'Aquaman' director James Wan on reclaiming hero's rep, the film's environmental message, and that jaw-dropping trailer

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Superman is the heart of the Justice League, while Wonder Woman is the soul, and Batman is the mind. And Aquaman? Well, he’s historically been the punching bag, frequently derided by fans for his powers — talking to fish, really? — not to mention that garish orange costume.

Well, all of that changes now. The Aquaman trailer, which premiered Saturday at the San Diego Comic-Con, proves that DC’s aquatic hero has got plenty of blockbuster muscle. When Yahoo Entertainment spoke with Wan (watch our interview above), we asked him about how he wanted to go about reversing the long-held perception of Aquaman as a less-than-super superhero.

“The first thing you do is you cast Jason Momoa,” the Australian director laughs, acknowledging the dominating physical presence of the muscular actor. “That goes a long way. Try making fun of him to his face and see what happens.”

When Wan and his cast — including Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II — presented the trailer in Hall H to a roaring crowd of 6,000 fans, the director promised an experience that “plays more like a science-fiction fantasy film than a traditional superhero movie.”

That vision is certainly on display in the trailer, which brings the underwater metropolis of Atlantis to vivid life and also showcases elaborate action sequences that take place above and below sea level. A longer trailer — one specifically made for the Comic-Con crowd — showed off even more material, including a thrilling Jason Bourne-style rooftop chase where Aquaman and Mera (Heard) are pursued by Black Manta (Abdul-Mateen) and a battle sequence featuring rival armies mounted on monstrous sea horses and behemoth sharks.

In our conversation with Wan, he revealed some of the secrets behind making a movie where roughly half of the action takes place underwater — without actually submerging any of the actors.

“When we shoot, we [use] a technique we call ‘dry for wet.’ We shoot the actors against a blue screen, but they’re on this really cool device that the stunt department made up where the actors are on these rigs, but they can fly them around. It looks like they’re kind of swimming underwater.”

The Aquaman trailer also shows clips of the movie’s first big set-piece, which unfolds aboard a submarine. Unlike the dry-for-wet scenes, that vessel was built in a water tank, so Momoa did require the use of a towel afterwards. “We would submerge the set in a water tank so it would fill up and then we would raise it back up,” Wan says. “You can’t help but get wet.” The fact that Arthur wears jeans for that particular underwater exploit didn’t help matters. “Wet denim was a bad idea,” Momoa joked during the panel.

Apparently, fashion is one area where we can still make fun of Aquaman.

Aquaman swims into theaters on Dec. 21.

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