Aquaman is one of the craziest movies we’ve ever seen. It’s filled with giant underwater space battles, secret oases at the center of the earth, living, breathing dinosaurs, giant kraken voiced by famed actress Julie Andrews, and more. When we got the chance to sit down with the movie’s writers, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, as well as DC’s famed creator and Aquaman executive producer Geoff Johns, we had to ask: How did Aquaman become so outrageous in scale and inventiveness?
“Have you seen James’s Fast and the Furious movie?” Johnson-McGoldrick responded, referring to Aquaman director James Wan’s Furious 7, a movie whose making destroyed more than 230 cars by dropping them out of planes and jumping them between 40 foot tall “skyscrapers” built on a soundstage. Yeah, fair point, we replied.
“James allowed us not to have to feel like there were limitations,” Johns added. “There was never any ‘no,’ there was never that ‘We can’t do that,’ there was never an impossible. He wanted to make a big, huge, epic movie, and it doesn’t get much more epic than the entire oceans of the world and what’s in it.”
Warning: Aquaman spoilers follow. Go see the movie before you read any further.
Johnson-McGoldrick recalled the first time he saw an early animatic version of the scene in which the gigantic Karathen sea monster erupts from the ground during the Atlanteans’ climactic battle. “Even having been part of this process and the script, I kind of giggled when I saw it,” he said. “It was like, you’re gonna start off with this guy rescuing this woman on the shore, and you’re going to end with a giant kaiju movie.”
James Wan did more than simply enable the insanity, though. He also brought the movie’s distinct ’80s vibe, according to the writers. “One of the things that I feel like James brought to this that is utterly appropriate, is there’s an ’80s sensibility, sort of a throwbacky-ness,” Beall said. “You know, like, the slide into the deserter’s kingdom is the Goonies.”
“And what [Jason Momoa] brought into the character is that sort of child of the ’80s, too,” Johnson-McGoldrick added. “He threw in that Cobra Kai reference. You get the feeling that Arthur in this movie is an ’80s kid.”
Watching Aquaman is often an overwhelming experience. It can feel like sensory overload. And the movie’s look doesn’t always hold up when you stop to think about things like whether lava can really flow freely underwater (it can’t) or how those millions of people in the stadium could even see what was going on while Arthur and Orm were fighting. Johns said they felt “emotional realism” was more important than actual, logical realism.
“I think emotional realism is more important than anything else,” Johns said. “You want to emotionally believe in who these people are and what motivates them and what drives them and what challenges them–who do they love, and what do they fight for? As long as you have emotional reality, which to me is more important.
“James really wanted to do a heightened world,” he continued. “I mean, it is Atlantis, and so if you wanna start questioning things like lava under the water, I think we’re kinda failing the story.”
“There’s a sort of fantasy fulfillment that it feels good when you’re watching that,” said Johnson-McGoldrick. “I remember showing early animatic of that scene to my eight and nine year olds, and they saw the lava catapults underwater and they were like, ‘This is the most amazing movie I’ve ever seen in my life.’ It appeals to this inner eight or nine year old that wants this world to exist.”
“I think for us, storytelling is finding something truthful on this unbelievably broad, sort of phantasmagorical canvas,” Beall added. “Like Geoff was saying, if we’ve done that, you’re not sweating the lava so much. You’re embracing it.”