James Wan talks redefining Aquaman with Jason Momoa
Director James Wan’s audience base is composed of both his longtime horror followers and fans of his Fast and Furious film and there’s definitely some cross-fandom with superhero films–all who know that Wan bringing in his sensibilities would make Aquaman one of the most anticipated films of 2018. Warner Bros. and DC made the right choice here and Wan brought those skills to his initial meetings.
“I think it was that, that got me super excited early on when I went in with the DC executives, and I said, ‘Wow, guys. We’ve got such great opportunity here to basically bring horror elements into a superhero world that we’re not quite used to seeing in the mainstream superhero universe. And if I was to come on board, that’s what I would like to do.’ And, they were more than cool about that. Actually, they were very excited. They were like, ‘We love the idea of Aquaman versus sea monsters.’ And I was like, ‘Okay. I’m sold.'”
When asked if even on his current trajectory would he consider returning to horror, he responded: ” I will. That’s a promise. I will get back to it at some point. I mean, even Raimi did right? And I’m like after he did Spider-Man he went back and did Drag Me to Hell. That was so much fun. So, yeah, but I gotta find the right project, because I think when I go back to horror, that’ll be quite a spotlight on it, so I just wanna make sure that it’s something I really dig.”
He’ll never stray too far from horror though.
Even his action sequences still showcase his ability to build tension in his one-shots in very much the same way his climatic horror sequences have in the past. The Black Manta rooftop chase is not an exception. That’s not a coincidence, he said about applying what the Conjuring and Insidious films have taught him.
“I like to tell stories using my one-shot to sort of link some of the elements together. And in that sequence, as you can see, Arthur is dueling it out with Black Manta, while Mera is fighting her own battle with Atlantan commandos. And, I just didn’t want to sort of like, cut this, cut to that, cut to that. I tried to create–in a kind of seemingly smooth way of tying the space together. I do that a lot in my horror films, as well. I like to kind of show the world that you’re in. All it takes is that one shot, and it gives you a perfect sort of geography of the space you’re in, and that helps a lot of times with the action or the scares that you’re trying to build. And I think for the kind of action that I do–even in my Fast and Furious film letting the audience kind of know where they are and doing it with a very, succinct filmmaking method is very important. I’m not just doing this because it looks cool–’cause it’s very hard to pull that off.–I do it because I think it’s an important piece of storytelling in the films that I do.”
The scene he’s referring to is totally filled with those precise thrills that harken back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and even Stephen Sommer’s The Mummy. Moments that are big on adventure and pretty daring as the big bad closes in with terrifying force. Black Manta is that force and we can wait to see more from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. The look so far nails it and that was a big deal for Wan, “Getting Manta right, for me, was a prime directive for me with designing the whole look of the film. Getting it right was super important for the fans, for myself, and ultimately for the people that are not familiar with him ’cause he’s a pretty strange looking guy. I know that I wanna stay true to what people are familiar with of him in the comic book, but also for the non-fans. They can look at that, and kind of go, ‘Oh, he’s weird, but it’s practical.’ It’s somewhat of a diving suit. Keeping his head big, and his eyes big, was very important to me.”
And above all else, making a film about Aquaman fulfilling his destiny as King from the renegade we saw in Justice League was paramount. To Wan getting the opportunity to craft the character with Momoa was the biggest step in both making their mark on this iteration of Aquaman for a new generation. He told us, “That was the most important thing going into it. I knew I didn’t necessarily want to make the whole movie with where his character left off in Justice League. I think that might be too heavy to just follow a guy who’s just kind of you know just that heaviness of it. When I first met Jason I was kind of blown away by how funny he was and how charismatic he is in person like ‘Dude, I wanna bring that into the screen. I wanna see more of you, see more of your own personality in the movie and that’s what we did. I went back to my writers and we would do things and shape the script. We wrote it more for Jason. It actually made it easier for us to write because we’d go ‘Momoa would never say the line like this. He’s say it more like that.’ It was great because it made it easier for me to write it and ultimately it just gives the film more personality by bringing his personality out. Now Jason will always say that I took him out of his comfort zone because that’s not what he’s known for. There were few moments when I was directing him that I said, ‘Jason, you’re playing this a bit too angry’ and he’d look at me and say, ‘James this is what they paid me money to do! Khal Drogo! That’s why they paid me’ I’d say ‘Great, that’s good for Khal Drogo. We’re creating a very different character here and there will be very many moments in the movie where you’ll be able to be really tough but in this moment I wanna see you more of that light-hearted goofiness of you that is gonna service the movie well’.”
Aquaman allows Momoa to bring his charismatic presence to the role. Arthur Curry is an amalgam of Momoa’s personality and the mythology of Aquaman that brings us a hero many need to see themselves reflected in. His performance is off-the-cuff natural and magnetic. In the last scene we saw, we got a bit of the chemistry between Momoa and Heard on land. Heard’s Mera definitely is capable and fearless while Arthur attempts to guide her in the ways of the human civilization so she doesn’t get into too much trouble.
“When he’s in Atlantis he’s the Fish out of water but when they go on land Mera is the fish out of water. I think it’s important to share this scene between Arthur and Mera, which is such a big thing in the comic book world,” he said. Their banter is fun and competitive as they quest to find the desert kingdom. Aquaman is in his element unlike when he was in Atlantis and she’s on a learning curve about the world above what she’s used to.
Wan concludes how this ties together what he wants to bring out in this movie, “My pitch from day one was I wanna make my Indiana Jones, my Romancing the Stone and so it has shades of that. It also touches on the other thing that I think is important in a film like Aquaman. You kind of have to touch on the world of the environment and how that is such a big part of the reason why Orm wants to declare war. He’s so sick of the shit we do on the surface world and what we do. How literally all that flows down to them and I think that’ something we can all relate to.”