‘Aquaman’ Director Talks World Building & Establishing Atlantis For the First Time

Aquaman made a big impact in DC’s Justice League, but audiences still haven’t really seen Atlantis. Iconic locations like Gotham and Themiscyra have been shown multiple times, but James Wan’s upcoming Aquaman film will be the first time DC’s Atlantis is throughout fleshed out on the big screen.

During a visit to the editing bay, Wan acknowledged the “decades worth of amazing source material to pull from,” but reiterated that he wanted to bring everything together to make a movie with “[his] own sensibility.”

After directing the Saw and the Conjuring films, Wan has a bit of a reputation, so he promised some of the creatures will be scary. What really excites Wan about the movie is that it allows him “to kind of lean into how most people feel about the ocean” as he balances the “wonderous and magical” with the “scary and frightening.”

“I definitely got to create a massive world. I really think what has been really fun, and I think for movie goers not just the fan, is when they see this film they’re not just seeing a world of DC, they’re literally seeing a world within Aquaman itself. Just within the world of Aquaman, you know like creating the different kingdoms, the different world, the machines that drive the world, their transport, the animals that live in this underwater world and all that stuff. So I don’t think I’ve ever made a movie that’s so heavily designed to this extent and it was really awesome just being able to come up with really interesting things and just run with it. And when the film comes out I think you’ll see how crazy big it is.”

Atlantis is a lot more than just one underwater setting though. To properly establish Aquaman’s corner of the DC Universe, Wan dug into the history of the underwater kingdom. As Arthur Curry and Mera travel on a journey around the world in their attempt to save Atlantis from King Orm, they discover a host of information about the city’s past.

“It does two things for me. It allows me… so Arthur’s journey, Arthur and Mera’s journey, takes them to different these different kingdoms and all that. So what it does for me is it allows me to create, you know, the world creation movie that I’m going for here. Create the different look of the different kingdoms and the coolest thing about that is I get to create these sort of fantastical worlds, it’s not in another dimension, it’s not in outer space, it’s right here on our planet. And that’s what’s so cool about it is, it’s not Middle Earth, it’s here on our planet. So I get to really play into the design aspect of it that I really love and wanted to embrace, and the other thing that it allows me to do as well is it allows my lead hero to kind of see the different kingdoms. Seeing the different kingdoms and seeing how different people live kind of informs what kind of King he should eventually be. There’s also a character arc purpose to it besides us showing cool locations and I think it kind of allows me to kill two birds with one stone and it allows us to go on this really fun adventure journey story but all of it takes place here on Earth.”

King Orm, played by Conjuring star Patrick Wilson, is ready to wage war against the surface world. Wan, who wanted to make sure Orm felt relatable, intended for the audience to “understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.

While Wan said he didn’t want to be “too on the nose” with an environmental message, he doesn’t think “you can make a movie about a water hero and not kind of touch upon all the pollution we do as surface dwellers.” Part of Orm’s frustration comes from how little humans care about the planet.

“So in a lot of ways you somewhat sympathize with what the bad guy is doing and how he’s sick and tired of the crap and the disrespect we have for the whole planet. That’s kind of one of the cool things is how Atlanteans actually have a lot of respect for the planet.”

Directed by James Wan from a script written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, the film stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, Amber Heard as Mera, Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna.

Aquaman opens in theaters on December 21, 2018.