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James Wan's Aquaman influences include Star Wars, The Karate Kid, Romancing the Stone

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Jul 25, 2018

After director James Wan’s Aquaman released its debut trailer at San Diego Comic-Con and screened another for the folks who were attending, the hype train for the movie has left the station. That means endless analysis of the snippets of footage fans have to chew on until the film comes out at the end of the year. And who better to analyze than the man who put it all together?

Wan spoke to Fandango about the trailer and his influences, painting a tonal picture even more colorful than the bright, primary-colored trailer. Like kid Aquaman -- where did that particular decision come from? Well, that’s partially to make the character more relatable than the cartoon Viking that is actor Jason Momoa, but it’s also to slip in some filmmaking references to Wan’s favorites. The Karate Kid, for example.

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(Credit: Warner Bros.)

“There was a part of me that wanted to have a Miyagi/Daniel-san moment in the movie where he's training him on the beach,” Wan said. Mentorship is important in the film, because Wan loves training sequences. “When Willem [Dafoe, who plays Vulko] and I spoke very early on, we always saw him as an old school samurai warrior, like an Obi-Wan Kenobi training Luke Skywalker,” said Wan.

“Willem is such a big fan of Toshiro Mifune. He's modeling himself after Toshiro Mifune in all the classic Kurosawa films, even down to the way Willem looks in the movie. His hair is pulled back into a bun like a samurai warrior, and his sword's behind his back.” So we’ve got a samurai teacher and a kid on a magical quest. Doesn’t sound like your typical superhero movie.

“It's not unlike what Indy had to do to find the Ark of the Covenant,” Wan says of the plot. “Arthur has to go on this journey with Mera to find an ancient relic. They have to basically follow the breadcrumbs, maps and all that, and it takes them through different kingdoms. The idea here is, he gets to learn the different worlds, and it helps shape who he is supposed to be.” A journey through the kingdoms he must unite, in search of what has to be some perfect undersea McGuffin, does sound more like a kid’s adventure movie than anything in the DCEU.

That’s because Wan “modeled the movie more after classic action-adventure sort of fantasy films. It's no different to The Dark Crystal or Lord of the Rings.” Well, and maybe one more film. When asked about the romance between Aquaman and Mera, Wan jumps at a touchstone: “Romancing the Stone.” On top of everything else, we’ve got the rakish vs. the proper, falling in love. Phew.

Wan’s plan to stuff all his influences into the film seems tough, but the film also features the deep, dark, and deadly Trench kingdom -- and there’s plenty of space down there for anything you can imagine.

Aquaman washes up on our shores Dec. 21.