Thirteen years ago, the thought of an Aquaman movie was a running punchline throughout the second season of Entourage. This was still three years before the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the thought of then B or C-list superheroes headlining their own films was still pretty outlandish. So then here’s poor Aquaman, a superhero that has no chance of his own movie, being a wink-wink joke – directed by James Cameron, no less – over the course of 14 episodes.
The “two James,” as James Wan puts it, is not lost on Aquaman‘s actual, real-life director. Obviously the superhero landscape has changed immensely since 2005, but it’s still, as Wan told us, pretty “fucking funny.”
In Wan’s Aquaman, Jason Momoa reprises his role as Arthur Curry, basically a bit of a drifter who likes to drink booze and, from time to time, will help out a floundering sea vessel. His dad (Temuera Morrison) is a surface dweller, and his mother (Nicole Kidman), an Atlantean, has long since vanished. When he learns of his half-brother King Orm’s (Patrick Wilson) plan to declare war on the surface, Arthur is persuaded by Mera (Amber Heard) to finally journey to Atlantis to take the crown for himself. This movie is quite the spectacle. It has the feel of a throwback film set in outer space, only it’s at the bottom of the ocean.
Also, Wan has a secret weapon: one of the coolest looking villains to hit the screen in some time, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
Black Manta is hired by Orm to basically wreak havoc, and part of that havoc is a non-CGI, fully practical costume that has a rocket pack. It’s almost impossible to look at Black Manta and not be reminded of Boba Fett. And, as it turns out, there’s a reason for that, as Wan explains below. (And if you’re a fan of Aquaman’s octopus friend, Topo, well you’re also going to be very happy.)
I’m disappointed the Aquaman poster doesn’t say “From the director of Saw.”
[Laughs] That’s what they should do. Listen, I’ve been pushing marketing to try that rap.
To really let parents know, “This is kid-friendly.”
It is a kid-friendly movie!
It is. And Topo is in this movie.
Are you familiar with the comic book?
I am. But Topo looks a little different in the movie than he does in the comics.
Well, he has to, right? I have to do the cool version of Topo!
He looks much bigger.
He is much bigger, yes. I can’t do the Silver Age comic version. He’ll be serving trays of food and stuff. That would be too much.
Right in the middle of a serious scene, here comes Topo delivering a sandwich.
Yeah, that’d be a bit too silly.
Black Manta kind of plays the Jango Fett role in this movie, his suit aesthetically looks cool like Jango Fett, and Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett, plays Aquaman’s dad.
Firstly, I want to say that it was a tricky one. The main plot of the movie is really about getting Arthur to the throne of Atlantis, right? And he goes, in the end, this crazy, wild journey in this roundabout way to get to the throne of Atlantis. So by that very nature, I know going into this that the main antagonist would have to be King Orm. But I sort of wrestle with that, whether to have Black Manta in this film, or not have him in this film. But I knew that if I don’t put Black Manta in this film, the fans will riot. And fans love Black Manta, and he’s such a big part of the Aquaman Canon.
Even if people don’t read Aquaman comics, they knew Black Manta from stuff like Challenge of the Superfriends.
And he’s such a cool-looking character, as you just pointed it out. So my job then was, okay, how do I do this? I don’t want to have two villains. I’m not that kind of filmmaker. I don’t need to have two villains.
Because when we think two villains, we think of something like Venom and Sandman in Spider-Man 3 who don’t have much to do with one another.
Yeah, exactly. And I did not want that. So I knew that whatever Black Manta’s doing, and what Orm’s doing, they all have the same purpose, right? They’re all working towards the same goal. And that was the only way I could sort of come to terms in my head if I consolidate who they are and their actions. In doing so, Black Manta is a secondary character, obviously. And that’s something I’ve tried to get out there so people are not expecting Black Manta to be the main villain. And in a lot of ways it is actually his origin story, right?
He basically is like a Boba Fett Or Jango Fett. At first, he’s just a gun for hire and doesn’t have much of an opinion on Aquaman…
Until later, until their paths cross, right?
Right. And then he has good reason to hate Aquaman.
He has a very strong primal reason for hating Aquaman. Going into this, Geoff Johns, he pitched to me Black Manta is Boba Fett meets Darth Vader.
Yeah, that’s what he said to me. So it’s not a coincidence that you feel that way.
Is that when you decided, “Well, let’s actually cast Boba Fett in this movie”?
[Laughs] Do you mean Jango Fett?
Well, technically, Boba Fett is a clone, so…
Technically he’s the same. A clone, okay, alright.
And Temuera Morrison now voices Boba Fett in the movies and in the video games.
But that wasn’t my reason. I cast him because of Temuera Morrison, he’s an amazing actor. And, obviously, he looks like Momoa. And I needed the father character, too, that really gives me the look between Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman. We get Jason Momoa, right?
So the Boba Fett part is all a fun coincidence.
It’s still cool, though.
It was cool. And it was cool to talk to him about his time on Star Wars. That was fun.
But incorporating Black Manta in this first movie seems different than what a lot of movies do now, saving the arch-enemy for the second movie and only revealing him or her in a mid-credit scene.
Otherwise, it’s just gonna seem like, “You know, you sort of touch on this guy, and you sort of barely even use him.” And stuff like that. But obviously, I didn’t want to use him too much, either, necessarily. I want to leave him just enough for the audience to get a taste of who this guy is. And then make them want more of him down the line. Listen, I just saw that fans want to see Black Manta. They want to see the big helmet, the big suit.
It’s so cool looking. Is it practical? It looks practical.
It’s practical! I have pictures here on my phone I can show you. Just go through it. [Wan shows me the pictures on his phone.] Here, let me show you. It’s not CGI. He’s the real dude. And I think it’s one of the things that if people have criticism about it, they kind of say, “Oh, you know, it’s silly,” and stuff like that.
It is not silly. They’re being dumb.
Well, I mean, I try to be true to the comic book and I try to find cool ways to show something.
And you put a Jaws line in there.
“We’re gonna need a bigger helmet.” Well, that is a Jaws line, but that’s one that, when I watch the movie with an audience, half the audience, the general public, would be quiet. But then the other half who are fans and know the character totally get the reference. Like, he’s always a big helmet. And they love it. And the other half is like, “What? What are you guys laughing at?” And that’s kind of fun.
You’ve mentioned the bi-racial aspect is important to you.
Yes, that is an aspect of Aquaman that I think is important to the thematic sort of theme in the movie, right? In that here’s a guy, he’s bi-racial in the more sort of extreme way in that he’s half surface dweller, half Atlantean. And he’s guy who doesn’t kind of quite feel like he fits into either world. He’s a loner because of that. And then he goes through this hero’s journey with Mera and he ends up discovering who he is. And he ends up realizing that it’s not a bad thing to be of two different cultures and he ends up embracing it. And he realizes he’s the best of both worlds. He gets the compassion from his father, but then he obviously has the powers of the Atlantean people. And then, from that, it makes him who he’s supposed to be.
Is it weird looking back that there was literally an entire season of Entourage devoted to this movie? In an ironic, this will never actually be a movie, type way?
To make fun of it.
Directed by James Cameron.
Cameron, I know. Like two James’ make the Aquaman movie!
You’re officially the new James Cameron.
It’s very appropriate. I don’t know what to say other than the fact that I think it’s fucking funny. The irony isn’t lost on me. And I hope the movie does as well as the fake Aquaman.
It beat Spider-Man. Even when there was a power outage.
Yikes. Yeah, let’s hope there isn’t a storm or something when Aquaman comes out around Christmas.
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