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SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for Aquaman. If you have not yet seen the film, read at your own risk!
As it exists, James Wan's Aquaman offers fans dynamite live-action adaptations of two of the titular hero's key antagonists: Orm (Patrick Wilson) and Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). These iconic villains are treated well in the new blockbuster, but if the movie had been made based on early drafts, they would have been joined by a few other notable comic book rogues, as I learned recently speaking with the movie's writers. Asked about DC characters who flirted with making their debut in Aquaman, Will Beall explained,
There were a few Aquaman villains that appeared in a prison break sequence, but I don't think there were any other major characters.
I spoke with Will Beall, David Leslie Johnson, and Geoff Johns over the phone earlier this month to talk about their work on Aquaman, and I could help but dig deeper when I learned about the prison break sequences that was almost written into the movie. While it was only something that was a part of the blockbuster in its earliest stages, just imagining what it could have been is definitely fun to think about.
After Will Beall briefly mentioning it in his answer to my question about including more DC characters, I followed up asking how the prison break sequence was going to fit into the movie. Apparently it was going to squeeze in shortly after the first real confrontation between Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and King Orm (Patrick Wilson). Arthur was going to lose the battle and be imprisoned, and during that stint behind bars get to meet a few baddies that comic book readers would recognize. Said the writers:
Will Beall: I think immediately after, The Ring of Fire, the gladiatorial arena, Arthur was going to be thrown into basically an Atlantian supermax in the bowels of the city. So he's in general population with all these hideous monsters and guys that close students of the DC universe would recognize as Aquaman villains. And there was a prison break.
David Leslie Johnson: The guards were like shark men, and Arthur cuts one of them, and the blood drives them all into a feeding frenzy.
Those who have seen the film know that this is definitely a big change from the way that things play out in the finished cut. While this early draft of Aquaman had the hero losing to Orm in gladiator combat and being thrown in jail, the whole situation ultimately changed to see Arthur rescued at the last minute by Mera (Amber Heard), leading to a chase sequence with the duo trying to get out of Atlantis.
The way things play out in the film is great, but it still would have been great to see the prison break sequence as it had been planned -- if not just for all the teases of potential threats in the future of the Aquaman series/the DC Extended Universe. As for why it wound up getting cut from the movie, the writers simply said that it existed as one big action sequence too many (presumably the escape from Atlantis would have been an addendum to the prison break). In their own words:
David Leslie Johnson: It was cool, just too much.
Will Beall: We had a lot of big sequences. That one went away pretty early.
Adding his two cents to the conversation, Geoff Johns added that he thought the direction taken by the script was a smart one. In his opinion it would have been unwise to totally flood Aquaman with an abundance of comic book characters, regardless of the size of their role. The movie was made to allow the eponymous superhero take center stage, and he believes that's exactly what the film ultimately does. Said Johns,
I think that was a decision these guys made early on, and I think was a smart one. They let him, let Arthur have his own movie.