AQUA­MAN

JAMES WAN WADES INTO THE DC MOVIE UNI­VERSE WITH AQUA­MAN DE­TER­MINED TO TAKE AU­DI­ENCES TO A NEW WORLD (OR SEVEN). JAMES WHITE HOLDS HIS BREATH

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We’re chuck­ing away the wa­ter wings to plunge un­der­sea and meet the king of the oceans.

It’s fair to say that the Warner Bros/DC film uni­verse has suf­fered in com­par­i­son to the cin­e­matic and cul­tural be­he­moth that is mar­vel’s movie out­put. While the box of­fice fig­ures haven’t been atro­cious, the re­ac­tion to al­most ev­ery­thing bar Won­der Woman has been less than for­giv­ing. Which is why Aqua­man di­rec­tor James Wan is feel­ing a lit­tle more pres­sure than he orig­i­nally thought he might, and not just be­cause his lat­est job in­volves jour­ney­ing many leagues un­der the sea. not only is there the chal­lenge of bring­ing some­thing live­lier to the DC sta­ble, he’s got to do it with arthur Curry (Game Of Thrones vet­eran Ja­son mo­moa); a su­per­hero who, to the wider world at least, is some­thing of a joke in the comics. When he sits down to talk in los an­ge­les’ swanky lon­don ho­tel, it’s a few days be­fore Wan will un­veil the long­est por­tion of footage he’s shown the world to a de­mand­ing au­di­ence of the faith­ful at Comic-Con. But he’s not sweat­ing it, even if Aqua­man is a very dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion now to when he took the job. “i thought that i’d make a movie that was un­der the radar, and no one would care about the guy who talks to fish!” Wan laughs, shrug­ging off the idea that he has to be part of the so­lu­tion for DC’s prob­lem. “i’m not here to save any­thing, i’m here to make the movie i want to make, have fun with it, and hope fans and the masses come along with me on this jour­ney. What­ever hap­pens, hap­pens!” Wan is a di­rec­tor of hor­ror and low-bud­get indies in­clud­ing the Saw films and the ever-ex­pand­ing Con­jur­ing uni­verse, which has thus far spawned two main movies and three spin-offs (the first two he directed, the rest he pro­duced) with a com­bined world­wide haul to date of more than $1.5 bil­lion. his abil­ity to hop gen­res – he also han­dled the hit sev­enth en­try in the Fast & Fu­ri­ous fran­chise – and his fa­cil­ity for crowd pleas­ing made him a can­di­date to han­dle one of the hopes for DC’s fu­ture. the film, which Wan was de­vel­op­ing in the days be­fore Bat­man bat­tled su­per­man and the Jus­tice league as­sem­bled, ex­plores arthur Curry’s past and sets up his fu­ture, re­veal­ing how his mother, Queen at­lanna (ni­cole Kid­man), washed up on the rocks near his fa­ther’s (temuera mor­ri­son) light­house one stormy night. love grows, a child is born, but then the forces of at­lantis, at­lanna’s for­mer home, come to re­trieve her. young arthur grows up know­ing only frag­ments of his liq­uid lin­eage and with a se­ri­ous grudge against the ocean dwellers. oh, and the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with

fish, whales and other oceanic crea­tures. But a ma­jor threat from his ri­val and half-brother orm (Wan reg­u­lar Pa­trick Wil­son) fi­nally draws him home, aided by driven at­lantean mera (am­ber heard), who has lit­tle time for arthur’s gruff yet jokey ways.

FISH OUT OF WA­TER

While the Fast film had given Wan a taste of big-bud­get work, this was some­thing else again, a story to be wo­ven into the wider ta­pes­try of an ex­ist­ing, in­ter­con­nected world. and yet, as he ex­plains it, the di­rec­tor didn’t face too many re­stric­tions: “i’ve never had this much free­dom in any of the movies i’ve made be­fore. it’s awe­some,” he chuck­les. “you al­ways hear about, when you do low-bud­get films, you get the free­dom to do what you want, but you never have the money to do it. and then you do the big-bud­get film and you have the money, but not the free­dom. i feel like with this one, i’m get­ting the best of both worlds. i’ve got no one to blame down the line!”

all the same, there were other movies to keep in mind, with aqua­man in­tro­duced briefly in Bat­man V Su­per­man and play­ing a more sub­stan­tial (if still only sup­port­ing) part in DC’s team-up Jus­tice League. Was there any­thing he needed to fig­ure out be­fore em­bark­ing on this film? “there were two as­pects i said to Zack [sny­der] and the stu­dio early on that i wanted them to please stay away from, and one of them was go­ing to at­lantis. my hero blames at­lanteans for what hap­pened to his mother, so he’s re­fused to go there. But i wanted him to go for the first time in my movie. i want to show the au­di­ence at­lantis through the point of view of my lead char­ac­ter.

