As Warner Bros. prepares for the release of Aquaman in December, the DC cinematic universe finds itself at a crossroads.
June 2017’s Wonder Woman was hailed as a masterpiece, and broke box office records, while November 2017’s Justice League was savaged by critics, and became the franchise’s lowest-grossing entry yet.
Now all eyes fall on Aquaman, and everyone wants to know: will it sink or swim?
Yahoo Movies UK visited the film’s Australian set in 2017, before the release of Justice League, to try to get a handle on Aquaman, which was described by producer Peter Safran as “one of the biggest movies anyone’s ever done.”
Here’s what we learned from the cast and crew about DC’s riskiest venture yet.
It’s not the Aquaman you remember
Aquaman has long been the butt of the jokes in the comic book world. There are several episodes of The Big Bang Theory dedicated to roasting the subaquatic superhero, and a subplot of Entourage revolves around an Aquaman movie, which – at the time – was a joke aimed at Hollywood’s superhero fixation in itself.
But now, the real thing is happening with Jason Momoa in the lead role. It was Zack Synder’s decision to flip the script on the character who’s classically portrayed as a blonde-haired blue-eyed goodie two shoes, and one look at him on set, in character, tells you it was Snyder’s best call yet.
— Aquaman Movie (@aquamanmovie) July 16, 2018
The 6ft 4 half-Hawaiian native is as far removed from the golden era comics Aquaman imaginable, and not just physically. Between takes he wanders the set, strumming at a guitar, looking like Jesus, if Jesus was a tattooed quarterback, who never skips leg day
“Jason is a very tough, strong-looking guy, and there’s no doubt about that,” explains director James Wan, “Which, I think, is such a stroke of genius on Zack’s behalf, to cast someone like Jason Momoa, who is so against type of who we’re used to seeing is Aquaman.
“Aquaman is like the joke of the comics book world and so by casting Jason Momoa, you will not be laughing at this dude.”
This is Aquaman’s origin story
Although he was properly introduced in Justice League following a brief cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Aquaman is DC’s chance to tell the full story of Aquaman, AKA Arthur Curry. We’ll learn about who is, who is family is, where he’s come from, and – ultimately – his destiny, as the King of Atlantis.
However, when the film begins he’s still very much a man split between two worlds.
“I kinda compare him to being like the Wolverine,” Momoa explains between takes. “He’s just very by himself, he doesn’t want any help. He lives in the tides. He’s not accepted on land, he’s not accepted under water.”
“People on the surface world don’t quite trust him because he’s Atlantean and the people of Atlantis don’t trust him either because they see him as a surface-dweller,” explains Wan.
Part of the reason he feels disconnected from the underwater kingdom is that he blames the Atlanteans for disappearance of his mother (more on that in a minute).
“In this movie we actually go soup-to-nuts on who he is all the way to the end where he’s King of Atlantis. Where he becomes what we know in the full-on costume and that,” adds production designer Bill Brzeski.
“It’s your basic origin story for a superhero movie, which are the best ones to do.”
It opens with a flashback
When they talk about this being Aquaman’s origin story, they’re not kidding. The film will chart the life of Arthur Curry, right from his conception. The film opens with a flashback to the moment Arthur’s father Thomas Curry (Once Were Warriors’ Temuera Morrison) meets Aquaman’s mother Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman.
It’s a classic Little Mermaid tale, with the humble fisherman falling for the underwater queen. The couple have a child and a happy relationship, but it ends with Atlanna abandoning young Arthur, which gives the young superhero serious mummy (and daddy) issues.
In another flashback (one of the few scenes shot in actual water) we also see Arthur discovering his powers as a young boy. On a boating trip with friends, young Arthur is dared to dive down to a shipwreck, but when he gets trapped he seemingly drowns.
When he takes his first gulp of water, he begins to realise his powers, and his journey to becoming Aquaman begins in earnest.
Two-thirds of Aquaman takes place underwater
Unsurprisingly, for a film about an aquatic hero, two-thirds of the film will take place under water. However, while we were on set, the closest we came to any body of H2O was a trip to the water cooler.
The filmmakers have wisely decided to shoot dry for wet, that is using state-of-the-art VFX technology to shoot the actors on wires, and making them look like they’re underwater using CGI.
“Five years ago you could not have made this movie, it would have been cost-prohibitive,” explains producer Peter Safran. “The ability to shoot dry for wet is a relatively recent situation.”
“Our rigging guys, our stunt guys, it was a lot of research and development over many months with them, using different versions of things that had been used in the past, and tweaking them to make them work for us. So we used something called ‘the tuning fork’ which was a very long rod with a fork at the end of it that picks at the hips of the actors, and it’s balanced, it’s got a balance point, so you can have a gentle floating.”
It’s Amber Heard’s Mera, who is betrothed to Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) who convinces Aquaman to head beneath the waves and confront his past. This opens up a rich world beneath the sea, that Jason Momoa describes as “Star Wars underwater”.
It’s Game of Thrones meets Romancing the Stone
The filmmakers behind Aquaman are aiming to create a film that stands apart from its predecessors, setting it apart from the dour worlds of Man of Steel and Justice League, and it sounds more in line tonally with Wonder Woman than Suicide Squad.
“I’m just trying to find the spirit of all the classic old swashbuckling pirate films,” explains Wan.
“From Romancing the Stone to Raiders of the Lost Ark to all that kind of stuff where your two leading characters are not on the same page to begin with.”
The comparison to the classic 1984 comedy adventure Romancing The Stone is one we hear often on set, and it seems apt considering the relationship we see between Mera and Aquaman. Mera wants to recruit Aquaman to return to the underwater realm in order to unite the seven underwater kingdoms, which sets them off on a quest across the globe, where they’re both fishes out of water – pun intended.
Standing in their way is Aquaman’s half-brother Orm, who wants to wage war on the land-dwellers in revenge for the pollution of the oceans. He also needs to unite the realms to make it happen, paving the way for inter-family battles, Game of Thrones style.
These touchstones, combined with the neon-tinged concept art we saw on set leads us to believe that Aquaman could be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: of the same world, but unlike anything you’ve seen before, and straight-up funny.
Come back tomorrow for more from our Aquaman set visit to learn more about Mera, Orm, Aquaman’s mentor Volko, and his mysterious nemesis Black Manta.
Aquaman comes to cinemas 14 December.
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