As we get closer to San Diego Comic-Con, more and more news about the upcoming Aquaman film hits the web. We just saw the first official poster and even a sneak peek at the trailer, which will drop at SDCC on Saturday, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Several months ago, during a set visit, several news outlets had the opportunity to talk with the cast and crew of the highly anticipated DCEU film. This embargo on this information has officially been lifted and we have a breakdown of all the big news to come out of it.
THE POWER OF ATLANTIS
One question that has yet to be answered within the current DCEU is “how powerful are Atlanteans?” Well, now we have an answer. It was revealed that, within the DCEU movie universe, Atlanteans are almost equal in power to Superman and, presumably, other Kryptonians as well:
“The Atlanteans have the ability to live underwater and have enhanced physical characteristics, just a notch below Superman in terms of power/invulnerability. However, they can be damaged or killed by their own technology.”
However, does this also apply to Aquaman, who is half-Atlantean/half-Human? This isn’t something that’s explicitly revealed, but it seems that his time on the surface may have given him a disadvantage. Director James Wan went on to address how they’ve gained their strength:
“It’s because most Atlanteans, their bodies are built to withstand thousands of pounds of pressure. They live so far down. So when they come up, their body is…they’re not aliens from another planet. But because of the physics of our planet and all that stuff, when they come up to the surface world, their body can withstand really strong pressure, right?”
This would presumably suggest that Mera, who is fully Atlantean, is stronger than Arthur, although Arthur is the one intended to become King of that undersea world.
Another thing revealed in the set visit is that Atlanteans have a particular kind of battle armor and weapons, similar to the armor and weapons that elves used in The Lord of the Rings films. However, each specific army regiment will have its own armor and weapons to match its specialty. Atlantean warriors will also use various sea animals in battle, including sharks and squids. Those animals will also have their own armor.
The actress who plays Mera, Amber Heard, also spoke about the various powers held by the Atlanteans, particularly her own, including her ability to control water, known as hydrokinesis.
“So I control water. Mera’s power, other than just being a warrior princess in Atlantis, is that she also can control water, a power that comes in quite handy as you will see. Not only in this scene, but it plays throughout the mission, throughout their entire journey. She relies on hydrokinesis to kind of save the world and stuff.”
Mera’s abilities will no doubt be on full display throughout the film. Along with Aquaman, audiences can anticipate seeing Mera’s ability to control water on full display. Devotees to the comics will also note that Mera’s abilities go beyond harnessing the power of water and using it to her advantage. Heard’s character has, in past issues, demonstrated the power to control – if briefly – large amounts of water, even enough to pull an army out of the sea. Whether or not the full force of Mera’s abilities will be shown in the film is still unknown.
BECOMING HER OWN SUPERHERO
Speaking of Mera, although the name of the movie is Aquaman, expect this fierce warrior to also turn up as her own superhero in the movie, and not just as “Aquawoman”. Amber Heard made it very clear that this was one of the major selling points that drew her to this role.
“Mera is the definition of a strong, driven, independent woman. Aside from the whole sword and crown comment, what really sold me on this project, 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.”
Heard also explained how Mera and Arthur don’t exactly see eye to eye when they first meet:
“They’re constantly going back and forth and they earn this relationship with one another throughout the film as they learn to respect each other, given their vastly different approaches to life. Mera, for instance, unlike Arthur, has a very solid constitution, a strong sense of self, who she is, what her role is, what her position is.”
Expect to see a lot more of Mera in the Aquaman solo film, with a character that stays true to her comic book portrayal. Heard believes Mera needed to stay true to who she is in the comics, not just in the way she looks, but also in her personality.
Heard also talked about what fans can expect from the relationship between Mera and Arthur in the film. However, as it turns out, people shouldn’t anticipate that Aquaman will focus on developing a romantic relationship, instead, the pair’s dynamic will be more of a partnership as they both deal with more pressing issues in Atlantis.
