SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: It’s almost unfathomable to think how James Wan’s mind imagined up Aquaman’s lush, Atlantean underwater city from decades of comic books laden in cartoons and speech bubbles. Tasked with pushing the greater Justice League narrative forward via a trident-wielding renegade who rode a swordfish for a living and whose powers had no real practical application on land, Wan had his directorial duties cut out for him. Then, there was of course the pressure to engage an audience as widespread as Wonder Woman, the true star of any given DC Universe season.
But if there was one actor, one gamesman and one mob of hair tied to a set of diamond-cut abs who would encourage a female and male credit card transaction at the box office – one actor who would almost guarantee the film would be anything but waterlogged – it was Jason Momoa.
With only the knowledge that Aquaman was indeed Aryan and thin in said comics, upon meeting Momoa, the brain has no real trouble computing the 39-year-old actor – Hawaiian and built – was destined to play this role. Put it down to his broad, six-foot-four frame, his knockabout and easily excitable personality or his paean for a top knot, I’ll be honest with you, being in his presence is truly like sitting across from a very good-looking gladiator. After seeing the film, it’s impossible to imagine Aquaman any other way. And then of course, there’s that brooding stare. It’s a look we broach.
“I hated [that scene] the most! I did not want to do that at all!,” Momoa tells GRAZIA from a hotel room in Sydney. “James was a big fan of me turning over my shoulder so that is a James Wan question. I was very uncomfortable doing that. It’s insecurity. It’s just the look thing, I’m not a fan of it.”
“But I think you look the best when you do it,” I respond.
“Well there you go. That’s why James did it f***ing five times,” Momoa laughs, his smile wide.
Justice League of course introduced us to Arthur Curry’s alter-ego Aquaman, a shirtless and heavily tattooed superhero who emerged from the turgid seas to join Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman and Flash. Until now, we weren’t entirely sure of his great powers; Aquaman can breathe underwater, swim really fast, has extraordinary physical strength, has a body equip to survive extreme cold and pressure, can see in the dark and can speak to sea creatures.
In his stand-alone film, we revisit Aquaman’s origin story and it begins with a younger-looking-than-ever Nicole Kidman as Arthur’s mother, Atlanna. At Amnesty Bay in Maine, North East of the state of New York, Kidman’s character – a queen from the deep-sea kingdom Atlantis – is washed ashore and rescued by a local lighthouse keeper, Tom (Temuera Morrison). They have a child, Arthur. But when he is only young, his mother is banished to “the trench” for daring to flee an arranged marriage and eloping with a human. After all, the sea and the land are two separate worlds, unable to co-exist.
“It’s like a Queen is on set [when Kidman is in the scene],” Momoa says, his hands adorned with metal rings, like trinkets from the sea. “She’s very Queen-ly. Super nice, loving, totally giving as an actor.”
As Arthur’s step brother, Ocean Master (played by Patrick Wilson) threatens to wage war on the land, every piece of rubbish ever thrown into our oceans is deposited back onto the surface, evoking Wan’s inherent fascination with the possibility of the sea turning on us. It’s Amber Heard’s character Mera who pleads with Arthur to fulfil his civic obligation as King of Atlantis and in effect unite the two people. In fact, Mera truly is the backbone to all of Arthur’s decisions; a refreshingly empowered and self-assured female superhero who not only helps Arthur believe in his powers but ultimately leads him to his destiny as King. Does Momoa agree then that behind every great man is a great(er) woman? I cheekily quip.
“Yes but I mean there’s got to be another saying [around Mera]. She saves me the whole time,” Momoa laughs. “She’s stronger than me, smarter than me and I love it that my wife wants me to be better and strive for more and I think that’s the whole thing with women… the strength of these women is a really cool theme in this movie.”
While we’re on this topic, I draw Momoa’s attention a 2011 interview he gave with the New York Post. In it, he told them a quote that would stick on the internet for years. “I think a man needs to be a man. To hold a woman the way she wants to be held. Just do whatever your woman wants, and you’ll be fine,” he told the publication. So does it still ring true? “Absolutely,” replied Momoa.
“I try and do my best. My woman is my queen. And if you hold your woman as a goddess, take care of her and hold her right, you’re going to be a happy man.”
The underwater scenes were indeed difficult to film. Shot (obviously) above water, Momoa and Heard spent a lot of time suspended in the air by harnesses and wore swimming caps with green dots on them so their flowing hair in the “water” could be added in post-production via CGI technology. It should be noted, too, some of the best moments are the fighting scenes – seeing Kidman smash a television set and Momoa fight off the baddies in a submarine is indeed fist-pumping. And that’s just both character’s introductory scenes.
Second to Momoa’s body and that outlaw-eque eyebrow, you’ll be in awe at how fascinating Wan’s underwater kingdom is. Futuristic and magical in its aesthetic, plush pink jellyfish float around as submarines travel in and out of the kingdom. It’s like a 3D episode of Futurama meeting Avatar. There’s turtle taxis and weight-carrying whales but like any land-governed state (and its airport), there’s customs, security and warrants issued for arrests should anybody not adhere to the throne’s orders. Together, Mera and Arthur must search for the trident of Atlan, the one tool that will end the war. And it’s a search that takes them from the depths of the Atlantic ocean to the rooftops of Sicily in Italy (here, get ready for a thrilling cat and mouse chase).
At the heart of every good superhero story, however, is a lesson; something we take away from the film. For Wan, it was about making an audience believe that we all have the ability to do good and that you don’t need a cape to do that. Yes, Aquaman is a powerful hero but what drives him comes from a human place. In a world where division is at the forefront of our social agenda, casting Momoa meant the film took a light-hearted look at a “half-breed”, a hero with “tainted mongrel blood” and what would happen should he bridge two worlds and two people together. (And yes, Meghan Markle sprung to my mind too.)
“I mean, I think I’d need more than just one trident – it would be awesome to have that power,” says Momoa when asked where in the current world he’s use a trident. “Where would I put it? Just on my own turf in America just with, you know, whats going on in our current situation is – I would definitely like to do a lot of things with that trident. But I can’t.”
Wan, you may just succeed Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman yet.
Aquaman is in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day.