Superhero movie fans aren’t exactly known for their patience, and those waiting to see the next adventures of Jason Momoa’s wisecracking Aquaman have had to deal with COVID-19 delays, extensive reshoots, and an entire regime change at DC Studios, but the wait is finally close to over. The first trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is finally out—a mere three months before the film’s release—and continues to emphasize the playful tone that makes the Aquaman franchise stick out from its darker, more solemn DC brethren. In one early scene, we see Momoa’s Arthur Curry changing his baby’s diaper, and hanging his superhero suit on a clothesline.
It has been a long, circuitous road to theatrical release for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which endured several delays and reshoots, having had an original release date of December 16, 2022. A July Hollywood Reporter piece noted that cool responses to early test screenings prompted Warner executives to get involved, and that at different points both Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck shot scenes to appear as their respective Batmen, though it’s unclear if either are in the final cut. New DC head James Gunn weighed in on one of the post-reshoot versions of the film, which was largely shot throughout 2021 when the pandemic was still making film logistics difficult. The film, which sees James Wan returning to direct, is especially effects-heavy, including one epic underwater battle scene featuring several deep-sea foes that look straight out of the Mariana Trench.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wan said filming was challenging because it was unclear in the early days whether their movie would be released before The Flash. “At the end of the day, the best thing I would say about this movie is that it is not connected in any way to any of those films,” he explained, though he also played coy about the potential of any Batman sightings in Lost Kingdom. Wan also addressed comments by Amber Heard that her role had been “pared down” as a result of the attention from her defamation trial with ex-partner Johnny Depp. “I always pitched this to everyone from the get-go. The first Aquaman was Arthur and Mera’s journey. The second movie was always going to be Arthur and Orm (Arthur’s duplicitous brother played by Patrick Wilson). So, the first was a romance action-adventure movie, the second one is a bromance action-adventure movie. We’ll leave it at that.”
The trailer also re-introduces Aquaman’s adversary, Black Manta, played by Candyman and Watchmen star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. “I’m gonna kill Aquaman and destroy everything he holds dear. I’m gonna murder his family and burn his kingdom to ash,” Black Manta says in a hilariously solemn narration. (In an August 2022 Vulture interview, Mateen likened certain Hollywood blockbusters like Aquaman to “clown work,” though he seems to be playing the role with a great deal of seriousness based on the trailer.)
Wan has an impressive resume of Hollywood hits, including horror flicks like Saw and action epics like Furious 7, but there is another director who flirted with involvement that we can’t help but wonder about. In an interview with the Happy Sad Confused podcast shared by Variety, acclaimed indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols shared that he had pitched his own Aquaman idea for Momoa, which would’ve depicted the an older, gnarlier version of the character—the version who has a hook for a hand and is grieving the loss of his son. “Obviously from this brief pitch you can see it would’ve sold hundreds of dollars worth of tickets,” Nichols joked.
Aquaman comes at a crucial time in DC’s run, as the embattled studio has seen muted success with its last few features, including highly publicized projects like The Flash and Black Adam, as well as smaller movies like Blue Beetle that had little box office impact. The first Aquaman wasn’t a critical darling, but it earned over $1 billion worldwide.