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James Wan says Aquaman is “more like a science fiction movie than a superhero film”

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Jul 21, 2018, 4:32 PM EDT

When the first glimpses of Atlantis drew oohs from the audience in attendance to watch the all-new Aquaman trailer at San Diego Comic-Con, it was clear at first sight that a lot of thought and creative energy had been lavished on the spectacular undersea kingdom. “Might wanna strap in,” says Amber Heard’s Mera just as the waves part for the new clip’s first dazzling dive under the surface. 

Aquaman’s lush sub-marine world, crammed to the (ahem) gills with life and energy, makes the ideal setting for a film director James Wan told the Warner Bros. Pictures SCDD panel that, for a movie based on a comic book character, is "more like a science fiction movie than a superhero film."

With a background that includes solid horror bona fides (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious), Wan’s earned the trust of the Aquaman cast to build a world where genre rules can apply as needed — to great effect, according to Patrick Wilson, who plays Curry’s evil Atlantean half-brother, King Orm. 

“This guy understands story and character more than any director I know, whether it's a horror movie or a superhero movie,” Wilson, whose character appears face-to-face with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman in the trailer, told the panel. 

In an extended, audience-only clip following the official trailer, a picture of the movie’s more adventurous side began to emerge. Beginning with Momoa and Heard finding the secret location of Atlantis under the desert and unlocking its entrance, Hall H viewers caught a glimpse of Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) chasing the pair through a village. 

Next came Nicole Kidman (who was in attendance at her first-ever Comic-Con), shown sharing living space in the lighthouse with little Arthur and his dad, before later fighting off invaders in her home on dry land. Willem Dafoe (as Vulko) and Dolph Lungren (as King Nereus) also flashed by. 

The trailer’s plot beats don’t probe deeply enough to suss out just how sci-fi Aquaman will end up looking or feeling to regular moviegoers when it hits theaters. We know the basics — Arthur has to challenge Orm for the Atlantean throne to avert a war of aggression against the land-dwelling world, and we know that Mera plays a dual role with Aquaman in taking point against the bad guys. 

But the SDCC presentation did leave guests with one last, definite nod toward the comics: a blip of footage of Momoa in Aquaman’s traditional full costume: gold on top, green below, and trident in hand.

Aquaman surges into theaters beginning this December 21.