Aquaman – A Spectacular Origin Story

“Every superhero story should be a lot of fun and take you on an amazing adventure, and at the same time make you feel you’ve learned something from these characters and that you, yourself, have the ability to do good.”

Aquaman tells the origin story of half-surface dweller, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry that takes him on the journey of his lifetime—one that will not only force him to face who he really is, but to discover if he is worthy of who he was born to be…a king.

The action-packed adventure spans the vast, visually breathtaking underwater world of the seven seas, and stars Jason Momoa in the title role.

In Aquaman, Arthur Curry’s quest to unite two worlds begins with a challenge that will test both his strength and the courage of his convictions: to retrieve the Lost Trident of Atlan.  Only the true King of Atlantis can wield it, but to even find it he must partner with Mera, Princess of the ocean kingdom of Xebel, on a treacherous journey over land and sea.

The first hurdle Arthur must overcome is his own disinterest in being the solution to anyone’s problem—be it the Atlanteans’ or mankind’s.  Up until now, he’s been satisfied operating as something of a super powerful lone wolf, choosing his own waterborne battles and avoiding involvement in any sort of global civil war.

James Wan directs from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, story by Geoff Johns & James Wan and Will Beall, based on characters created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger for DC.

Read more about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom 

Visionary director/co-writer James Wan was excited to undertake the first standalone feature for this complex character.  “Aquaman is a very powerful guy and can handle action on a god-like scale.  But what I love most about him is that what drives him comes from a very human place,” he says.  “To me, the most important thing is the story I’m telling and that audiences care about the characters and want to go along on their adventure.”

James Wan during the filming of Aquaman. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC.  Photo Credit: Christian Black / ™ & © DC Comics

Producer Peter Safran, who has worked extensively with Wan, states, “James knew the story he wanted to tell, the tone of it and the look of it, and he never wavered from that course.”

Titular star Jason Momoa underscores his character’s relatability by deftly masking Arthur’s vulnerabilities and playing up his tough, sarcastic side, bringing his unique brand of humor to this new kind of DC Super Hero.  “The script had this beautiful origin story that follows a child as he gets his powers, and ultimately goes on a man’s journey to becoming a king.  But there was definitely a lighter side to him throughout, even as he goes in and fights for his life in James’s incredibly cool underwater galaxy war,” Momoa relates.

“Superheroes and villains are the embodiment of the best and worst parts of us,” adds Amber Heard, who stars as Mera.  “That duality is what resonates with everyone, especially kids, who are receptive in ways that adults may not be.”  And while, up until now, big screen heroes have primarily been male, the actress was thrilled with the parity she found on the pages of the “Aquaman” screenplay.  “They’re partners from the beginning, and though their personalities are combative, they develop a fun banter and a mutual respect, and there is no question that it will take both of them, working together, for Arthur to fully realize his destiny.”

Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC.  

While Aquaman was introduced to comic book readers in 1941, the story told in the film, written by Wan and executive producer Geoff Johns, was largely inspired by Johns’ Aquaman comic from The New 52, a 2011 series in which DC relaunched its Super Hero line.  “Geoff has a tremendous breadth of knowledge when it comes to the history of Aquaman, and all the DC Super Heroes,” Safran notes.  “He was eager to collaborate with James to tell the version of Arthur’s story we wanted to tell.”

Geoff Johns (Story, Executive Producer) is a film and television writer and producer and is also one of the most successful comic book writers of his time.  After graduating from Michigan State University, Johns moved to Los Angeles and began assisting legendary film director Richard Donner.  While working on set in New York City, Johns started his comic book career by creating, writing and pitching Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and Stargirl for DC Comics. Since then, he has written some of the most-recognized and highly acclaimed stories featuring Superman and the Justice League, and reinvented lesser-known characters with great commercial and critical success, including Aquaman and Shazam!

Under his Mad Ghost Productions banner, Johns is currently in various stages of production on an extensive list of projects in TV and film.  Among his upcoming projects, he is writing and producing his creation “Stargirl” for the DC Universe streaming service, and co-wrote the second installment of the “Wonder Woman” film franchise, “Wonder Woman 1984,” with director Patty Jenkins.

On the comic book side, he is continuing to develop the commercial and critical hit Doomsday Clock, and will be launching a line of original, creator-owned titles under the new imprint the Killing Zone.

Johns observes, “Arthur grew up on land and never knew about his heritage until years later, when he went to Atlantis and discovered this amazing underwater society, the mysteries of the oceans and creatures of different races, beings that live right here on Earth but are as alien as creatures from outer space.  James saw that and realized that Aquaman—who brings with him a great story about someone trying to find his lineage and embrace his heritage—also comes with the environment that he inhabits, which goes for every DC character.  Every one of the icons in the DC universe has this expansive canvas that their stories are painted across, and James had an inspired vision of how to translate Aquaman’s fantastical world to the big screen.”

Screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall scripted the larger-than-life tale.

David Leslie Johnson-Mcgoldrick developed an early interest in storytelling and began writing plays in the second grade.  He attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography and Cinema.

He began his career in film as a production assistant on Frank Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption,” which was shot on location in Johnson’s hometown of Mansfield, Ohio.  Johnson spent the next five years as Darabont’s assistant, using the opportunity to hone his craft as a screenwriter.

