‘Aquaman’ is a majestic, fantastical odyssey

I’ve never seen anything like this!”

This is how actor Jason Momoa greeted the very vocal crowd of thousands that gathered around the Music Hall in the Mall of Asia complex for a fan event dedicated to his new film, Aquaman.   

Bright-eyed and all smiles, he had just walked the blue carpet (and even run around it) for an extended period of time and was in no hurry at all, making quite the grounded effort to meet every fan he could — signing autographs, saying hello and taking selfies. He, along with co-star Amber Heard and director James Wan, welcomed excited spectators and led them to the briny depths of Atlantis. Here, Momoa’s character, land- and sea-dweller Arthur Curry, who debuted in last year’s Justice League, may just find another home, and himself.

Eco warrior: Director James Wan focused on conveying a message about family, true love and environmental concerns in his latest film Aquaman.

Wan, who previously helmed Saw and The Conjuring, was able to translate certain techniques he learned from his work in horror into a big-budget superhero movie. “Regardless of what genre it’s in, I learn stuff from it and I carry it on to my next project,” he says. “What I learned from scary movies is that creating characters that people really care about — that’s super important.” If the audience cares about the characters, when they’re put in scary situations, it’s easier to feel their terror and want them to make it out safe and whole. “So it’s the same approach to this film: creating likable characters and finding the best in my actors and pulling that out of them.”

 

“So it’s the same approach to this film: creating likable characters and finding the best in my actors and pulling that out of them.”

 

The result is evident in the movie. Watching Heard, for example, as the fierce flame-haired warrior-princess Mera, it’s easy to see that Wan tapped into her strength and, from her activism, her will to fight against any and all prejudice. She previously told Glamour magazine that she found Mera interesting because she proves to be more than just a love interest, and she’s definitely no Aqua-woman.

“She’s a superhero in her own right,” says Heard. Mera, she adds, is driven, tough and intelligent. She has her own goals and super-cool powers (hydrokinesis, or the ability to control water!), but most importantly, she has agency — she acts of her own accord, and you never see her lose her cool. And through her, Heard is able to do her part in creating change not only for actresses, but for the young girls who need to see more of themselves in media, especially in superhero movies.

“I love that I get to speak to a growing demand that we’re finally starting to meet in the entertainment industry,” she says. “One that speaks to the lack of roles that are available to women, which mean a fuller, larger, bolder, stronger, more accurate depiction of the female experience. We need more representation in all aspects of the industry.”

 

Aquaman is yet another refreshing example, influenced by classic adventure movies, with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and plenty of Jules Verne to go around, yet it never loses its edge.

 

In recent years, the superhero movie has become a broad term, its stories veering off into bold, unprecedented directions — think spy thrillers, off-kilter comedies, and even horror. Aquaman is yet another refreshing example, influenced by classic adventure movies, with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and plenty of Jules Verne to go around, yet it never loses its edge. Its score, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, is a testament to this: its majestic notes lead up to some decidedly rock ‘n’ roll electric guitar.

Shore to shore: Jason Momoa, together with co-star Amber Heard, and director James Wan, visited Manila earlier this week to celebrate the premiere of Aquaman.

The movie is a straight-up odyssey, wherein Arthur and Mera traipse and splash around mystical, stunning underwater worlds and beautiful destinations above the surface, from Sicily to the Sahara, on a quest for a trident meant for the true king of the deep. And as a comic-book film, it’s an effective tribute to the Silver Age, with vivid colors, cool costumes (Black Manta!), and tons of kitsch to spare, aided by an enthusiastic performance from Momoa and the rest of its cast.

It’s important to Wan that viewers are able to grasp its message about family and even true love — but more than that, he wants to help them get to thinking about environmental concerns, which are briefly but clearly touched upon in the movie. “I think this is one of the few rare superhero (movies) where the environmental aspect of it is at the forefront,” he says, “and I don’t think you can do an Aquaman movie and not touch on the environmental message of it all.”

If Aquaman has a central theme, however, it’s the hero’s internal conflict of being from two divergent worlds, and his struggle to bridge both of these origins and figure out who he is in relation to them. For Wan, who was born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, there was a personal connection to it. “Culturally, I’m from two separate worlds as well,” he says. “Growing up, you kind of push one aside or you embrace the other one more, but I knew as I got older that I’d be embracing my other side just as much now.”

It’s a piece of insight that he found himself working into the film: “(Arthur) doesn’t quite feel like he belongs to either world, but what he ultimately discovers and realizes is he is the best of both worlds. And he ends up embracing his identity.” This is something, Wan adds, that Momoa can also identify with.

“My upbringing was 100 percent two different worlds,” says Momoa, who has Native Hawaiian and Native American ancestry. “I love both (Hawaii and Iowa) very much. Surrounded by people that love their home and never want to leave their home, I’m just (someone who) wanders, so I totally understand it.”

It’s not necessary to have this kind of connection as an actor, he adds, but he finds it fulfilling to be able to reach out to children who were raised by single parents or are mixed-race. “It’s really cool to be the face of that and to come from that,” he muses. “Maybe it was meant to be.”

 

Aquaman is showing in cinemas nationwide.