Directing 'Fast & Furious 7' taught James Wan how to portray family in 'Aquaman 2'

In the upcoming "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," the king of Atlantis is a family man.

Before we see any fight scenes and explosions in the first full-length trailer that dropped this week, Jason Momoa's DC character tenderly cradles and kisses his infant child. Later, Aquaman unites with his estranged half-brother, Orm, pulling him out of prison.

“In the first movie, Aquaman was a wanderer trying to still find out who he is,” said director James Wan, according to IGN. “But in this one, he ultimately becomes the king of Atlantis. He's a dad in this one, and he needs to reach out to his family member, the one that was his antagonist in the first movie, and they had to ultimately be a family together.”

It's no wonder that Wan turned to another famous unconventional onscreen family to get this superhero one right.

Read more: James Wan says Amber Heard's 'Aquaman 2' role was not minimized due to Johnny Depp trial

“I learned about family from 'Fast and Furious,'” Wan said this week during a Q&A, according to IGN. “The family aspect in this film was something that was very important for me, and you have Vin [Diesel] to thank for that.”

Wan referred to his time directing "Furious 7," the seventh installment of the "Fast & Furious" franchise. The franchise is known for its familial themes, and the seventh film more fully explored the emotional depths of familial bonds. Franchise star Paul Walker died unexpectedly in a car crash, halting production to change the film's direction to include his death in 2013 — the final cut had a poignant and iconic farewell to his character, Brian O'Conner, set to Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's hit song "See You Again."

In Wan's "Aquaman" sequel, family and the threat of losing it takes center stage. Now a father and husband, Aquaman's priorities have shifted. In the trailer, Black Manta, the main villain played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ("Candyman," "Watchmen"), vows to "kill Aquaman" and "murder his family."

Read more: I binged all 10 'Fast & Furious' movies. It was a messy, heartfelt love letter to our communities

During the 2018 "Aquaman" film Aquaman squared off against Orm, played by Patrick Wilson, who sought to unite the underwater kingdoms to destroy the world above water. In the sequel, which Wan called a "buddy comedy" and "a bromance movie," the brothers begin to heal their relationship's wounds as they team up against Black Manta.

“Arthur, Jason's character, is so much about the family dynamic," Wan said, "and we touched a bit on it in the first film with how he's always wanted to reach out to his younger brother and try and build a relationship. Well, he gets to do that in this film."

Read more: Amber Heard appears in 'Aquaman 2' trailer amid campaign to remove her from the movie

Aquaman's family in the sequel also includes Mera, played by Amber Heard, with whom he had his child after a budding romance in the first film. The inclusion of Heard's character has been a subject of debate since the first film due to onscreen chemistry issues between her and Momoa. The issue was exacerbated by her high-profile domestic abuse lawsuit trial in 2022 with her ex-husband, Johnny Depp.

Depp supporters launched an online campaign to remove Heard from "Aquaman 2." At press time, the virtual petition had received more than 4.6 million signatures.

Heard testified during the trial that she nearly lost her role in the “Aquaman” sequel due to the media firestorm surrounding her legal battles with Depp.

“I was given a script and then given new versions of the script that had taken away scenes that had action in it ... and they basically took a bunch out of my role,” Heard said during the trial. “They just removed a bunch out.”

Read more: In environmentally conscious ‘Aquaman,’ the villain has a point

However, the then-president of Warner Bros. Pictures, Walter Hamada, said in a video deposition that Heard was almost recast because of a lack of onscreen “chemistry” between her and Momoa — not because of the Depp controversy.

Wan addressed the issue this week, telling Entertainment Weekly that Heard's character was expected to receive a reduced role in the sequel "from the get-go," and that was part of his original pitch to DC.

"The first Aquaman was Arthur and Mera's journey. The second movie was always going to be Arthur and Orm," Wan said. "So, the first was a romance action-adventure movie, the second one is a bromance action-adventure movie. We'll leave it at that."

After much anticipation, Heard appeared briefly at the tail end of the "Aquaman 2" trailer. Her character is seen for a split second during a battle scene, punching a window.

Times staff writers Christi Carras and Carlos De Loera contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.