“The thing I really like about this is I feel it has a more modern approach, I think, to what would otherwise be a more classic superhero formula. This is very much a story where they are equal partners. Because they come from different worlds, their strengths are very different. Where one excels in one world, the other is a fish out of water. Pun intended. [Laughs] I guess I’ll be saying that a whole lot. Just gonna get used to owning it! But it’s true. Mera, when she’s on the surface world, it’s very much an alien world to her. Same way that when Arthur is in Atlantis, he’s completely out of his element. But we both excel at being in our own worlds, and because we have our own identities and because our identities are tied up in who we are in our respective worlds, we share equal responsibility in the journey.”
Heard continued by further teasing the importance of her character in the story, emphasizing how Mera isn’t the stereotypical female character who needs a man to be saved. At first, Heard was reluctant to step into the shoes of Mera, worrying the character would appear as another “damsel in distress,” especially after spending her acting career staying away from those kinds of roles.
“What I really love is that it does not rely on this whole damsel in distress formulaic thing we see all the time, we’ve seen a million times. He doesn’t rescue the girl and then save the world. He doesn’t — in fact, I save him. Like I said, they go on this adventure as equal partners and they end it that way. There is an element of attraction there, but it is not the thing — because they have a job to do, they have a mission to fulfill and are equal partners in the success or failure of that mission, that takes a back seat to this. Their relationship, that element is not the driving force or what brings them together.”
I definitely think it’s a good thing they’re establishing their characters like this first than rushing a love story. It will only make their eventual love story feel more earned and justified after fans have seen them go through the different stages of their relationship.
THE SEARCH FOR ATLAN’S TRIDENT
This film is all about finding King Atlan’s iconic Trident and having Arthur Curry truly become the King of Atlantis. Although Aquaman is not an origin story in the traditional sense, it does serve as an introduction to the character’s world, specifically his underwater kingdom – and it expands upon the story that first started in Justice League.
Arthur Curry is searching for King Atlan’s Trident with the help of Mera, all while the pair are being pursued by Patrick Wilson’s Orm, aka Ocean Master, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s David Hyde, aka Black Manta. They embark on this quest after uncovering a hidden message from King Atlan, aka the Dead King, from an artifact, saying, “The time has come to pass on my legacy … If you seek my power, you must prove your worth.” King Atlan was one of the first rulers of Atlantis, and in the comics, he is credited with expanding Atlantis’ rule over the seven underwater kingdoms. UNITE THE SEVEN!!
Momoa has previously said that Aquaman won’t actually become the King of Atlantis until the end of his solo movie, which makes sense if the movie is really about finding Atlan’s Trident, which may have been the character seen in the recent Aquaman trailer photo. It’s an iconic weapon that’s not only extremely powerful, but also acts as a representation of the Atlantean king, which is why Arthur’s half-brother, Orm, is also on the hunt for it, since he’s the current King of Atlantis.
This also explains why Aquaman has been wielding a quindent, instead of the iconic trident. The movie will also explain how the quindent once belonged to Arthur Curry’s mother, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman).
THE RISE OF OCEAN MASTER
In the film, Aquaman’s half brother Orm, a brutal villain who will do whatever he needs to in order to take over, wants to destroy the surface dwellers, as the Atlanteans blame them for ruining and polluting the oceans. He does this by attacking coastal cities, while searching for Atlan’s trident, which would give him the full power he needs to completely wipe them out and take over. In one particular climactic scene, there is a big battle called The Battle of the Brine, which pits Orm’s army against the Fisherman Kingdom in an attempt to subjugate them.
According to Patrick Wilson himself:
“He’s kind of an eco-warrior. He’s got a very clear gripe with the surface world, which has been polluting his oceans for centuries. And that’s something for me — I’m sure for you too — that’s very easy to understand. If somebody was just constantly polluting our air and ruining how we lived …”
And though Orm will be one of the antagonists in the film, he doesn’t harbor any ill will for his brother. According to James Wan, Wilson’s acting ability made him a great choice to portray the nuanced feelings Orm has for his sibling.
