Australian filmmaker James Wan made a splash in cinema when his debut feature film Saw arrived at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. That film went on to spawn an eight-movie horror franchise that has made $976.3 million worldwide and Wan would go on to kick-start even more staples of modern movies and put his finger prints on even more fan-favorite franchises. Wan would later start the Insidious franchise with Blumhouse in 2010, debut the first chapter in the now billion dollar Conjuring franchise in 2014, and directed Furious 7, the highest grossing entry in the fuel-injected franchise with $1.5 billion worldwide, in 2015. Now, he’s rolled up his sleeves and he’s digging into the DCEU.
Though Zack Snyder spearheaded the entire effort with Man of Steel and expanded it with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the thing that brought Wan to the project was how he could make the movie his own.
“I feel like the good thing about having something that isn’t really established is I get the opportunity to kind of set the world, set the tone, and set the flavor for who this guy is and the world that he lives in,” Wan tells us after a long day on the set of Aquaman. “I think what I liked most about this character, and actually what Jason Momoa brings to it, is the idea that this is a guy who’s kind of trapped between two worlds. He doesn’t feel like he belonged in the surface world, but he doesn’t feel like he belongs in the world of Atlantis as well…It gives him more color than just a very clean cut superhero, right? And he’s not just sort of out there to just defeat bad guys strictly for that.”
Wan first became attached to the Aquaman movie back in 2015 and was with the project so long that rumors frequently circulated he would depart it. The director tells that he didn’t exactly have a Eureka moment that set a light off in his head about the film, but that a steady progression through the development is what convinced him he needed to make this movie.
“I thought about it and I enjoyed the idea of potentially tackling a superhero movie, but I definitely enjoyed it even more, the idea of doing one that no one’s seen before. That that was the biggest thing for me, was if I were to do a superhero film I want to do one that no one’s seen before – something that’s fresh, that’s something that’s new, and the chance to do that with a character like Aquaman, and the world that it takes place in, was ultimately what made me super excited to jump into it.”
Even though Wan was adament about creating an entire new corner of both the DCEU and superhero movies as a whole, he acknowledges that part of the heavy lifting of the Aquaman movie was done by Zack Snyder himself in simply casting Jason Momoa.
“This is a stroke of genius on Zack’s behalf, right? This is Zack’s casting,” Wan says. “He saw something in Jason, and he’d go, ‘You know, what? If I put Jason in this, no one’s ever going to make fun of Aquaman ever again.’ And I think that’s super great. It’s not easy. Jason works very hard to to stay in shape, and he’s very disciplined about it.”
Though he’s following in the footsteps of what Snyder set up in both Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Wan has made sure to make Aquaman as different from the other DC heroes on the big screen.
“I’ve been very cautious about doing is making sure that he isn’t Superman. From a story standpoint there’s a reason why Aquaman ultimately is powerful. He’s strong because, like most Atlanteans, their bodies are built to withstand thousands of pounds of pressure. So when they come up to the surface world their body can withstand really strong pressure. Where bullets literally bounce off the Man of Steel, bullets can graze these guys and maybe break the skin, and break the flesh, but it doesn’t necessarily penetrate because they their muscle mass and their body mass is much more dense. Even within the world of superheroes I try to find a reason for why how he is the way he is. So he can get beaten up. When he goes up, surface world weapons may have a hard time taking him down, but Atlantian technology can cripple him for sure. It can really destroy him.”
We were told on set that Wan’s ideas for the Aquaman are a precise recipe. In the DNA of Aquaman can be found pieces of Romancing the Stone, Casablance, Rear Window, Raiders of the Lost Arc, and naturally, Star Wars. Naturally Wan has also managed to find a place for his horror roots to come in handy with the film. He didn’t set out to make sure that was included, it just happened because there’s something in the ocean that scares everyone.
“People are terrified of the ocean because they don’t know what’s down there. There’s all these creatures that live down in the ocean that are dangerous to humans….I want to capture the fear that we have of the ocean, the scariness, but at the same time the magical and wonder that comes with it as well..My story for this film, our heroes go on this rite of passage journey, on this quest, and along the way they meet all sorts of fun creatures of the deep, let’s say. Creatures of the deep that Lovecraft would be proud of.”
James Wan’s Aquaman will dive into theaters on December 21.