'Aquaman' Offers Promising, Comic Book-Driven Approach to Unique Movie Experience

Moments after sitting in a chair strumming a guitar while shirtless, Jason Momoa hops up onto an immersive set in character as the stubborn, sarcastic Arthur Curry. He hears a mightily important message, directing him to hunt for a trident which can unite the ocean's seven kingdoms, and he smashes it to pieces.

It's a humorous touch from director James Wan, known best for his horror efforts with titles such as The Conjuring, but a step in an evolutionary direction for Warner Bros. and DC Films. During ComicBook.com's visit to the Australian set of Aquaman, Momoa's Arthur Curry and Amber Heard's Mera gained their narrative burdens for the film, seeming to have touches of a heist movie with splashes of terrifying horror.

"I didn't set out to make a horror movie," Wan said. "That's not what this is about. It just so happens that you're dealing in a world that is beautiful, magical, but at the same time, you know, scary as well. People are terrified of the ocean because they don't know what's down there. There's all these creatures that live down in the ocean that are dangerous to humans."

At the same time, humans are dangerous to those animals, which is why Patrick Wilson's Orm the Ocean Master is seeking vengeance against those who have polluted his kingdom.

Aquaman is not a prequel of any kind, but it is an origin story for a character who has appeared on screen twice. After debuting in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and playing a much larger role in Justice League, the aquatic hero is being explored with his own outing this time around. More importantly, it is completely isolated from the previous endeavors.

"I feel like the good thing about having something that isn't really established is I get the opportunity to kind of set the world, set the tone, and set the flavor for who this guy is, and the world that he lives in," Wan said. "That's what we love about superheroes, right? We love that they represent the best part of who we want to be, right? What we strive for, and what we aspire to be. And I think what I liked most about this character, and actually what Jason Momoa brings to it, is the idea that this is a guy who's kind of trapped between two worlds. He doesn't feel like he belonged in the surface world, but he doesn't feel like he belongs in the world of Atlantis as well, the underwater world."

Aquaman_Set
(Photo: Warner Bros.)

Loaded with impressive visuals, Aquaman will give the world its first look on Saturday during a Hall H presentation at San Diego Comic-Con. With Warner Bros. aiming to win the weekend with Shazam! and Wonder Woman 84 possibly coming with it, the film which will take place underwater for about two-thirds of its run time will be a major player in redefining the canon's future and its own titular hero.

"You can’t sit down and have a beer with Superman, you know what I mean?" Momoa said. This character is in no way a joke or someone to be taken lightly. "I wanted Aquaman definitely to be that guy. He’s blue collar. I mean the whole thing about him, I wanted him blue collar, he’s raised with his dad, worked on bikes, worked on old cars with his father and at a certain age he’s given this gift. He doesn’t know how to deal with it. His dad doesn’t want him in the water, ‘cause he doesn’t want him taken away. The only thing he does know is that his mother was killed. He wants nothing to do with these people. F---ing hates ‘em."

And he's not coming to the party alone. Amber Heard's Mera will make a splash as a strong, witty, and independent hero countering Momoa's sometimes brutish character.

"She’s a leader. She has integrity," Heard said. "Her and Arthur are very different, in fact, that’s part of what causes a lot of, you know, they don’t necessarily fit at the beginning. They’re constantly going back and forth and they earn this relationship with one another throughout the film as they learn to respect each other, given their vastly different approaches to life. Mera, for instance, unlike Arthur, has a very solid constitution, a strong sense of self, who she is, what her role is, what her position is. And the sense of duty and honor that she uses to approach all of the situations of her life is one that I respect and really like, and I admire that."

Whereas many blockbusters have become globetrotting action flicks, Aquaman might be reinventing the concept. Concept art in a packed war room showed off mesmerizing locations, ranging from real world spots like the Boston Aquarium to the underwater kingdom of the Trench, which will offer a dark and possibly terrifying tone in itself to the film. In a market where films offering originality (such as Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 or a year later) become the most beloved of the year, Aquaman is aiming to make a similar splash.

While elements of Aquaman seems to be comparable to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Indiana Jones (an already successful recipe of roots) in underwater setting, Wan is also crafting something which appears to be wholly original. Perhaps that is why it was so important to the director that he was able to introduce Atlantis to the movie-going world rather than allowing it to have been established in a previous film.

It's a film relying heavily on special effects for underwater armies featuring obedient armored sharks. Still, Aquaman is also built on practical sets and props, including prop guns bearing resemblance to weapons from Halo, along with swords and other weapons given colors and textures to match the film's underwater scheme.

Perhaps most importantly, Aquaman is fully embracing its comic book roots.

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"I think that the New 52 version of Aquaman was definitely our touchstone and our starting point," Aquaman producer Peter Safran said. "And even though the film is not a direct adaptation of that, that was certainly, in terms of his origin, who he is; that Tom Curry is his father and Atlanna is his mother, who Orm is, etcetera. That all comes from the New 52. And, there are certainly creature elements from it, from the Trench. So, that was our biggest influence.

Aquaman hits theaters on December 21, 2018. For more details from ComicBook.com's visit to the film's set, check out ComicBook.com/DC or follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter!