Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Wan
Screenplay byDavid Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Story by
  • James Wan
  • David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
  • Jason Momoa
  • Thomas Pa'a Sibbett
Based onCharacters
from DC
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyDon Burgess
Edited byKirk Morri
Music byRupert Gregson-Williams
Production
companies
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • December 22, 2023 (2023-12-22)
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$205 million[1]

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is an upcoming American superhero film based on the DC character Aquaman. Produced by DC Studios, Atomic Monster, and The Safran Company, and set for distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures, it is the sequel to Aquaman (2018), and the 15th and final installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The film is directed by James Wan from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story conceived by Wan, Johnson-McGoldrick, Thomas Pa'a Sibbett, and Jason Momoa. It stars Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman alongside Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Kidman.

Momoa pitched a story for an Aquaman sequel during production of the first film. Wan did not want to rush a sequel but agreed in January 2019 to oversee development. Johnson-McGoldrick signed on to return as screenwriter a month later, and Wan was confirmed to be returning as director in August 2020. He said the film would expand on Aquaman's worldbuilding, and announced the sequel's title in June 2021. Filming began at the end of the month and concluded in January 2022, taking place in the United Kingdom, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and New Jersey, with additional filming in New Zealand.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is scheduled to be released in the United States on December 22, 2023.

Premise

Several years after the events of the first film, Arthur Curry / Aquaman is forced to protect Atlantis and his loved ones from devastation after an ancient power is unleashed by David Kane / Black Manta obtaining the cursed Black Trident. In order to achieve this, he will have to seek help from an unlikely ally, his brother Orm.[2]

Cast

Reprising their roles from Aquaman (2018) are Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, the king of Xebel and Mera's father;[13] Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin, a marine biologist obsessed with finding Atlantis;[14] and Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry, Arthur's father who works as a lighthouse keeper.[15] Also appearing are Vincent Regan as Atlan, the first king of Atlantis; Jani Zhao as Stingray; Indya Moore as Karshon;[14] and Pilou Asbæk in an undisclosed role.[16]

Production

Development

During the production of Aquaman (2018), star Jason Momoa developed a story pitch for a sequel that he gave to Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich and producer Peter Safran. In October 2018, before the film's release, Momoa said he would be more involved in the development of a potential sequel and expected filming to begin in 2019. Director James Wan said there were several storylines that could spin out from Aquaman, with that film introducing seven underwater kingdoms that had yet to be fully explored.[3][17] Momoa was paid $15 million for his involvement.[18] Emmerich had enough confidence in box office projections for the film by early December to begin discussing a sequel.[19] By the end of January 2019, when Aquaman was set to become the highest-grossing film based on a single DC Comics character, Warner Bros. was in negotiations with Wan to oversee the development and writing of a sequel with the potential to return as director. Geoff Boucher of Deadline Hollywood noted that Wan had been very protective of sequels to his previous films Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013), and was "deeply invested" in the worldbuilding of Aquaman. Wan had previously compared the world of Aquaman to other fictional worlds such as Middle-earth, the Star Wars galaxy, and the Wizarding World.[20]

According to Variety, Heard had been "nearly fired" from the film after its release due to her lack of chemistry with Momoa, but these plans were abandoned after her ex-boyfriend Elon Musk intervened.[21] In early February 2019, Warner Bros. hired Noah Gardner and Aidan Fitzgerald to write the script for an Aquaman spin-off film titled The Trench, based on one of the kingdoms introduced in the first film. It was expected to have a smaller budget and not feature the main cast of Aquaman, with Wan and Safran producing. Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter reported then that there had not yet been serious discussions about a direct sequel to Aquaman between the studio, Wan, and Momoa, due to them wanting to have a "breather" first,[22] but several days later he reported that active development on a sequel was getting underway with the first film's co-writer, and frequent Wan collaborator, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick signing on to write the screenplay. Wan and Safran were producing the sequel, though it was still unclear if Wan would direct it.[23] At the end of February, Warner Bros. scheduled Aquaman 2 for release on December 16, 2022.[24] The next month, Safran explained that he and Wan did not want to rush a sequel, and Warner Bros. had been supportive of that which is why the film's release was scheduled for four years after the first film. He added that they were approaching the Aquaman franchise in a similar way to the Conjuring Universe, with spin-offs like The Trench exploring stories about the underwater kingdoms alongside the "mothership" films starring Aquaman. Safran said Wan knew "the architecture, the armoury, the military, the look, the feel, the general vibe" of each of the seven kingdoms and wanted to explore them all in future projects.[25]

In July 2019, Wan was set to direct the film Malignant (2021) before beginning work on Aquaman 2.[26] Patrick Wilson said in November that he had discussed plans for the sequel with Wan and indicated that he would be reprising his role as Orm Marius / Ocean Master from the first film.[4] A month later, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II confirmed that he was returning as David Kane / Black Manta, and was looking to flesh out the character.[8] Johnson-McGoldrick stated in March 2020 that the sequel would not be based on a specific comic book, but was taking inspiration from the Aquaman stories of the Silver Age of Comic Books that featured Black Manta as the villain.[27] Wan was confirmed to be directing the sequel at the virtual DC FanDome event in August, when he said it would be more serious than the first film and feature themes that were more relevant to the real world. He added that it would include more worldbuilding and exploration of the underwater kingdoms,[28] and would feature some horror elements similar to the Trench sequence in the first film.[29] Being able to expand on the worldbuilding of the first film was one of the key reasons that Wan chose to direct the sequel, along with Johnson-McGoldrick's script which Wan felt had a "really cool story to bring all these characters back, and then growing them in a big way".[30]