“the other one is i wanted to fi­nally in­tro­duce the clas­sic aqua­man cos­tume. i’m not just do­ing it for my own ego’s sake, i’m do­ing it be­cause it’s such an in­te­gral part of the sto­ry­line, and so if they had done that, it would have screwed with the movie i wanted to tell. and Zack was su­per re­spect­ful about that.” yes, as seen in the trailer, you can ex­pect to see mo­moa slip into aqua­man’s iconic green/gold suit in the course of the story. and prob­a­bly make a wise­crack about it.

it was mo­moa’s sense of hu­mour and over­all per­son­al­ity that Wan wanted to truly high­light, some­thing he rarely got a chance to ex­press in Jus­tice League. “i sat down with him early on and said, ‘mov­ing for­ward, i want to see more of you in there. you’re so cool and likeable and goofy, i want all of that in the film!’ i want him to be more three-di­men­sional and not just a tough guy. Ja­son can do that, it’s a given. But to show that he can be a ro­man­tic lead, that he can de­liver comic lines with tim­ing, that’s im­por­tant.” Wan’s model for what he wanted was Kurt rus­sell’s Jack Bur­ton from Big Trou­ble In Lit­tle China, a man with clear brawl­ing abil­i­ties who is just a tick be­hind when it comes to danger­ous sit­u­a­tions.

OCEAN BLUES

even as he looked to other movie archetypes for the hero’s jour­ney, Aqua­man’s vis­ual style is in­spired by the work of some­one con­sid­ered a homegrown hero in the Uk. stand back, su­per­gran. Bad news, Cap­tain Bri­tain… We mean David at­ten­bor­ough. “i watched a lot of Blue Planet, Planet Earth, all of that,” Wan ad­mits, cit­ing Jaws as an­other touch­stone.

“What­ever we can cook up, that’s noth­ing com­pared to how beau­ti­ful mother na­ture is, or how ter­ri­fy­ing it can be as well. one thing i wanted to cap­ture in the movie is the magic and won­der­ment of the un­der­wa­ter world, but also how scary it is.”

fright­en­ing might come easy to a man who’s un­leashed venge­ful spir­its, de­monic nuns and mer­ci­less tor­tur­ers upon char­ac­ters and au­di­ences, but it would also be a good word for the sheer amount of ef­fects work needed to bring this film to life, from hang­ing his ac­tors in har­nesses to sim­u­late wa­ter scenes to vast vis­tas of blue screen to be re­placed by the seven King­doms. “i joke that half the time i’m mak­ing an an­i­mated movie. i’m mak­ing Find­ing Nemo, re­ally!” Wan smiles. it’s all in aid of tak­ing arthur and cin­ema­go­ers some­where dif­fer­ent in terms of the genre. “We’ve seen lots of su­per­hero movies where they deal with a threat from outer space, an­other di­men­sion, or god knows where,” Wan points out. “But we’ve rarely seen the threat that is be­neath our nose.

We’ve ex­plored space more than we have the ocean’s depths. that’s what’s amaz­ing, not know­ing what is down there. the idea of all these dif­fer­ent civil­i­sa­tions there that we never see is just awe­some. to make a movie that looks and feels like it be­longs in mid­dle-earth, like a fan­tasy world, but on earth, that was cool.” at­lantis has an es­tab­lished look, but with the free­dom he had, Wan knew he wanted to go in an­other di­rec­tion. “in the comic books, at­lantis is very old-school, very an­cient rome or Greco in its de­sign, clas­si­cal,” he ex­plains. “and i’m think­ing in my story when at­lantis sank, they built a new at­lantis on top of that. and so from out of the old, the new sprung and you get this su­per high-tech world. they’re so deep down, they don’t build hor­i­zon­tally, they build ver­ti­cally. traf­fic goes up and down, they’re not so bound by grav­ity.”

But all that spec­ta­cle is so much seaweed draped win­dow dress­ing if you don’t be­lieve in the story, and Wan cred­its his di­rec­to­rial his­tory with re­mind­ing him what’s re­ally im­por­tant. “i learned mak­ing hor­ror movies that you need to cre­ate char­ac­ters peo­ple care about so that when scary stuff starts to hap­pen, you’re afraid with them,” he says. “and i feel like that ap­plies to any genre.” like his lead­ing man, part of that char­ac­ter build­ing will be ex­pressed through the movie’s hu­mour. Wan promises to bring the funny, which, as with Won­der Woman, will be a re­fresh­ing change from the dour tone and slightly forced at­tempt at gags in the likes of Jus­tice League. Just don’t ex­pect sub­tlety all the time. “there was a se­quence be­fore a bat­tle where he’s hav­ing a meal and eat­ing the gross­est thing, say­ing, ‘once i be­come king i’ll try to find a way to bring a steak down here.’ stuff like that plays up the sil­lier side of things. i don’t have too much of it, but i want to re­tain as­pects that make it funny. one of the jokes i kept try­ing to get in there is ‘how does he go to the toi­let?’ maybe we’ll find out in the se­quel!” Well, as the ap­par­ent heir to rule at­lantis, he is sup­posed to be tak­ing a throne…

Aqua­man is in cin­e­mas from 14 De­cem­ber.

Right­Move be­gan ad­ver­tis­ing or­nate un­der­wa­ter palaces.

Just try to re­mem­ber that fish are friends...

Play­ing a mer­woman is easy af­ter play­ing a Step­ford Wife.

Pa­trick Wil­son tries and fails to be men­ac­ing with a man-bun.

Aqua­man steps into his clas­sic cos­tume for the first time.

This beat wait­ing for the ferry to pick him up.

Arthur and Mera team up to save the oceans.

Dji­mon Houn­sou plays the steely Fish­er­man King.

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