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Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Director James Wan on Making His Movie as a Standalone and His Transition into Producing

Director James Wan already had experience within the world of franchises after directing 2015’s Furious 7 before he was brought on to direct 2018’s Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, which managed to rack up $1.4 billion worldwide. Movies with that kind of success don’t go without sequels, and so, Wan has spent the last few years making Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Momoa returns as the King of Atlantis with Patrick Wilson back as his brother Orm aka Ocean Master, Nicole Kidman back as his mother Atlanna, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II returning as Black Manta, but it’s coming out at a time when superhero movies seem to be on a downturn, going by the showings for The Flash earlier this year and The Marvels. Can the Aquaman sequel surpass the downturn that has struck the genre?

Above the Line had a chance to conduct an extremely brief interview with Wan, without having actually seen the movie, so here’s that interview.

Jason Momoa in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (Warner Bros.)

Above the Line: You’re no stranger to sequels, so was there any trepidation about doing one for Aquaman, since there are so many more moving parts involving the DC Universe, all the VFX, etc?

James Wan: Well, let me tell you. It definitely helped for me to go off and do a palate cleanser movie before I come back to this world again. That was the reason why I went off and did Malignant, because it afforded me the chance to break away from a visual effects heavy film to go do something a bit more practical before I come back to the second film. I know my movies have spawned franchises that have spawned multiple, many sequels, but I’ve usually only made one sequel, Insidious 2 and Conjuring 2,and now, obviously, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. It wasn’t that hard for me to come back to do this one, because I really approach these two Aquaman films, like one is a part A and the other one’s a part B, and really two films. I think you can put them back to back, side by side, and watch them as one big movie, if you will. So that was easy. I knew how I wanted to continue with the characters in the second movie after what happened at the end of the first one.

ATL: At one point do you sit down with Jason and the screenwriter, presumably on Zoom cause of Covid, to try to figure out what you all might want to do?

Wan: Early actually. We all sat down early on. Jason had some ideas and thoughts, story points and how he wanted to play certain things. We just sat down, and we all just sort of talk amongst ourselves about how we want to grow the characters, how we want to continue to explore the world, and what the second movie can be. So it was a pretty early process.

ATL: Were you actually shooting during COVID or started before COVID?

Wan: It was after COVID, but it was at the height of it. It was after the lockdown, and so the COVID protocol was relentless. It was exhausting just to make such a big movie and then constantly every day wearing masks and protective gears and all that. It’s hard. As a director, I want my actors to read my expression, to read me as I give them direction, so it’s kind of hard to do that with nothing.

ATL: I know with the first movie, you kind of cherry-picked things from the Geoff Johns comics, but was that the case with this movie, were you still trying to get things from the comics, or were you more branching off what you set up in the first movie?

Wan: We definitely were inspired by the comic, but for the second one, we were very much inspired by the Silver Age comics, the stories from the ’50s, ’60s, during the early era where the main storyline was much broader. In those early day stories where the brother Orm, he would be an antagonist to Arthur, but then in other stories, he also be somewhat of an antihero as well. He would help Arthur out on other stuff, so we were playing with that story, because ultimately, we knew that we wanted Black Manta to be the main villain in this one.

Patrick Wilson on set with James Wan (Warner Bros.)

ATL: While you’re in the middle of finishing this movie, James Gunn — who I’m sure you’ve known for ages — comes along and is given the keys to the overall DC kingdom. At what point, do you have a conversation with him? Had you already shot everything? Are there conversations?

Wan: The movie was kind of already in the can; we were already deep in post-production. The good thing that I generally like to point out is … the great thing about my Aquaman films is that they really live within their own universe. Whatever is happening, what they’re doing, it doesn’t really affect the movie that we’re making. That was really my plan early on, which I guess ultimately, I became very thankful for, because whatever they’re doing, doesn’t affect us. That’s obviously one of the main concerns when you’re making a movie within a greater universe is just if things were to shift and change, how much your project could be affected. Luckily, all my stories — these two films — take place in this fantasy world that are not part of the greater DC Universe, if you will, and so that just allow us to focus on our own film.

ATL: You’ve been producing for a long time, but you seem to be shifting even more into producing at this point. Do you see yourself stepping away from directing a bit to focus on some of these other projects you’re working on with other filmmakers?

Wan: Yeah, I think so. The last decade, I’ve been going pretty hard at it from a directing perspective, and directing is just so all-consuming. It just eats up every waking hour of my day. It takes up all my mental space and my mental health. It wrote my mental health to quite a big degree. I’ve considered moving further and further away from directing just maybe focusing more on producing, focusing on Atomic Monster, my company.

ATL: The Night Swim trailer was great, and I’ve seen it with audiences a few times, so that’s the next thing coming up on that front?

Wan: Yeah, that’s the next thing that we’ve got coming out, and we’ve got other stuff as well. I actually do enjoy taking on a more sort of statesman-like kind of role, potentially moving forward, just sort of helping upcoming filmmakers to get the chance to make their films.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom opens nationwide on Friday, Dec. 22 with previews on Thursday night.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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