Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is not only the sequel to the first Aquaman film, that made over $1.15 billion in the box office, but it also marks the official end of the DC Extended Universe. Director James Wan has played in the DCEU sandbox for over five years, since the first film went into production, and along with fellow director Zack Snyder, Wan was instrumental in reimagining the character of Aquaman.
Now, with the end of the current DC film universe upon us and a new one on the horizon (James Gunn’s DCU), I had the opportunity to chat with Wan about his upcoming film, the canceled Black Manta spin-off and his overall perspective on the DCEU.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom premieres December 20, 2023 in theaters.
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
POC CULTURE: You’ve talked about the challenge of being an Asian filmmaker coming out of Australia. Now you’re established and you have your own production company, Atomic Monster. What do you hope for the next generation of Asian filmmakers coming behind you?
JAMES WAN: I hope that some of the stuff that I’ve done…you know, like when I was growing up, I really didn’t necessarily see a lot of people like myself, at least not in the horror genre, which I love, at least not working in Hollywood. So, if anything, if they see me then they kind of know that they too can do it. And I really think the world is shifting and we are more willing, at least in this town, in Hollywood, people are more willing to take chances on anyone and everyone these days and that is great. So then it really comes down to you as an individual to make sure you have the goods to do what you need to do. The key here is, let’s get your foot through the door and now let’s show them that you have what it takes to be part of the next generation of filmmakers.
PC: Yeah and you helped blaze that trail. Now Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is unique because a lot of sequels to superhero films will change villains. But here we’ve got Yahya Abdul-Mateen II back as Black Manta. Why did you want to bring him back for this film?
JW: We kind of had a rough idea when we did the first movie that the main antagonist for Arthur’s hero’s journey needed to be someone that was family. And his half brother Orm was the correct one to be the main villain in that first movie. But any Aquaman fans out there, we all know that Black Manta is the number one arch-nemesis in the comic book world, and we knew that we wanted him to be the main villain in the second one. It really is about, with the first film, teeing him up, setting him up in a big way to take the rein as the villain in the second one. And yeah, we didn’t really bring a lot of new characters into this film. It’s pretty much everyone coming back, the same cast coming back, and continuing the journey that we started on the first film.
PC: I like that because we can get more depth on all the characters and you even revealed on your own Instagram account that there was going to be a Black Mana spin-off film, so was there anything that we can expect to see in this film that you drew from the concept of that spin-off?
JW: Basically we had a lot of really good ideas for that spin-off that ultimately didn’t happen, but I did not want to throw that stuff out, and so we we were able to work a lot of the character stuff into this script.
PC: Great. I can’t wait to see that on screen. Now with Arthur Curry, you talked about family, and we’re getting “Aqua-dad” in this film. Why is it important to show that stage in Arthur Curry’s life?
JW: You know, it’s a big part of his character’s arc I would say; for his character’s journey. We see him in the first movie as a single guy, kind of like not knowing where he fits into the world. He’s still kind of happy-go-lucky with his outlook on life. So it’s good to see his growth in the second movie from where he left off at the end of the first one. It just felt like, he met Mera, fell in love with her, and together they would create a family, just like the comic books. So it felt like we’re paying tribute to the old school comic book, but at the same time, it felt like the natural thing to expand on his story on his life in the film.
PC: And I think we’ve all grown since that last film, so I think that development is really going to resonate with the fans for this film. Now Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is the official end of the DCEU, which you played such a significant role in. As you look back retrospectively on your time, what’s going to be the enduring memory and emotion for you?
JW: Really for me, I try to…I’m looking at it from a very, sort of, philosophical positive perspective. Not many people get the opportunity to play in a world like this. And I just count my stars, I see myself as being very lucky to have had the chance to do something like that. And to make a movie, to work with a character, that’s never been done before to this level, right? Like Aquaman has never really hit the big screen to this level before, and so I feel very fortunate and that’s what I take away from all of this.
PC: You definitely made Aquaman cool, James. Thank you so much and I can’t wait to see the film.
JW: Ron, thank you so much. Appreciate it man. Talk again next time.
About Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom:
Director James Wan and Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa—along with Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Nicole Kidman—return in the sequel to the highest-grossing DC film of all time: “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
Having failed to defeat Aquaman the first time, Black Manta, still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman down once and for all. This time Black Manta is more formidable than ever before, wielding the power of the mythic Black Trident, which unleashes an ancient and malevolent force. To defeat him, Aquaman will turn to his imprisoned brother Orm, the former King of Atlantis, to forge an unlikely alliance. Together, they must set aside their differences in order to protect their kingdom and save Aquaman’s family, and the world, from irreversible destruction.
All returning to the roles they originated, Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry/Aquaman, now balancing his duties as both the King of Atlantis and a new father; Patrick Wilson is Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and his nemesis, who must now step into a new role as his brother’s reluctant ally; Amber Heard is Mera, Atlantis’ Queen and mother of the heir to the throne; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is Black Manta, committed more than ever to avenge his father’s death by destroying Aquaman, his family and Atlantis; and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, a fierce leader and mother with the heart of a warrior. Also reprising their roles are Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin.
Directed by Wan, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is produced by Peter Safran, Wan and Rob Cowan. The executive producers are Galen Vaisman and Walter Hamada.
The screenplay is by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, from a story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Jason Momoa & Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, based on characters from DC, Aquaman created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger.
Joining Wan behind-the-camera is his sterling team of “Aquaman” artisans: director of photography Don Burgess (“The Conjuring 2”), production designer Bill Brzeski (“Jumanji: The Next Level”), editor Kirk Morri (“Furious 7”), composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (“Wonder Woman”) and music supervisor is Michelle Silverman (“Malignant”). Visual effects supervisor Nick Davis (“The Clash of the Titans” films, “The Dark Knight”) and costume designer Richard Sale (“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Ready Player One”) also join.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents An Atomic Monster / A Peter Safran Production of A James Wan Film, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” set to open in theaters internationally beginning 20 December 2023 and in North America on December 20, 2023; it will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.