to know:
Aquaman’s a fish out of water. (Pun intended.)
Last time we saw Arthur Curry, he was surfing on the Batmobile and saving the world in "Justice League." And that’s where we pick it up in terms of his gruff personality, Wan says. “He doesn’t really care about what’s happening around him necessarily, but there’s a greater calling where he has to go and deal with it. Part of the fun of the movie is actually watching this guy who doesn’t feel like he fits into anything just go along on the journey because he has to, and seeing all the funny things he gets up to.”
Our hero’s not as hotheaded as his love interest.
Audiences briefly met Atlantean warrior Mera (Amber Heard) in Atlantis during “Justice League,” and with her and Arthur, opposites attract. “They’re slowly learning to respect each other’s cultures,” Wan says. “She’s very educated and very prim and proper, but she also has this attitude toward the surface world. She doesn’t think too highly of us. And then there’s Arthur who, because of something that happened to his family a long time ago, has a chip on his shoulder in how he feels about Atlantis.” And Mera’s definitely not a damsel in distress: “In the comic book, she’s as powerful as Aquaman — actually if anything, she’s more powerful.”
Nicole Kidman is a classy superhero mom.
Wan uses words like “amazing” and “beautiful” to describe his A-lister, whose queen — and the mom Arthur never knew — is the emotional backbone and driving force of “Aquaman.” “She’s not in the movie a lot necessarily but her presence is felt very strongly,” Wan says. “What happened to her basically shapes Arthur’s outlook on life, and especially with the people of Atlantis. That’s a part of the reason why his character starts out somewhat disgruntled and grumpy about the world he’s supposed to be the king of but has no interest in.”
Black Manta is not the main supervillain (but is still awesome).
Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is the arch villain for Aquaman from the comics, but he takes a backseat to Orm in “Aquaman,” which shows how high-seas pirate David Kane becomes Manta and sets him up for later stories. “I don’t think you can make an Aquaman movie and not touch on Black Manta. Fans would kill me,” Wan said. Emphasizing the warrior king Orm “felt organically correct” as Arthur’s primary foil. “Even though Atlantis is very advanced and years ahead of us in technological advancement, there’s also a very old-school, almost archaic philosophy to a lot of things.”
The deep sea contains a deep message.
Wan wanted to lean into Aquaman never feeling like he belongs in Atlantis or on the surface, “but through his journey, he discovers that he is the best of both worlds and it’s actually OK to be a half-breed, so to speak,” Wan said. “As the world we live in gets smaller, you meet so many people and no one’s really black or white anymore. A lot of us are in between. It’s so great for today’s kids to grow up and say, ‘Oh wow,’ there’s a brown superhero up there who looks like me and is different.' ” He points to “Black Panther” being able to capture “that movement and spirit, and ‘Aquaman’ lets Jason really embrace his half-Polynesian (heritage). People are ready to see a superhero who is more than just a white guy or a white girl.”