Director James Wan Spills the Sea on ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’

The countdown to Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is on! Today DC and WB just dropped the new trailer and poster for the upcoming superhero epic, coming December 20. However, we were fortunate enough to see the trailer yesterday with maestro James Wan on-hand to introduce it to us and answer a few questions for us eager fans, foaming at the mouth from the glorious colors and fantasy of the trailer we’d just seen.

Wan broke down the trailer for us following the screening. He began by discussing how the goal between the first movie and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was to give Black Manta a much bigger villain role, while giving Ocean Master a more anti-hero, team up role with Aquaman. Black Manta will be getting some elevated abilities from The Lost Kingdom in this movie, that will enable him to become a formidable match for Arthur Curry.

The goal of this installment was also to add a bit more of a “grown up” message for this movie, with more of an environmental theme. But also to mature Arthur’s character, making him both a father for Atlantis, as its king, but also a father for his child with Mera. And while the first movie was a Romancing the Stone-esque romance between Arthur and Mera, this film will be more of a “bromance” between Arthur and Orm inspired by Tango and Cash.

World-building was a huge priority for this film, leaning further into Jules Verne and Ray Harryhausen-inspired looks and feels, similar to the Silver Age versions of the Aquaman comics. Wan also said the movie would be a bit darker, which was the right progression for this franchise. The Last Kingdom, for instance, would introduce characters heavily inspired by Lovecraftian lore, and would be Wan embracing more of his horror roots.

Wan then took to questions from the press members that were present at the event.

Were there any real-world cultures and traditions that the film drew from?

WAN: That’s one of the things that I really enjoy working with Jason on… we lean very heavily into the family dynamics that we have, with a father of Maori descent. So we kind of lean into that a lot more. So that aspect comes across — it’s not in your face — but we want to use it as a nice underlying flavor for the film to give it a bit more.

Can you talk more about Black Manta and the trident he finds in the film?

WAN: Yeah so Manta basically, after the first movie, he’s on this relentless quest to kill Arthur Curry and destroy everything he’s ever built. So he’s been searching non-stop for ways to do that. And in his search, without giving too much away… to fix the power suit he has in the first movie, he stumbles across something bigger.

The first movie had a lot of delightfully off-beat moments like the octopus playing drums. Did its success [inspire you to go weirder] in this movie?

WAN: I’ve never been shy about leaning weird. Every movie I’ve made has been pretty weird. If you guys have seen Malignant you know how weird. That was part of the reason why, very early on… I picked this particular [property] because I could lean into that world. The quirkiness and the weirdness. And just have fun with it. And yes, seeing how much people enjoyed that in the first film gave me more confidence to lean into that in this one. I know the trailer doesn’t touch on it, but there are a lot of quirky underwater characters in this one. It may be weird to us but not to them. That’s another species. That’s another race for them. And Arthur, King of Atlantis, those are his people. And Topo (the octopus) has a bigger role in this one.

There were plans to move forward with a “Trench” movie to further explore this world. Did you find yourself using some of those ideas for The Trench coming into The Lost Kingdom?

WAN: That’s a good question. And yes. The answer is yes. We had developed The Trench movie. And ultimately, you know, like most things, you develop it. If they work out, great. If they don’t, then that’s fine as well. We didn’t want that project to potentially step on the Aquaman films. But we came up with a lot of really interesting ideas and really cool stuff, that I thought we could use in this one. And so with The Trench movie it was going to be a secret Black Manta movie. And initially we announced it as a “Trench” movie, but ultimately we wanted to surprise the fans. It was going to be a stand alone Black Manta movie. And so when that didn’t happen, some of those ideas found its way into this.

Knowing that you aren’t drawn to making sequels, what was the experience like going into Malignant after the first movie, then coming back to this one after that like for you?

WAN: I don’t do that many sequels, and if I do I usually just stop at number two. That’s usually because, I don’t go further because I feel like I have said all that needs to be said, and I don’t have any more stories within myself to want to tell. That’s not to say the world doesn’t have more stories, but I’ve done all I’ve wanted to explore. And what I like about my process is I like to make a big movie then go back to do a small one, then go back to do a big one, then a small one. It just helps me control how I feel. If I go and do a big movie into another big movie, it’s so exhausting. I spent three to four years on this film. And that’s a long time. And for me to jump into another big movie next? That’s just really exhausting. I like to calibrate myself by balancing it. I know other filmmakers do similar things… it rejuvenates me to come back with more ideas for the next movie.

How do you feel about this movie against where the DCU is evolving to?