“Patrick is such a talented actor and a chameleon as well, he can disappear into any role. Orm’s got a soft spot for his brother who lives on the surface world and if anything just wants him to rule Atlantis and the world together, but his brother doesn’t see it that way. A lot of the clashes they have stem from their different upbringings. So I didn’t want to cast a typical villain actor.”
But Ocean Master won’t be the only villain in the new film, as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is set to bring Black Manta to life.
THE ORIGIN OF BLACK MANTA
Fans recently got their first glimpse of Abdul-Mateen II as Hyde, gazing upon the Black Manta helmet he uses to dive beneath the sea and tangle with Aquaman. And during the set visit, Abdul-Mateen II discussed how Hyde and Aquaman come to be enemies after a life-altering event. Hyde is riding high at the time of his first confrontation with Aquaman, but is devastated when he loses someone close to him during the altercation. As Abdul-Mateen II explained:
“He’s riding on high, and at the climax, he loses his father. So we meet him at a time when he’s just, he’s on top and then, bam, immediately, an event happens, and he’s at the bottom. And he’s lost the only person who he’s ever loved, and cared for…and then, from then on, you know, ‘It’s Aquaman’s fault!’ He has very little else to live for, and so it becomes that revenge story. You have the relationship between fathers and sons, and the revenge that happens when a son loses his father, and then you have Aquaman, who is the heir to the throne, who doesn’t want to be king, so it’s an epic story.”
Abdul-Mateen II’s description sticks close to the origin story of Black Manta offered up in Geoff Johns’ rebooted Aquaman comic series, in which Manta goes on a mission of revenge against Aquaman after the death of his father. In terms of look, the movie version of Black Manta will also stick close to the comic book conception of the character. Psychologically, Hyde/Manta will also share a lot in common with the comic book version, after Abdul-Mateen II read the books and picked up on Hyde’s brutality. The actor said:
“With Black Manta, I saw him, I was reading the comic, ‘The Others,’ and he…murdered someone, you know. And in my experience, in comics, they’re blowing people up to smithereens, or they’ll use their powers and they’ll shoot you off to the moon and you’ll explode. And he was like, ‘You know, I don’t have time for that. I’m going to take my knife, and I would drive it through you, while telling you that the next thing that I’m going to do is to go murder your family also.'”
It sounds as if, at least when it comes to Black Manta, Aquaman will go with the down-to-earth villain approach instead of making him the all-powerful supervillain fans have seen in movies like Justice League.
A LOOK & A VOICE WILL BRING THEM TO THEIR KNEES
From the moment he put the suit on, Abdul-Mateen II says he loves how he feels when he wears it. Based on the film’s toys, the costume will indeed be epic. He may not be able to see much when the full suit is on, but he says he’s all in, “Yeah, I’m excited! I know the fans are going to be really excited too.”
The suit is just one part of his character and despite his social media teases he says “We haven’t figured [the voice] out yet. I mean, I do some things with it, but we’re still working out what that’s going to be.” Since this interview took place while the movie was still filming, it was several months ago, so Wan and company likely have decided how exactly he’ll sound. With the official Aquaman trailer arriving this weekend, it may just be matter of time before everyone gets to hear what they’ve decided.
THE FUTURE OF BLACK MANTA
According to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, his villain, Black Manta, is being set up for future appearances in other DC Extended Universe movies. He explained that his role in Aquaman is more about establishing Black Manta as a threat within the universe, rather than featuring him as the villain of the movie:
“We get an introduction to him, and it’s not an extremely heavy dose, but it is one that’s going to crack the door open… he’s definitely not a guy who’s just here for a short time, and just going to disappear. I think we try to talk about him as a guy who has the potential to be a pretty big force within the world.”
When asked if he could pop up in other DC movies, the actor suggested that Black Manta could make a comeback in Justice League team-ups as well:
“If you see Aquaman in Justice League, then you know, it’ll make sense for Black Manta to say, ‘Hey! What you doing?’ Pop his head in, wherever he is, he can justify making it his business. I’m looking forward to living long within the DC world, and creating a little bit of chaos.”
As Abdul-Mateen II pointed out, Black Manta may be best known as an Aquaman, but he can also be found all over DC canon – including, at one point, joining the Suicide Squad. So keep an eye out for him.
