Is James Wan’s Aquaman the best movie in the DCEU? We’re about to find out with a look back on the super-powered underwater adventure.
After DC Studios finally released a teaser trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, now feels like the perfect time to return to the 2018 original that started it all. A full trailer for the sequel bubbles to the surface on Thursday, September 14, and we’re eager to discover Arthur Curry’s (Jason Momoa) next underwater adventure as we steadily transition to James Gunn and Peter Safran’s rebooted DCU.
Aquaman always seemed to be one of those Superheroes getting clowned on. I mean, it makes
sense: on the surface, he’s just a man who can swim fast and talk to fish. It’s an easy thing to make
fun of. And because of this public perception, the idea of creating a full-length feature film based on the
character was rarely taken seriously. From Entourage digs to an ever-changing creative landscape, it’s a
miracle that we’re even talking about this film, let alone that it’s one of DC’s most successful films ever.
So join me on today’s DC Revisited as we get into all of the aquatic acrobatics and slow motion
entrances of James Wan’s Aquaman.
Attempts to make Aquaman only go back to the year 2004. Given his penchant for water, the
technology wasn’t in a place to realistically produce this kind of movie until the mid 2000s yet, even
then, attempt after attempt failed. Reno 911’s Robert Ben Garant wrote one script that would fall
through and then in 2007, the focus shifted towards the character’s appearance in Justice League Mortal.
While that film would never see the light of day, Santiago Cabrera was cast in the role. After this,
Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, purchased the rights. It wasn’t until Man of Steel
finally released that talks ramped up again for an Aquaman solo outing. Will Beall and Kurt Johnstad
were hired to write separate scripts, the best of which would go into production.
Back in 2005, HBO’s Entourage would famously have a storyline featuring Vincent Chase leading
Aquaman, which was being directed by James Cameron. It’s funny while simultaneously approaching
many of the very real issues that would come up when making an Aquaman film. While Warner Brothers
wouldn’t attract someone quite of THAT caliber, they were interested in giving the chance to someone
who had made quite the name for themselves in the horror world: James Wan. Wan had made hits such
as Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring and had recently proven himself in the action genre with Furious 7.
He was given the choice of taking on either The Flash or Aquaman and he was intrigued by the aquatic
superhero, so he took on the latter. Several scripts were tossed out until Wan finally settled on one
written by Beall. David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick would then be brought on for rewrites.
The casting of Jason Momoa would occur back during the production of Batman v Superman. Momoa
was brought into Snyder’s office to audition for a mysterious role. When he was done, Snyder offered
him the part of Aquaman, which confused Momoa. In his mind, Aquaman was this blonde white dude. What could they possibly want with a large Hawaiian man? Snyder explained his vision, wanting to really
marry Aquaman’s origins with that of various Polynesian Water Gods. He brings a rockstar aura to
Arthur Curry’s character, even rocking out with his trident at Comic-Con during the announcement.
Momoa didn’t have the easiest time portraying the character, with much of his time spent in very
uncomfortable rigs. But he manages the impossible to make the formerly lame seahorse rider into a cool-as-hell hero.
While Heard has quite a negative reputation these days, there was a lot of potential present at the
time. She was considered one of the hottest up-and-coming actresses out there, so her involvement was
a big deal. Her performance, or her accent rather, is a bit all over the place from where it came from,
but she handles the action well. And she has wonderful chemistry with Momoa.
For the role of the formidable villain King Orm, otherwise known as Ocean Master, Wan pulled from his
troupe of regulars, having Patrick Wilson take it on. This wasn’t Wilson’s first appearance in the DCEU as
he’d actually voiced the President of the United States in Batman v Superman, though we never see him.
King Orm is Arthur’s brother and the current ruler of Atlantis. He’s jealous of his brother and wants to
bring devastation to the land dwellers that pollute the oceans.
Yahyah Abdul-Mateen stepped into the role of Black Manta and while Manta may be Aquaman’s most
iconic foe, he actually takes a bit of a backseat here. He has some moments but is mostly in and out
and is more of a secondary player. This is too bad as the suit’s design is cool, and Yahyah
impresses with his limited screen time.
When the role of Arthur’s father, Tom Curry, came up, the production went to Momoa about who he
saw playing his dad. He was adamant that Temeura Morrison was the only choice after seeing him in
the film Once Were Warriors. It’s hard to imagine anyone else portraying Momoa’s father so perfectly,
as they have the same charisma and vibe.
Every bit of concept art for Arthur’s mother, Atlanna, featured the visage of Nicole Kidman. She was
Wan’s only choice as he thought she was the only person with the gravitas to portray the queen properly. Kidman had previously starred as Dr. Chase Meridian in Batman Forever, so she wasn’t a stranger to the genre. But she’d be getting much more involved in the action beats here, kicking all sorts of ass.
Filming for Aquaman took place in Australia in 2017 and lasted 114 days. Water is one of the more difficult elements to deal with on any set and it’s something that’s hard to avoid when making a movie called Aquaman, so the production had to get creative. Utilizing rigs they dubbed “tuning forks” due to their design, they’d strap in cast members and allow for a floating look. But there were other things that needed to be added to pull off the underwater look convincingly. First was the hair, which is often a nightmare to deal with. So they instead put markers on their heads and mostly pinned their hair back. And finally, they added particulates, which really helped to sell the underwater effect.
Wan recalled his horror roots during a sequence featuring The Trench, a group of terrifying sea creatures. The Trench was announced as its own spinoff movie, although we’ve yet to see anything come of it. Regardless, it’s a stunning sequence.
Despite the water tanks and green screen work, the production built many practical sets. They even recreated a town in Italy to blow it up on camera. Each of the sets was created virtually and was able to be explored through virtual reality. This is one of many ways the production could stay ahead of the curve.
Aquaman was released in the United States on December 21st, 2018, and brought in $73.2 Million on its opening weekend, making it the lowest opening weekend for a DC film so far. But this proved inconsequential, as the movie had huge legs, propelling it to a massive $1.15 Billion worldwide total. This meant that it was not only a success. Aquaman was the most successful DC film of all time, a title it still holds today. The movie did okay critically, with a 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus being that “Aquaman swims with its entertainingly ludicrous tide, offering up CGI superhero spectacle that delivers energetic action with an emphasis on good old-fashioned fun.”
If all goes as expected, its sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will be released later this year. But it doesn’t feel like the sequel for DC‘s biggest movie, having gone through quite the tumultuous production and having very little hype behind it.
While none of the film’s cast would return, an animated miniseries was created, Aquaman: King of
Atlantis. This would serve as a sequel of sorts, but non-canonical overall. It premiered on Cartoon
Network in October 2021. The Trench spinoff would never see the light of day despite Yahya Abdul
Mateen is ready to reprise his role as Black Manta as the film’s protagonist. While that film has been
canceled, there’s always a chance that we see those ideas used in something else that Wan eventually
does, non-DC related.
Aquaman’s massive success may not have been expected, but it was certainly earned. With nearly
everything working against it, James Wan and company were able to provide a fun, action-packed
adventure with one of the more difficult characters to crack. So just remember, when you think of the
highest-grossing film for any of these heroes, it’s not Batman or Superman at the forefront. It’s ole
Arthur Curry. Proving that sometimes all you need is a fun movie.
Stepping away from the ocean depths, we’re getting ready to say that name that makes you super! But
that’s a story for next time. Join us. Saaame movie time, saaaaame movie channel.
Aquaman – The DCEU’s Best Movie is written by Tyler Nichols.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/aquaman-the-dceus-best-movie/