WAN: Yeah, I mean I’m aware of everything that’s happening around me. I use the analogy that I’m living in a house that’s being renovated. So it’s hard to not be aware of the renovation that’s happening around me. But that’s the beauty of Aquaman 2 and Aquaman 1. I’ve always designed these two films to be in their own world. And the advantage of not being hooked into this bigger universe is that ultimately what happens over there doesn’t really affect my movie. So as you can see in this film, it doesn’t hook into anything. It lives in its own world. And that’s pretty much what worked really well for us in the first film, and we’re doing the exact same thing. Sure there’s noises going around, but I’m just in my underwater cocoon, in my underwater kingdom.

What was the biggest challenge doing this movie, and what do you think will be better about it than the first?

WAN: Well firstly the technology in general advances with each passing year. It was, on the first movie to this one, I see a huge leap in the effects, which is there in your face. But even the process of how we shoot the film is a bit different. The actors had such a hard time shooting the first one. All this complex rigging that we had to put them through. And it’s not the best for them when they’re trying to act at the same time, and they’re in a lot of pain, in these difficult riggings. And what’s great about this one is that I could actually free them up from that. And my special effects and visual effects teams did a really good job of hearing what I complained about in the first movie, and basically helping me build a process for how to get the same thing I want without putting the actors through all that. So I can get better performances from them.

What is Mera’s role in the film?

WAN: What I would say is, she obviously has a child… But coming back to that, she’s a massive character in the comic book and in the Aquaman world. So we want to be respectful of Mera as well. That’s the bottom line. I want to be respectful of everyone’s characters and do them justice but at the end of the day, I have this story to tell, and so many characters to service. And I felt like I told the Arthur and the Mera story in the first one. That I can actually just focus on Arthur and Orm in this one. So it’s a journey movie really with those two. And the other characters pepper their world, if you will.

Speaking of Orm, what surprised you in terms of playing with him as an anti-hero.

WAN: Well the great thing is Patrick is such an amazing actor. There’s a reason I keep working with Patrick Wilson. He’s so versatile… he doesn’t fight me. He trusts me. We have such a close relationship that we trust each other on how he approaches the characters he wants to play. And one of the things we want to do with this one is that he was the bad guy in the first movie, and even though he’s working with Arthur in this one, it’s different to remember where he came from. So there’s still antagonism between them in this movie. And that’s where a lot of the fun comes in, watching these two bicker. But at the same time, leaning on the human aspect of this character… in the first film, he was just trying to do what was right by his people. And because of that, Arthur respects him as well. And again, Arthur is so much about the family, and the family dynamic. And he’s always wanted to reach out to his brother and build that relationship. And we get to do that in this one.

What creatures did you like working on for this one?

WAN: Well with The Lost Kingdom… it’s a world that was locked away for a very good reason. And it really is, for us… we felt that the evil of the Lost Kingdom is really a great metaphor for how us humans keep tapping Earth for its natural resources. And will go to great length for energy, money, and profit without thinking of the consequences of what we’ll do to the environment. And this is almost like an analogy. We can keep drilling but if we drill too deep we might unearth some evil we don’t want to mess with.

What’s Nicole Kidman up to in this one?

WAN: Nicole plays the right hand to the king in this one. So she comes in and is a motherly figure but also an advisor in this as well. Just because there’s a bit more politics within the world of Atlantis because Arthur isn’t from that world and needs someone to guide him. And with Orm, she felt like he was misguided and she wants to continue to give him the love he deserves, and didn’t get a chance to give him his whole life.

What Lovecraftian lore did you look at for this one?

WAN: I felt the Aquaman films allow me to play with my love of the horror genre while still being fun [for kids]. To try and capture the early Spielberg/early Zemeckis spirit of learning dark but also being fun. And there’s shades of that in this world… but for me it really is just scratching the surface. It makes me want to do more.

Can you talk about Arthur being a father in this one?

WAN: One of the things that excited myself, the writer, and Jason was drawing his character… one of the things we wanted to do was give him something to care about so when his world starts falling apart he has something to care about… his family and his kingdom… how does he balance the duty of looking after a kingdom and dealing with politics, and taking care of people. Meanwhile he has to go back home and change diapers and deal with family. And in the midst of all this he has to strike up a relationship with his brother, because if they can come together, they can solve the problem they are facing immediately.

Peter Safran said Jason saw Aquaman as a trilogy. So curious if you saw this as a trilogy and set up this movie as such as well?

WAN: What I’ll say to that is the “Jason Momoa as Aquaman” story has places to go. The answer is yes, but I don’t know how to answer that without giving things away because where we go at the end of this movie does tee up something bigger. Not bigger, but tee up a direction for that story.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom hits theaters December 20!

Checkout the trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom now. And stay tuned to The Nerds of Color for more news about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom down the line..

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