Interview: James Wan Talks Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and bringing back a fan favorite

James Wan talks with JoBlo about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, bringing the sequel a new look, and Topo the Octopus

Last Updated on December 29, 2023

James wan topo

I’ll always remember my first introduction to James Wan. It was after Saw‘s success and heading into supernatural territory with Insidious. It was one of the first “set visits” I enjoyed attending – the opportunity to report on the film while it was in production. And it was a joy. Instantly, I found myself impressed with everything about the man. Mr. Wan is a wonderfully talented individual who manages to tackle something weird and wild like Malignant and then create a big-budget megahit like Aquaman.

With the upcoming release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is hitting theatres on December 22nd, we had the the chance to have a quick chat with Mr. Wan. While our time to talk was short, James opened up about continuing with the characters he featured in Aquaman. The filmmaker discussed the look of the film and how they created a different visual landscape. And he even promised a whole lot more of Topo, the octopus. It’s always fantastic to speak with James, and like many of you, I’ll be checking out Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom when it hits theaters.

James, so good to talk.

James Wan: Jimmy, buddy. I’m giving you a virtual hug.

Same. Hug back sir.

JW: Great to see you. I know we have a short amount of time, so jump into it.

Okay, cool. Let’s start with this: you could have gone anywhere with the sequel, brought in a new villain, or gone in a lot of directions. What was the thought process for you of continuing with the Arthur and Orm story, as well as bringing back Manta back in?

JW: Yeah, it’s really interesting because I describe the Lost Kingdom, like the second part of the first movie. It really is the second part of the first film in the sense that if you put the two movies back to back, you watch them like one big movie: just purely in the sense that the characters in the second one are just all the characters that we had established in the first one. We didn’t bring any new characters into this like we were setting up a second movie in that regard. So it really plays like it’s the chapter two or part two of a bigger film, which is kind of cool in that regard because in the first movie, we knew that Patrick’s character was ultimately Orm, and he was going to be the main antagonist. He was going to be the antagonist of the first film, but ultimately, he was going to work together with Arthur to become somewhat of an empty villain because that’s how his character is in the comic book as well, right?

In the early comic books, Orm would sometimes be the villain, but in other issues, he would be on the good guy side with Arthur. And so I felt like this was the journey I wanted to do with Orm. And so it became very obvious that for the second movie, Black Manta has to be the main villain. He’s the classic arch-nemesis of Aquaman from the comic book, and we wanted him to continue to be the main villain. In the first movie, we set him up, we set up his motivation, so in the second one, we can just jump straight into that story.

That should make it a little easier than continuing with the already-built world.

JW: Yes, exactly. In the first movie, we just took a lot of setting up just because the first cinematic representation of that world, of those characters and that world. And so that was just a lot of setting up that then the second movie, it was just a lot of shorthand that we could do.

Now you’ve also, I was reading some of the press, I was talking about the kinds of the new creatures, how you’re building the world. You have better CGI, and you have better visual effects. What was the most important thing for you in this film to create a different look from the last movie?

JW: It was important to create a different visual than the first one. That was very important for me because I just didn’t want to feel like we were just rehashing what we did from the first movie. And luckily, the direction of the story really allowed me to explore new characters, I’m sorry, new underwater characters, new, whoa, aesthetically. This one, the theme of the environment and the melting of the ice caps, afforded me the chance to create a slightly different look than the first one.

But thankfully, the octopus is back.

JW: Well, not only is Topo back, but he’s an actual character now in this one; he actually has a real presence.

Okay, let’s talk about that. How the hell do you make that work? What was the process of making Topo a living, breathing character in this?

JW: Yeah, I know it took a lot of people by surprise when they saw the first film how much we were willing to lean into the more quirky, goofy aspect of the Aquaman world. And for me, as a filmmaker, that’s what makes it fun to be able to do all these kinds of fun stuff.

And so, when I saw how well Topo was received in the first one, it gave me permission to bring him to the forefront. I actually really wanted him to be more of a character in the first movie, but we just didn’t have enough space to put him in there. So he just ended up with a small little cameo, but then people responded to it in a very positive way, and David Leslie Johnson, the screenwriter, and I knew immediately from the get-go that we had to put him in a significant role in this one. And he’s in this; Storm, the seahorse, is in this as well from Super Friends. And so I think anyone who knows that world definitely knows that we’re leaning and embracing the Aquaman world.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom hits theaters Dec 22.


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.