COMMUNING WITH SEA LIFE
Aquaman will feature flashbacks to Arthur Curry as he is growing up and discovering his abilities. With the film leaning into an origin story structure, fans will be treated to seeing how Aquaman came to be the superhero they saw in Justice League, while also delving deeper into the underwater world of Atlantis and people that molded him. Audiences will see Arthur Curry/Aquaman at four different stages of his life, including these flashbacks.
Of the flashbacks, a major scene is devoted to a young Arthur Curry on a field trip to the Boston Aquarium. While being bullied by a group of students, Curry suddenly notices the fish in the aquarium rallying to his efforts. In this moment, he begins to discover that he can ‘talk to fish.’
Considered by many fans over the years as one of the most useless superpowers out there, Aquaman’s so-called “aqua-telepathy” has made him the butt of many a joke from professional comedians and casual comic book fans alike. This was largely due to the character’s prominent position in the classic Superfriends cartoons, where his abilities were limited compared to the likes of Superman or Wonder Woman. Of course Aquaman has far more to offer the Justice League than communicating with sea life, possessing enhanced strength, speed, endurance and durability far beyond those of a normal human, due to the requirements a life form needs to survive in a high-pressure marine environment. Yet it is his ability to speak to and understand aquatic creatures that the popular culture has fixated on, in regards to Aquaman’s many superpowers.
During this set visit, a brief description of how a young Arthur Curry first discovered his power to talk to fish was revealed:
“There’s a flashback scene where Arthur visits the Boston Aquarium on a field trip and is being bullied when he suddenly finds the fish in the aquarium rallying to him. This is where he begins to discover that he can ‘talk to fish’.”
When asked about a specific scene in the recent comics (seen above) where Aquaman is confronted by a know-it-all who claims to have more knowledge of his powers than Arthur Curry does and whether there’s a similar scene in the movie, Jason Momoa replied in the affirmative:
“Yeah, I think James [Wan] has taken all those fish puns and, really, kind of let me do ‘em. I think he has an interesting look on what all those fish puns are. The more you look at it, I think it’s really-it’s not so much that he can talk to fish, but I think when you get to see what he can really do and how powerful the ocean is, I mean…I guess we’ll see who’s laughing then.”
Technically speaking, Arthur Curry does not truly “talk” to fish, though he is capable of having conversations with larger, more intelligent sea mammals, such as whales and dolphins. The comics have established that his “aqua-telepathy” is not specifically geared toward sea creatures (he’s also been shown to be capable of commanding seagulls) but that his particular telepathic gifts are focused on pushing the simpler parts of the brain focused on motor control and reflexes. Given that fish brains are largely incapable of managing more than that and they have poor memories (as anyone who has seen Finding Nemo will remember), this does make it seem like Aquaman talks to fish, when it’s more accurate to say that he commands them.
AN UNDERWATER ADVENTURE
It was revealed that two-thirds of James Wan’s Aquaman will take place underwater. The story will heavily feature Arthur Curry’s home, Atlantis. Learning that he is the heir to the thrown, he must step forward to take his place as the leader of his people, forgoing his choice to be a hero to the world. The underwater metropolis will be unlike anything fans have seen before. In order for the film to achieve this look, actors were often harnessed and attached to wires, with, at times, 10 crew members maneuvering the actors during scenes.
When discussing the filming of those scenes, Amber Heard described the oddity of being tethered to wires and moved around by crew members in, as she observed, “bright blue micro onesies.” In order to focus for what would appear to most to be intense filming, Heard would find moments to connect with her fellow actors, including Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Patrick Wilson (Orm), and Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa. While also observing that it would be easy to lose focus during filming, Heard’s process for staying in character was anchored in the sequences and interactions with her fellow cast members.
During the filming process, James Wan worked diligently to ensure the look of the underwater world was believable for fans of the comic.
