Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom: Director James Wan on the Evolution of Black Manta and the Silver Age Inspirations

John Nguyen

Get ready to dive deep into the ocean once again as we chat with the mastermind behind the aquatic adventure, James Wan. He is back in the director’s seat for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the highly anticipated sequel, as he shares insights into the challenges of crafting a compelling story, the evolution of characters like Black Manta, and the inspiration drawn from the quirkier side of the Aquaman comic books.

The first Aquaman film was a huge success, grossing over $1 billion globally at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film based on a DC Comics character. A sequel was a no-brainer, with Jason Momoa reprising his role as the King of the Seven Seas. In the interview, Wan takes us behind the scenes and discusses the dynamics between Aquaman and his allies and the return of Patrick Wilson’s character. Of course, we had to ask him about the future of the Gargoyles series on Disney+.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nerd Reactor: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom continues the story with Black Manta. What was that like in trying to come up with a story where Black Manta can go toe to toe with Aquaman with the black trident?

James Wan: Yeah, the Black Manta story, obviously, is a pretty straightforward story. And we knew that we wanted to tell that story, right? In the comic book world, Black Manta is Aquaman’s number one arch nemesis. He blames Arthur for the death of his father. You know, that’s a very simple story to tell. And we felt like the classic revenge story is one that we’re all familiar with. And I’m a big fan of the revenge story. And so we knew that the second movie was ultimately going to be about that. The question is how far Black Manta would go to achieve that. As we see in the trailer, he is willing to potentially make a deal with the devil to make that happen. So he’s going to do it. He’s going to come across something that will imbue him with a lot of power, but at the same time, he’s probably giving up a lot of his own humanity as well.

Director/Producer/Writer JAMES WAN and YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Christian Black / DC Comics

Nerd Reactor: Were you inspired by the New 52, let’s say the Dead King’s different weapons?

James Wan: A little bit, but I would say the biggest inspiration for us was from the Silver Age of the comic book. So like from the ’50s and the ’60s. That’s why Topo is in it. That’s why Storm the Sea Horse is in this as well. We’re definitely not afraid to lean into the quirkier side of the Aquaman world. We felt like people having seen the first movie and really responded to it in a positive way gave us permission to go into the goofy side a bit more and not be afraid to lean to that. Because that’s the stuff that makes it very fun for me as a filmmaker.

(L-r) PATRICK WILSON and Director/Producer/Writer JAMES WAN on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Christian Black / DC Comics

Nerd Reactor: And with this story, you’re going to have Aquaman and Orm continuing on this different relationship. Patrick Wilson is in a lot of your movies, so what was that like this time?

James Wan: Yeah, there’s a reason why I hired Patrick. A: He’s a great person and B: He’s super talented. We had a rough idea that Orm’s character in the first movie was going to be the main antagonist, but ultimately, we see a redemptive arc to his character that we wanted to show in the second movie. That’s why it was important to cast an actor that was capable of showing those two shades. Someone who can be villainous, but at the same time, you can also see him being an antihero as well. And that’s really the fun part, which is seeing Jason and Patrick’s chemistry together and how Jason plays a lot more loose; he makes things up as he goes. Patrick’s character is very rigid and very structured; he’s definitely more disciplined than Arthur is. And that sort of contrast between the two is what makes it fun to see them come together.

Nerd Reactor: I have to ask you about Gargoyles. I recently interviewed Jonathan Frakes, who voiced Xanatos in Gargoyles. He said he was down and he was interested. He was just sad about hearing rumors after rumors of Gargoyles as a project. Any take on that?

James Wan: Well, I mean, all I can say is we’ve definitely been having conversations with Disney about this. And, I’m a big fan of Gary Dauberman, who’s kind of overseeing that. We are big fans of the property. But you know, it’s still obviously very early development still. And so our goal is to make it, and we want to make it. We’ll see. We’ll get to a point and then we’ll kind of see where Disney is as well.

About Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Director James Wan and Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa—along with Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Nicole Kidman—return in the sequel to the highest-grossing DC film of all time: “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Having failed to defeat Aquaman the first time, Black Manta, still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman down once and for all. This time Black Manta is more formidable than ever before, wielding the power of the mythic Black Trident, which unleashes an ancient and malevolent force. To defeat him, Aquaman will turn to his imprisoned brother Orm, the former King of Atlantis, to forge an unlikely alliance. Together, they must set aside their differences in order to protect their kingdom and save Aquaman’s family, and the world, from irreversible destruction.

All returning to the roles they originated, Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry/Aquaman, now balancing his duties as both the King of Atlantis and a new father; Patrick Wilson is Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and his nemesis, who must now step into a new role as his brother’s reluctant ally; Amber Heard is Mera, Atlantis’ Queen and mother of the heir to the throne; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is Black Manta, committed more than ever to avenge his father’s death by destroying Aquaman, his family and Atlantis; and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, a fierce leader and mother with the heart of a warrior. Also reprising their roles are Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin.

Directed by Wan, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is produced by Peter Safran, Wan and Rob Cowan. The executive producers are Galen Vaisman and Walter Hamada.

The screenplay is by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, from a story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Jason Momoa & Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, based on characters from DC, Aquaman created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger.

Joining Wan behind-the-camera is his sterling team of “Aquaman” artisans: director of photography Don Burgess (“The Conjuring 2”), production designer Bill Brzeski (“Jumanji: The Next Level”), editor Kirk Morri (“Furious 7”), composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (“Wonder Woman”) and music supervisor is Michelle Silverman (“Malignant”). Visual effects supervisor Nick Davis (“The Clash of the Titans” films, “The Dark Knight”) and costume designer Richard Sale (“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Ready Player One”) also join.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents An Atomic Monster / A Peter Safran Production of A James Wan Film, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” set to open in theaters internationally beginning 20 December 2023 and in North America on December 20, 2023; it will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Featured image by Christian Black / DC Comics