Amber Heard casting controversy

Amber Heard debunked rumors in November 2020 that she would not be reprising her role as Mera from the first film following allegations of domestic abuse made against her by her ex-husband Johnny Depp. That month, a petition to have Heard fired from the franchise received more than 1.5 million signatures, and came after Warner Bros. removed Depp from Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) when allegations made by The Sun that Depp abused Heard were ruled to be "substantially true" in a defamation lawsuit filed by Depp against The Sun.[5][31] Safran said they never considered making the film without Heard and would not react to the "pure fan pressure" of the petition and other social media conversations.[32] However, Heard later stated (during a defamation trial brought against her by Depp over a column in The Washington Post) that "they didn't want to include" her in the film and she had to fight to keep her part, claiming that revisions were made to the script that reduced her role to a "very pared down version", including removing action sequences for her character, and she was unable to renegotiate her contract (Heard's contract – an option agreement[33] – stipulated that she earn $2 million for the sequel, double what she made for the first film). By that point, in May 2022, the petition to have Heard removed from the film had received more than 4 million signatures.[34] DC Films president Walter Hamada testified during the same trial that the studio did consider recasting Mera, but this was due to concerns over Heard's lack of chemistry with Momoa rather than the abuse allegations. He added that it was the studio's philosophy to "hold people to their options" and not to renegotiate contracts, and said the size of Heard's role had not changed during development of the sequel. He explained that the film was always intended to be a "buddy comedy" that focused on the relationship between Aquaman and Orm.[35][36] The defamation trial's jury found that Heard's Washington Post column had damaged Depp's career and she was ordered to pay him compensation. Social media responses to the trial also heavily favored Depp over Heard, with "countless memes and TikTok videos mocking her testimony". In June 2022, reports emerged that Heard had been fired from the film following the trial, but these were also debunked.[37]

Pre-production

Dolph Lundgren said in February 2021 that he was reprising his role as King Nereus in the sequel, with filming expected to begin later that year in London.[13] A month later, the planned start date for filming was revealed to be in June, though there was potential for this to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.[38] In April, Warner Bros. and DC announced that development on The Trench was no longer moving forward, with the studios not having room for the spin-off on their slate of films and believing Aquaman 2 to be enough of an expansion of the franchise for the time being.[39] Later that month, Pilou Asbæk entered talks to join the film's cast.[40] Momoa said in May that he would begin filming in July,[41] and Wan announced a month later that the sequel was titled Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,[42] with Temuera Morrison confirming his return as Aquaman's father Thomas Curry.[15] Willem Dafoe was also set to reprise his role as Vulko from the first film, but he ultimately did not appear.[43][6][44] Wan attributed Dafoe's absence to scheduling conflicts from his part, but felt that Vulko's absence allowed for Atlanna's role to be expanded as her son's advisor on how the underwater world works.[45]

Filming

Principal photography began at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in London on June 28, 2021,[13][46] under the working title Necrus.[38] Don Burgess returned as the cinematographer from the first film.[47][better source needed] In August, Wan said the sequel was strongly influenced by the film Planet of the Vampires (1965).[48] Filming took place at Saunton Sands beach, Devon, in early September.[49] Later that month, Asbæk's casting was confirmed;[16] Randall Park was revealed to be returning from the first film as Dr. Stephen Shin; Vincent Regan had been cast as the ancient king Atlan, replacing Graham McTavish who briefly portrayed the character in the first film; Jani Zhao was set to portray Stingray, an original character for the film, in her first English-language feature role; and Indya Moore was revealed to be portraying Karshon in the sequel.[14] After shooting 95 percent of the film in the United Kingdom,[50] production moved to Hawaii until December 9,[51] for on-location shooting.[52] Filming also occurred in Jersey City, New Jersey that year.[52] Nicole Kidman was confirmed to have reprised her role as Aquaman's mother Atlanna shortly after that.[12] Filming then moved to Los Angeles, and officially wrapped on January 12, 2022, in Malibu.[50]

Post-production

In March 2022, Warner Bros. adjusted its release schedule due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the workload of visual effects vendors. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was moved to March 17, 2023, and The Flash was also moved from 2022 to 2023, to allow time for their visual effects work to be completed, while Shazam! Fury of the Gods was moved up to this film's previous release date because it would be ready for release earlier.[53] In June 2022, the final writing credits were revealed: Johnson-McGoldrick received screenplay credit, while the duos of Wan and Johnson-McGoldrick, and Momoa and Thomas Pa'a Sibbett received story credit.[54] The next month, Momoa revealed that Ben Affleck was reprising his DC Extended Universe (DCEU) role of Bruce Wayne / Batman for reshoots on the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, California.[55] Aaron Couch of The Hollywood Reporter reported soon after that Michael Keaton had filmed a scene as his version of Bruce Wayne / Batman from Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). Keaton's version was set to be introduced to the DCEU in The Flash before that film's release was pushed to after Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom's. The scene reportedly confused audiences during test screenings, and Couch felt this was why Affleck joined the reshoots.[56]

