James Wan is set to combine classic heroism with modern attitudes and visual effects in Aquaman. The director hopes to delight moviegoers this December with an action adventure that offers big battles but isn’t afraid to show you its even bigger heart. Yes, star Jason Momoa is present to make Aquaman cool, but don’t mistake that for any hesitation by Wan to embrace another four-letter word, camp.
Superhero News was among a small group of outlets invited to the Aquaman edit bay last month. Wan and editor Kirk M. Morri showed off 20-25 minutes of footage, including the sizzle reel from July’s San Diego Comic-Con. What was apparent, right from the opening prologue dedicated to the love story between Arthur Curry’s (Momoa) parents, was a brand of sweet sincerity not often seen in DC films since Superman hit theaters 40 years ago.
Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) finds an injured Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washed along the shore. He nurses her back to health and, as unapologetically clichéd as it may be, the two fall in love and have a son. Wan isn’t afraid to be a little cheesy here, thanks to a quick transition to Queen Atlanna disposing of a few would-be captors in a single-shot fight sequence that is a must-see on the big screen (they had to perform 30+ takes over two days to get it right). Queen Atlanna, who was promised to the ruler of another kingdom as part of an alliance with her home kingdom of Atlantis, must leave her love and her son behind and return to the sea in order to keep them safe.
Tonally, Aquaman‘s prologue would have fit right at home in Richard Donner’s 1978 classic, or Patty Jenkins’ 2017 instant classic, Wonder Woman. “Definitely,” Wan confirms when asked whether the Christopher Reeve Superman influenced sequences like the one he’d just showed us. “I really think just having a superhero that has sort of an uplifting message to it is really important. Kirk and I are big fans of what the Donner version of Superman. It’s very uplifting. And very positive.”
Wan understands that the world has changed over the past four decades, but that doesn’t mean audiences no longer want to look up to their superheroes or believe in a simple love story. “I know we live in a much more cynical world today,” he says, “but I still think we can bring a lot of that back and deep down, I’m such a romantic and I love that just the very sort of sweet, romantic nature of how Mom and Dad, both people are from such different worlds, but it didn’t matter. Like the love for each other brings them together and through that, through their love, you get Arthur Curry, you get Aquaman, right?”
That Thomas Curry and Queen Atlanna were robbed of a chance at a life together greatly informs Arthur Curry’s emotional arc. “It’s also what kind of makes him a bit bitter, because of what happened to them,” Wan says. “I think it was a very important thing to kind of capture that spirit very early on in the opening sequence of the movie that would become the sort of emotional backbone for the rest of the film.”
Wan is going to bring the F-word, fun, into DC Films. He’s even willing to go a step further by mixing in a little camp. He’s not doing it, though, to address what many have complained is absent from DC superhero movies. Wan is just being true to his own vision and the title character’s roots.
Wan says, “I’ve always said ‘I want to make a fun movie.’ And I know back then everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s saying fun because DC movies are so dark or whatever, right? And there’s no fun.’ I’m like, ‘No! You’re making a movie about Aquaman!’ He talks to fish and stuff like that. You gotta lean into that. You gotta not be afraid of the camp of it all, but the key is try and make it cool, right?”
Wan is definitely making the camp cool instead of cringe-worthy. There are Easter eggs to keep an eye out for, though they are presented in brand new ways without the artery-clogging cheese. Moviegoers can have a bit of old-school fun with what they know about Aquaman, and be wowed by him at the same time.
“The key,” Wan says, “is to try and make it something that you can kind of smile at it, but then kind of go, ‘Oh, that’s kind of fun. That’s awesome!’ That is my job to try and take what collectively we all know from pop culture, the lamest superhero, and have fun with him and make him the freakin’ coolest superhero I can. That’s my dream. My dream is to make him cooler than Batman and Superman, so that’s just me.”
Aquaman is in theaters December 21, 2018.