James Wan cut his teeth as a director of horror films–quite the successful one, too–before making the unexpected leap to big-budget, high-octane action with Furious 7. Now, behind the camera for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics adaptation of perhaps the most difficult-to-adapt mainstream hero Aquaman, Wan is shifting genre gears yet again. That doesn’t mean he’s leaving everything he’s learned over his nearly 20 years in the director’s chair behind but rather that he’s bringing those experiences to bear on this high-seas superhero adventure.
If you got a chance to check out the film’s new trailer, you can get an idea of just what Wan’s vision for Aquaman is and how it’s going to be brought to life on the big screen. But since the project is so different from anything he’s done before, we wanted to bring you thoughts from the man himself as to his approach to Aquaman, what the trailer reveals, and what audiences can expect when the film opens on December 21st.
In a chat with Fandango, Wan broke down that excellent trailer from Warner Bros.’ Aquaman panel. Here are some highlights from what he had to say, but be sure to visit the link for the full conversation, including an explanation of the ritual combat scene, the real antagonists in this movie, and the fact that Aquaman is also a Black Manta origin story.
On crafting characters people care about:
“Definitely the biggest thing that I’ve learned and carried across on all my films is how important it is to create characters that you like … That’s one of the most important things that I’ve learned in just my horror filmmaking is creating people that you can relate to … and that they therefore want to go along with them on this journey.”
I know a lot of fans are excited for the love story between Arthur and Mera, but for me, the movie is as much, if not more, the love story between Tom Curry and Queen Atlanna, how Queen Atlanna, from a completely different kingdom, far more civilized, so to speak, than we are, could fall in love with a simple human being on the surface. A surface dweller…
You want to play to the romantic theme of the sailor who comes across the mermaid, and then falls in love with the mermaid, that kind of stuff. That’s what this movie is. It has that romantic, nautical motif … It really shows the power of love, how love is blind to any of that, and through their love Arthur is born. I thought that is a very important emotional backbone to have because that emotional backbone basically drives Arthur’s entire emotional arc through the film.
[As for Arthur and Mera]: Romancing the Stone is the one that was my very early aspiration. Very Kathleen Turner meets the roguish charm of Michael Douglas. I think it works nicely because Amber’s character is supposed to be very prim and proper. She’s of royal upbringing, and she is not a fan of the surface world. So she thumbs her nose down at everything in the surface world. For Arthur, he’s Jason Momoa, so he’s larger than life. He’s big and all that. So I think their own personal dynamics are really what make for a fun dynamic.
On Zack Snyder’s contribution:
Early on when I was designing the story, and the script, I reached out to DC. I reached out to Zack Snyder as well. I said, “Could you guys do me a big favor? Please don’t go to Atlantis. I really wanted my character to go to Atlantis for the first time.” It was such a big part of the story that I was writing that if they had him go to Atlantis in Justice League, it would unravel my story that I wanted to tell. Of course, Zack was super cool. He was like, “Okay, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t bone you that way.” So in the movie, that first shot is his first shot. We come to the gate of Atlantis, and that is the first shot we see once we come through the gate of Atlantis.
On the training montage and just who is doing the training:
For me anyway, what makes origin stories and origin superhero stories really fun is just watching the training sequences, watching how they become who they are, and that is a sequence in the movie where his mentor, played by Willem Dafoe, Vulko, trains the boy how to potentially use the trident.
When Willem and I spoke very early on, we always saw him as an old school samurai warrior, like an Obi Wan Kenobi training Luke Skywalker. That was the influence, and Willem is such a big fan of Toshiro Mifune. He’s modeling himself after Toshiro Mifune in all the classic Kurosawa films. Even down to the way Willem looks in the movie. His hair is pulled back into a bun like a samurai warrior, and his sword’s behind his back.
On Atlantis and his underwater effects:
Atlantis is so deep down into the earth’s floor, and that’s how they have managed to stay hidden all these years. Their whole thing is just not wanting to be seen by the surface world. They have their own technology, so bioluminescence plays a big part in this world. They have their own light source down there.
I want it to be magical. I want the different kingdoms that we go to visit, and Atlantis being the main one, to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. To be very unique and magical. We’ve pulled so much of our influences from the ocean, from the sea, the sea life … So then we started thinking that maybe your structure is organic, like giant jellyfish, and their structure could be coral. It’s all grown. A modern Atlantis, at least, is all grown. Then that informs visually what they look like…
The Atlantean soldiers are in the white armor suits, and they ride armored sharks. That’s one side. The sea dragons belong to the kingdom of Xebel, the Xebellians, and that’s the kingdom ruled by Dolph Lungdren. He’s the king of that kingdom, and Mera is the daughter of Dolph Lungdren.