ORANGE & GREEN
Both Jason Momoa and James Wan have teased that the classic Aquaman costume from the comics will be making an appearance in the movie. Momoa claimed to have not donned the classic costume yet but he said he was looking forward to doing so, indicating that he will be wearing the classic armor at some point. Momoa also made reference to a piece of concept art, which is said to look “pitch perfect Aquaman” with a “scaled orange top, green pants (and) golden trident.”
While refusing to confirm directly that the classic costume will make an appearance in the final film, Wan went into discussing the craft of costuming and how even when a director has some idea of precisely what they want visually, they are still likely to go through several designs and costumes with the design team before finding the one that works beyond looking like something straight from the comics’ pages.
“…When you draw images and pictures, you can do things that are so much more heightened, right? When you put it on a real actor, obviously there’s limitation. And so we have to factor the practicality of what it means for our stunt person and actor to wear this outfit and yet retain what we love about their designs.”
Momoa and Wan may be playing coy on the subject, but all evidence indicates that we will indeed see the classic orange-shirt costume by the end of Aquaman.
A WONDERFUL VISION IN THE MAKING
Jason Momoa explained how Zack Snyder laid the foundation for the aquatic superhero in the DC Extended Universe, ahead of Wan’s film. Snyder was responsible for casting the Game of Thrones veteran to play Arthur Curry to begin with and even unveiled the first photo of Momoa in costume as the character, ahead of his brief debut on the big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Momoa then returned to play a far more substantial role in Snyder’s third DCEU film, Justice League.
According to Momoa, Snyder figured out the “bare bones” of the DCEU’s Arthur Curry, including where he comes from and “what he was about”. The actor emphasized that he sought to balance that outline of the character with what Wan had in mind with his solo film, which he said is “a very spectacular, different view of what, originally, when I was with Zack”. Justice League touches on a number of key elements from Arthur’s backstory during a conversation that he has with Mera (Amber Heard) in Atlantis, yet leaves room for Wan’s movie to reveal the “finer aspects of the character” and connect the dots all together, to quote Momoa.
Momoa further revealed that he spent a fair amount of time on his own plotting out Aquaman’s life just before and after Justice League, in order to bridge the gap between that film and Wan’s DCEU installment:
“That definitely was one of the hard things was going like, ‘Okay, here’s Aquaman’s life and here’s Justice League.’ So, I made up a whole bunch of different scenarios of what it was like beforehand, then he comes and he joins the team and then he goes back to his life. So, that was really important to all the forward stuff, because afterwards that was up for James [Wan] to go, ‘Hey, the future is yours. You’ve already done Justice League. I need everything pre.’ And, uh, building all that stuff on your own is building a character.”
Snyder, however, was the one responsible for the most easy-to-recognize difference between the comic book Aquaman and the DCEU version – namely, he’s part Polynesian, just like Momoa. This heritage is further reflected in the character’s tattoos (which are full of Polynesian symbols) and the casting of his human father Thomas, who is brought to life by Temuera Morrison (Attack of the Clones, Moana). According to Momoa, getting to play another a non-white superhero (a creative decision on Snyder’s end) was very much a big deal to him:
“I mean, that was the biggest honor, like when Zack [Snyder] told me-there’s just so many brown-skinned kids that are gonna grow up and go, like, ‘Yeah, all of our gods are water gods’. It is an absolute honor. Some people accept that he’s not white. I think it’s cool. It’s an honor for me to be that person standing up. Dream job, you know what I mean?”
Indeed, as divisive as the Snyder-directed DCEU movies are, he’s also responsible for many of the franchise’s best received aspects, like Momoa’s Aquaman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Snyder similarly laid the groundwork for the larger Aquaman mythology in the DCEU, which Wan is now expanding upon in new and (hopefully) captivating ways with his solo movie. In that sense, Snyder’s influence and creative role on the franchise will continue to live on in important ways, even now that his own time playing in the DCEU sandbox has (seemingly) drawn to a close.
Well, there you have it, folks! All the juicy news about Aquaman that you can handle! And with less than a week until the first trailer drops at San Diego Comic-Con, I’m sure we’ll learn even more soon.
Aquaman is scheduled to hit theaters on December 21, 2018.