Over his 77-year comic book history, Aquaman has been a strong-willed king of a restless underwater nation, a bearded, long-haired rebel with a harpoon for a hand, a sidekick-sporting guardian of the sea, a not-always-trusted member of the Justice League, and…yes, a guy who rides a giant seahorse and talks to fish. Unlike the other core heroes found in DC’s pantheon, Aquaman’s history has at times been a little less than consistent.
However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, as far as the director of the upcoming Aquaman movie is concerned, it’s part of Arthur Curry’s appeal.
“I’m a big fan of what Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis did together,” James Wan revealed at a recent event. “Definitely the [overall] spirit and story, much of that was inspired by Geoff Johns’ New 52 run. But I actually went back to a lot of the earlier stuff as well.
“I kind of look back historically at the different characters and world. I’m a big fan of the Silver Age Aquaman book. I love Nick Cardy’s stuff. I love the first series—the stuff that eventually inspired Super Friends. I love that! I’m not going to shy away from it. I’m going to embrace it, and I kind of do my own version of that. I just love that retro quality that the original comic book had, and all of the really fun characters. I’m trying to find ways to fit them into the movie.”
As a character, Aquaman is often most interesting when he’s on his own, free to focus on the challenges of ruling the underwater kingdom of Atlantis—a nation so riddled with distrust of the surface world that it creates disagreements about how to interact with it that are so heated, they often bring about revolution or war. This undersea intrigue is what fans of Aquaman’s comic book adventures love about the book—and yet, many people don’t even know it exists, let alone that it’s an important part of who the character is. For them, Wan’s Aquaman may be their first exposure to it.
Judging by the trailer, as well as Wan’s clear understanding of who Aquaman is, the film seems to go all in on Atlantean lore.
“Arthur and Orm share the same mother,” Wan shared, outlining the history that fans are familiar with. “Orm’s dad was the King of Atlantis, but he’s since passed on, so the son has taken over the throne. Mera’s dad is [played by] Dolph Lundgren. They’re from a different kingdom. He’s the ruler of the Xebellion kingdom. King Orm and King Nereus have a truce together. “
But anyone who has pegged Aquaman as simply an underwater Game of Thrones may be off the mark. At least, it’s not just that.
“I pulled influences from stuff that inspired me and influenced me since I was a little kid, all the way from classic Ray Harryhausen to the more traditional earlier Spielberg stuff,” Wan explained when asked about his fantasy influences. “I’ve mentioned my love for Romancing the Stone as well, and the way the characters interact. It’s a bit of a mixture. The really cool thing is I feel like this property really allowed me to take a stab at all these different flavors. The film really has a lot of different flavors to it. I’m using the mythology of Aquaman and his world to pull it all together.”
With such diverse influences, keeping everything in balance so the story remains consistent and organic might be a bit much in the hands of others, but Wan—who has worked on both iconic horror franchises like Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring in his career, as well as blockbuster movies like Furious 7—seems to revel in the challenge.
“We spent years just developing the look and visuals, trying to find that right balance where it’s not so on the nose—'Hey, look at me, I’m a big bright poppy film!’—but one that still stays true to the tone,” he shared. “That tone of an action-packed, swashbuckling adventure allows me to veer a little bit. I can be a bit more popcorny, but I can also lean this way and be a bit more scary if I need to be because, again, the story and the world really lends itself to a lot of different flavors. I always feel that the ocean is a really magical place. It’s full of wonder and magic, but it also can be pretty scary as well. This movie really lets me lean into both concepts.”
Wonder, magic, scares—it sounds pretty great to fans, but there’s still a whole generation of people who remember Aquaman as the guy on Super Friends who seemed to solve every problem by summoning a whale. For Wan, winning them over is part of what makes directing an Aquaman movie so great.
“I felt that all the very overtly cool characters have kind of been done already, but because of that, I really took a liking to the underdog nature of [Aquaman’s] character,” Wan shared. “Not just his character, but the underdog quality of how we all perceive this guy. There’s something kind of cool about that. To me, it’s more special to come in and do something unique with a character like that than someone like Batman, where you’ve seen many versions of it already. The fact that I can come in and do something unique and no one’s really seen his big screen adaptation is what really excited me.”
For Aquaman fans, that excitement is contagious, and it’s only likely to grow when Aquaman hits screens on December 21st. That’s a wave fans have dreamed of riding for years. With or without the seahorse.