In August 2022, after WarnerMedia merged with Discovery, Inc. to form Warner Bros. Discovery, the studio delayed the film to December 25, 2023, to help spread out the marketing and distribution costs for its feature films.[57] This pushed the film's release to after the planned release of The Flash, which meant there was potential for Keaton's version of Batman to appear in the film instead of Affleck's.[58] In October, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Keaton's cameo had potentially been cut.[59] Around that time, Warner Bros. film chairs Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy told Wan to reduce the budget for reshoots, as the film's budget had reached $205 million during production.[1] By mid-November, Safran had been "fixing" the film, after he had become the co-CEO of the newly formed DC Studios.[60] Momoa said in January 2023 that he had shot scenes with a couple of actors as Batman, but was unsure which would be included in the final cut.[61] In April, the film's release date was moved up five days earlier to December 20, 2023.[62] Between mid-2022 and the start of 2023, two sets of reshoots took place following several test screenings, with De Luca and Abdy involved in editing the film. After further test screenings in early 2023, James Gunn consulted on the film and the studios approached a third set of reshoots, which increased the film's budget, to occur in New Zealand over five days in mid-June with Momoa and Wilson, and was completed in four days. By then, both Affleck and Keaton were excluded from the latest cut of the film due to Gunn and Safran's plans to reboot the DCEU into their new franchise the DC Universe (DCU).[63] Later during that September, Wan noted during an interview that the film would not be connected to any previous films due to him being uncertain if his movie would release before or after The Flash and declined to answer if Batman would show up.[64] In October 2023, the film was delayed two days to December 22, 2023.[65]

Music

Rupert Gregson-Williams revealed in August 2021 that he was returning to compose the score for the sequel after doing so for the first film.[66] The song "Deep End" was performed by X Ambassadors and released as a single on November 17, 2023.[67]

Marketing

Wan and Wilson teased plans for the film in a panel at the virtual DC FanDome event in August 2020.[28] A year later, at DC FanDome 2021, concept art and behind-the-scenes footage from filming were revealed.[9] In February 2022, the first footage from the film was released as part of a teaser for Warner Bros.' 2022 slate of DC films, which also included The Batman, Black Adam, and The Flash (before Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Flash were delayed to 2023 in the following month).[68][53] Wan promoted the film at Warner Bros.' CinemaCon panel in April 2022, showing a recorded message of Momoa as well as some brief footage from the film.[69] He then revealed more concept art for the film when its release date was delayed in August.[58]

The first trailer was showcased during Warner Bros.' CinemaCon panel in April 2023, showing the "bromance" between Arthur and Orm amongst other footage.[70] Steve Weintraub at Collider said the footage looked "absolutely massive in scale" and featured several action sequences.[10] The first theatrical trailer was released on September 14, 2023.[71] On Heard's character Mera's reduced role, Wan stated that the movie was written around Arthur's relationship with his half-brother Orm compared to the first movie, which focused on his relationship with Mera.[72]

Release

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is scheduled to be released in the United States on December 22, 2023.[65] It was originally set for release on December 16, 2022,[24] but was moved to March 17, 2023, when Warner Bros. adjusted its release schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the workload of visual effects vendors.[53] It was then moved to December 25, 2023, when Warner Bros. Discovery was trying to spread out marketing and distribution costs,[57] before moving to December 20 and December 22.[62][65]

Reception

Box office

Presales

Early pre-sales were pacing 25 percent ahead of Shazam! Fury of the Gods and 62 percent behind Black Adam after one day of sample market tracking.[73]

United States and Canada

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is projected to open between $32 million and $42 million, with a long-range forecast suggesting it will wrap up its domestic run anywhere between $105 million to $168 million.[74]

Future

In December 2022, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Warner Bros. was considering ending the Aquaman film series and recasting Momoa as the character Lobo following Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.[75] In January 2023, Momoa stated that he would "always be Aquaman", but felt that he could also portray other characters.[76] Later that month, DC Studios co-CEOs Gunn and Safran said there was potential for Momoa to reprise his role in the DCU, but a decision on the character had not been made. Gunn confirmed that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, alongside The Flash, would lead into the DCU's first film Superman: Legacy (2025).[77] Wan later commented that the second film would help set up a sequel and expressed some interest in directing it after a long break.[78]

In September 2023, Gunn clarified that anything released before Creature Commandos (2024) would not be canon to the DCU, causing journalists to question the possibility of a potential continuation moving forward.[79][80][81] The following month, Variety reported that no cast members from Zack Snyder's run of DCEU films would reprise their roles in the DCU, including Momoa as Aquaman. However, Momoa was reportedly once again in talks to portray Lobo in either Superman: Legacy or a standalone film.[21]

See also

References

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