The DCEU's biggest critics may see Aquaman as a step away from the vision and style of Zack Snyder. But apparently, the similarities between James Wan's recipe for success and Snyder's extend beyond Arthur Curry - to their dedication to the original comics, above all else.
Patrick Wilson is probably the best equipped to comment on the directing styles of Zack Snyder and James Wan, having portrayed Orm, the brother and royal rival to the two directors' take on Aquaman. The worlds of Aquaman and Watchmen couldn't be more different, but both were once hailed as comic book stories "impossible to adapt" to live action. And now that Patrick Wilson has seen how both were captured on film, many will be surprised to hear that the approaches weren't as different as you might expect
- This Page: What Aquaman Has in Common With Watchmen
- Next Page: Patrick Wilson's Support For Zack Snyder's Work
Aquaman & Watchmen Both Turned To Comic Panels
Having (proudly) established himself as one of James Wan's most willing collaborators, and having anchored Zack Snyder's Watchmen, we couldn't help but note the connection when speaking with Wilson about the film. Especially not after our Aquaman interview with James Wan highlighted the comic artwork for bringing Ocean Master in particular to life.
You've had experience with comic book adaptations starting with Watchmen, where much of that film was a case of recreating comic book panels exactly as they appear on the page. How different is it going from that, to some of the visuals in Aquaman where so much of it is VFX, it's hard to imagine anyone but James Wan knowing what it's going to end up looking like?
Right. Well, there's a lot of... before each scene, even in that all VFX world of Atlantis, we get what's called a pre-vis, so we had a pre-visualization which looked like sort of an archaic '80s video game almost [laughs], of what it's going to be. And then he's got great artists that he works with and surround him, so you get to see the artwork so you understand the world, that would help. And then just your imagination. That would set the tone more than anything.
As far as going back and looking at certain panels of the comic, it actually was super important. Because while we didn't pull the direct storyline from one specific comic, one thing that's pretty clear, certainly with the New 52, is any time Orm is on screen as Ocean Master with that mask on, you just see this grit... these teeth... and this fight, you know? So that was something that we could really use from a very technical perspective. Sort of, 'Look at this panel, look at his face, look at how much he's contorting in it,' you know. That is important. I'm sure if I was playing Judge Dredd it would be the same thing, 'How do you act with your mouth?' So that's important, you know? That's hugely valuable. So from that perspective, it was similar to Watchmen, where you're going back and looking at panels.
As obvious as this approach might seem - an overt, explicit decision to let the comic book versions of these characters inform and shape the movie portrayals - it's becoming less and less common these days. There may still be Easter Eggs and references to the comics, but with Marvel Studios, the genre's most successful production house confirming that their Thanos/Infinity War story is no longer following the comics, faithful adaptations are becoming less important, not more.
Both Aquaman and Watchmen resist that idea by bringing comic book scenes to life intentionally. But if it seems odd for Patrick Wilson to speak positively about Zack Snyder and Watchmen given the criticism leveled at the film - and its director's decision to stay so faithful to the comics - then a refresher may be needed. Because Wilson has been one of the best defenders that Snyder, Watchmen, and even Batman v Superman has had to date.
Patrick Wilson's Response to Watchmen Being 'Too Faithful'
Patrick Wilson may not be as outspoken as his Aquaman co-star Jason Momoa in his support for Zack Snyder shaping the DCEU (who could be?), but he has addressed some of the most common criticisms leveled against his Watchmen and BvS director. When speaking with Patton Oswalt at the former's WORD Bookstore, the controversial Alan Moore adaptation was raised, with Oswalt (openly critical of the film) saw Snyder's strict adherence to the source material as a failure. Wilson countered that criticism of letting the comic shape the film, as it ultimately would with Aquaman, as well:
There were panels of that comic that I loved doing, that I loved being slavish to. I loved standing in front of the--not just because I'm naked, but you could do the screengrab of me looking at the suit. I thought there were some very iconic panels in there that I felt like we just needed. From my perspective we're usually just getting words, and here I'm given pictures. I thought that was such a useful tool to get inside Dan. There were so many moments of, like, where you see Dan and his smile when he sees Silk Spectre... looking longingly at his outfit and knowing how emasculated he is and that's the only thing that gives him power.
So for those moments, I love that we're sticking to the comic. Because I felt like it gave me strength... with Watchmen I was like, 'Alright I'm going to be slavish to these panels, and I'm going to go to him' with Zack, and Jackie [Earle Haley] and I would come in some days and say, 'You know, I love this moment in the comic...' So from an actor's perspective I wanted to capitalize on being slavish to it.
Patrick Wilson's Response to Batman v Superman's 'Failure'
Bringing to life one of the most controversial and seminal graphic novels of all time is one thing. But when it came time for Zack Snyder to re-imagine DC's greatest heroes in Batman v Superman, that controversy followed him. And while Batman v Superman fans analyzed the film to their hearts' content, and audiences drove the box office numbers to a final tally of over $870 Million (DC's biggest success until Aquaman took aim at $1 Billion), the critics deemed it a "failure" based on artistic, more than financial grounds.
The DCEU fans out there know how Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League paid the price for that critical backlash, but even before that, Patrick Wilson was one of the few actors stepping into the DC movie universe who had seen it all before. Prior to signing on as Aquaman's villain, Wilson was asked by BadTaste.it (during press for The Conjuring 2) if his cameo role in BvS gave him perspective on the hate and outcry. Needless to say, he didn't concern himself with the claims that Snyder's work was now not faithful enough:
Look, I love comic book movies, and I dug BvS. So as far as reviews, that's not really my business. I remember going through that with Watchmen, where you were so faithful to it that some people thought it was too faithful for its own good, so... You make movies for audiences. And a movie that makes $900 Million? I don't think you could sit here with a straight face and say, 'Yeahhhh, it really did poorly.' I think that's kind of crazy. A lot of people enjoyed that movie thoroughly, as did I. So only positivity from me.
Considering that James Wan's Aquaman takes Zack Snyder's outlandish spectacle and fantasy to the world beneath the ocean, it makes sense for Patrick Wilson to be right at home. And now that fans know the Snyders gave James Wan their blessing on Aquaman, there's nothing but positivity all around.