With their home base under new management, DC's superheroes have faced some extremely choppy waters at the box office this year. Beleaguered and overhyped, The Flash fizzled, becoming one of the summer's biggest bombs and might wind up costing parent company Warner Bros. Discovery upwards of $200 million. Despite solid reviews, Blue Beetle, originally conceived as a direct-to-Max movie, only managed a very mundane $114.6 million worldwide, while Shazam! Fury of the Gods was barely mortal, tallying a mere $133.8 million. That means there's a lot riding on the upcoming sequel Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom to turn the tide and send out the DC Extended Universe (aka the Synderverse) on a high note?
The first Aquaman film, released in 2018, was arguably DC’s most Marvel-like movie, and it also surpassed The Dark Knight and every other Batman flick to become the most successful DC superhero movie with $1.148 billion worldwide. Small wonder then that Warner Bros. made sure that star Jason Momoa, director James Wan and nearly the entire ensemble returned for the sequel. The stakes are high for the character's cinematic future, DC and Warner Bros.
On Wednesday in Burbank, Wan unveiled the first trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom for a select group, including Yahoo Entertainment. The clip, which was released to the public today (watch above), finds Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Mamoa) forced to team up with his half-brother and former adversary, Orm (Patrick Wilson), against the returning Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who now has the means to destroy Atlantis and get his revenge on Aquaman.
Wan took us inside The Lost Kingdom and offered some insights into what fans can expect when the film washes into theaters this December.
Black Manta and the Lost Movie
Abdul-Mateen's Black Manta was a secondary antagonist in the first movie who had a legitimate grudge against Aquaman for letting his father die. In the mid-credits scene, Black Manta vowed revenge on Arthur, and now his moment is finally at hand in the sequel. According to Wan, it was always the plan to elevate Black Manta into the primary villain role in The Lost Kingdom.
"If you're a big Aquaman fan or know the world of Aquaman, you obviously know that Black Manta is a big nemesis of Aquaman himself," said Wan. "He was sort of a glorified side character in the first one, but we knew that the second movie was where we were going to go into with him in a much bigger role."
The source of Black Manta's newfound might is the Black Trident, an ancient weapon that allows him to challenge Aquaman mano a mano.
"In the first movie, he's obviously a human," continued Wan. "But because he has stumbled on to the Lost Kingdom, he is now empowered in a way that he wasn't in the first film. So finally, [Black Manta is] able to go one-on-one with [Aquaman], who is a super human being.”
Additionally, Wan addressed the canceled Trench movie that would have brought back the cannibalistic sea creatures from the first film in a spinoff that was more horror-oriented. Wan, who is the architect of the Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, indicated that the actual plan for that project was to give Black Manta his own film, and some aspects of this story have not been abandoned.
"The Trench movie was going to be a secret Black Manta movie," said Wan. "We announced it as a Trench movie, but ultimately we wanted to surprise the fans because it was going to be a standalone Black Manta movie. When that didn't happen, some of those ideas found their way into this movie. ... We came up with a lot of really cool stuff that I felt we could use."
Bromancing the Stone
With Atlantis and possibly even the entire planet facing ruin at Black Manta’s hands, the trailer quickly reveals that Arthur frees his half-brother, Orm, from imprisonment to help save the day. Arthur also seems to be very sincere about building a bond with Orm, who remains antagonistic towards the man who deposed him from the throne of Atlantis. Regardless, Wan frames Lost Kingdom as a bromantic story between the two.
"I describe the first film as a romantic action adventure in the spirit of Romancing the Stone, with a romance between Arthur and Mera," noted Wan. "In the second one, the plan was always going to be that [Orm] was going to be a pseudo-antihero in this one. And I wanted to see the relationship between Jason and Patrick. These two are really great in the film, they've got [such] great chemistry and camaraderie that I describe the second one as a bromance. And it really is like Tango & Cash," he continued, referencing the 1989 Sylvester Stallone-Kurt Russell cult classic. "That's the spirit that we were going for."
"[Orm] was a bad guy in the first movie, and even though he's working with Arthur in this one, it's still very important to remember where he came from," added Wan. "There's still antagonism between the two of them throughout the whole movie, which is where some of the fun comes from to see the two of them bicker.”
Wan, who directed Furious 7 in 2015 while Momoa played the big bad in last summer's Fast X, jokingly credited the Fast and Furious films for The Lost Kingdom's focus on family.
"I learned about family from Fast and Furious, guys," he said. "You can see a bit of that played into this in a big, big way. There's a family aspect in this film, which is something that was very important to me. And you can have Vin [Diesel] to thank for that!"
Although the trailer establishes that Arthur has married and has a child, there are very few signs of his bride, Mera (Amber Heard). In fact, Mera is only glimpsed in the trailer for a few seconds while she is noticeably in distress. Wan didn't directly address whether Heard's seemingly diminished role was a result of the ongoing controversy surrounding her very public court battle with ex-husband Johnny Depp. But the director contended that Mera's smaller presence in this movie was in service to the story about the two half-brothers.
"Mera is a massive character in the comic book, and we want to be respectful to the character of Mera as well," explained Wan. "I want to be respectful to all of the characters in this and try to do everyone justice. But at the end of the day, I have this story to tell, but then I have so many other characters to service. I felt like I told the Arthur and Mera story in the first one, that I can just focus on Arthur and Orm in this one. Basically it's a journey movie with those two, and the other characters are peppered in."
(Among the journalists present for the trailer screening, the prevailing theory about Mera’s absence was that she was either captured or incapacitated. But it doesn't appear that Mera dies, because Arthur is far too jovial with Orm to be grieving over a recently deceased wife. Aquabro is many things, but he's not a sociopath.)
Long live the queen
If we were to judge by the trailer alone, we would guess that Aquaman's mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), was the female lead of the film. Atlanna is all over the trailer, and she's the one who appears to be telling Arthur about the threat that Black Manta's newfound abilities could pose to the entire world. Wan briefly shed some light on Atlanna's role, and described her as more of an advisor in this adventure.
"[Atlanna] plays like the right hand to the king in this one," noted Wan. "She is a motherly figure, but also a royal advisor as well just because there's a bit more politics within the world of Atlantis. Arthur is not really from that world, so he needs someone to help guide him."
The first film established that neither Arthur nor Orm grew up with their mother, because she had been imprisoned for years. Wan indicated that the sequel will further explore her relationship with both of her sons. But it may be harder for Atlanna to connect with Orm than with Arthur.
"It's kind of where we left off in the first one, where the mom has lots of love for her kids, but she feels that Orm was misguided and went down the wrong path," said Wan. "And she continues to want to give him the love that she felt she never had the chance to give him when [he was] growing up."
Will there be an Aquaman 3?
Although Wan seemed to downplay the possibility of returning to the franchise and helming a third Aquaman film now that James Gunn and Peter Safran are about to begin a massive reboot of the DC Universe, the filmmaker shared his belief that Aquaman 3 could still happen based upon the conclusion of The Lost Kingdom.
"The Jason Mamoa-as-Aquaman story definitely has more places to go," said Wan. "Where we go at the end of this movie, it does tee up something bigger. Not bigger, but it does tee up a direction for that story. I don't want to speak to that just because it's the end of the movie."
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will hit theaters on Friday, Dec. 20.