His first produced credit was the 2009 thriller Orphan. He later wrote Red Riding Hood (2011) and Wrath of the Titans (2012), and co-wrote The Conjuring 2 with original Conjuring scribes Chad and Carey Hayes and James Wan.  He currently is serving as a writer and consulting producer on the ninth season of The Walking Dead, a position he has held since Season eight. In addition to his role on AMC’s hit zombie show, he has several feature projects in development, including The Conjuring 3, with Michael Chaves attached to direct; The Body Snatchers, based on the novel by Jack Finney; and the animated fantasy adventure Mice and Mystics” with Alex Aja attached to direct.

Will Beall (Screenplay/Story) previously wrote the script for Gangster Squad (2013.  Other films he’s contributed to include the recent box office hit Venom, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  In television, Beall created and ran Training Day for CBS, and spent several years as a writer/producer on Castle for ABC.  He is currently writing two pilots: Deputy for Eone and Fox, and The 77th for HBO. Beall began his writing career as a novelist with the cop thriller LA Rex, which is currently in development as a film to be produced by Scott Rudin.  Before becoming a full-time writer, Beall was a detective with the LAPD.

“First and foremost, James wanted this to be a fun, globetrotting quest movie,” states Johnson-McGoldrick.  “That said, family is one of the most important aspects of the film.  Aquaman inherits his powers from his mother and his humanity from his father, two people who came from different worlds and fell in love despite all odds.  He is a product of that love…and of growing up after they were torn apart.  Where is he supposed to fit in?”

Because Arthur’s parents’ relationship was forbidden, to him it feels like a personal affront—one that carries with it the sense of alienation he’s felt his whole life.  What Arthur may not fully realize is that, though his mother, Queen Atlanna, left him after a violent attack on their home forced her to realize the danger she posed to her firstborn, she left him with numerous gifts.  Due to the Atlantean side of his DNA, Arthur discovers as a child that he possesses various superhuman abilities: he can breathe underwater, swim at tremendous speeds, withstand great ocean depths making him almost invulnerable, and, yes, “talk to fish,” telepathically communicating with marine life.  In addition to his underwater prowess, he is also gifted with superhuman traits on land: he has extraordinary strength, enhanced senses and impenetrable skin.  With the escalating conflict between land and sea coming to a head, Arthur must call upon all his resources to defend both the Earth’s land and its oceans…or risk the destruction of both.

Since the subaquatic world of “Aquaman” is such an extensive part of the story, Wan and his team felt they needed to deliver an Atlantis and its surrounding kingdoms unlike any oceanic environs seen before.  “This is our outer space—a whole different world, limited only by the imagination.  We have no idea what material would look like underwater, or how hair would move.  For Atlanteans, water for them is like air for us.  It’s the environment they grew up in.  So, we had to approach it from their perspective.”

To translate his vivid imaginings on film, Wan turned to cinematographer Don Burgess to capture the breathtaking world he had devised with production designer Bill Brzeski, and to costume designer Kym Barrett to bring its characters to life.  But perhaps the biggest challenge fell to Wan’s visual effects supervisor, Kelvin McIlwain, and his team, who were to realize every unreal element imaginable—from an underwater megalopolis to warring sea beasts to waving hair and much more.

Producer Rob Cowan remarks, “Ever since I’ve known James, he’s wanted to make a big action movie, which he did with ‘Furious 7.’  But with ‘Aquaman,’ the idea of being able to create an entire world?  That’s what was attractive to him.  And because it’s James, the action took on elements of horror, romance, the history and mythology of Atlantis… It’s based on canon, but at the same time he was able to be completely original.”

Beall likens their version of this underwater universe “to Rome—if it never fell—so, there’s modern technology and ancient customs, and they still have the gladiatorial arena.  That’s how I thought of Atlantis: unconquered and isolated, highly advanced and yet still burdened with ancient rights and customs.”

Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC.  

To succeed in his mission and stop a burgeoning war that threatens the future of both the undersea world and his beloved surface, Arthur must fight his half-brother, the power-hungry Orm, played by Patrick Wilson, as well as the vengeful Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.  But it’s his past Arthur wrestles with the most, including his anger at the Atlanteans for executing Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman, after they forced her to leave his dad, human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry, played by Temuera Morrison.  His only tie to his mother’s world is the weapon she left behind, and the occasional visit from Vulko, played by Willem Dafoe, council to the throne of Atlantis who came to the surface in Arthur’s youth to teach him about the powers inherent to his mother’s side.

“In many ways, the movie is about wish fulfillment, and to me, that was also the bonus of making this film—my wish fulfillment—to make a world-building, world-creation movie,” Wan smiles.  “We cultivated all the different visuals, the characters, the outfits, the creatures…everything.  That’s my dream come true.  Luckily, I had the most creative team behind the scenes and the most talented cast to go on this journey with me.”

“The world that James has built is not only beautiful, but terrifying, and all…unknown,” says Momoa of the director’s vision for the uncharted universe found in “Aquaman.”  “There aren’t too many movies I’ve been in where kids get to watch, so I’m excited to sit down with my children and watch this one.  That will be a trip!  It was cool to be part of it.  Yeah, all the dreams are coming true.”

Having taken what amounts to an epic journey himself to realize his vision for the film, in summary, Wan says, “I feel this is a very relevant story, with elements of it reflected in the world we’re living in now, which, to me, is important—telling stories that speak to the times.  I think that, ultimately, every superhero story should be a lot of fun and take you on an amazing adventure, and at the same time make you feel you’ve learned something from these characters and that you, yourself, have the ability to do good.  And you don’t necessarily need a cape to be able to do that!”