To use the genre parlance, James Wan’s Aquaman is primarily a solo character adventure, being set after the events of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but it is also an origin story. Part of the film’s mission is to explain where the eponymous hero comes from and who he is meant to be, and as a result there are segments of the narrative dedicated to his past. Specifically, there are numerous flashback sequences throughout the blockbuster — and while I was on the set last year, I learned key details about a few of them.
In July 2017, literally the day after San Diego Comic-Con, I joined a small group of other journalists on a trip to Melbourne, Australia to visit the set of Aquaman while it was still filming, and the day started off with a tour of the War Room — a meeting space in the production office that has walls covered in concept art. While looking at these pieces, production designer Bill Brzeski took us through what we were looking at, including some key moments in the life of Arthur Curry (played as an adult by Jason Momoa).
The first we learned about is set at the Boston Aquarium, which Arthur visits when he is 10 years old. The facility famously has a giant aquarium that stretches stories high, and our young hero is pushed up against it by some bullies. This gets a notable reaction from all of the sentient life in the tank, and they quickly take action. Said Brzeski,
All of a sudden all the creatures in the aquarium… start banging on the glass, coming to rescue him, and he doesn’t even understand why. All the other kids freak out. So we’re in this aquarium. It’s beautiful. All of a sudden, all these animals are banging on the glass. Sharks are trying to get him and get the other kids. Everybody freaks out. So that’s one flashback.
Clearly this is an early preview of Arthur Curry’s important relationship with undersea life, though in this instance he doesn’t communicate with the fish on purpose. After all, at age 10 he doesn’t known that his mother is Atlanna, the queen of Atlantis who is played by Nicole Kidman in the movie. It isn’t until later that he learns the truth, which is a moment that is captured in another one of Aquaman‘s flashback.
Featured as a teenager, Arthur is having some summer fun with some other local kids, and when he sees a girl on a boat he decides that he wants to impress her. He tells his friends about this shipwreck that rests on the seafloor, and dives down to go explore. Unfortunately, he gets startled by an eel and hits his head — knocking him unconscious, but the good news is that his special gene-based powers start to kick in. Said Brzeski,
It looks like he’s dead, and then he comes back to life, and he goes, ‘What the … I’m alive?’ He gets this water in his lungs, and all of a sudden his eyes change color… What happens is his body reacts positively to being underwater, because he’s got Atlantean blood in him, and he can swim down there, and he can do stuff. And he doesn’t drown. It’s a very traumatic scene. It’s like a real scene where somebody drowns. We’re shooting it actually underwater in a tank here, and he survives. He gets home, and said, ‘Dad, what’s going on? Come on.’ So then the father starts to tell him a little bit about who he is, and they find a [quindent] in the house.
These won’t be the only flashbacks featured in Aquaman, but they certainly do give texture to how the movie is going to be approaching the titular heroes important backstory. In a world where we are regularly seeing more standard origin stories play out on the big screen, this sounds like a welcome reprieve.
Aquaman will be in theaters on December 21st.