Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is in uncharted waters, with the next several weeks potentially setting its course, for ill or good.

The sequel to Warner Bros.’ 2018 DC movie is coming off a round of reshoots that occurred in New Zealand in mid-June and involved stars including Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson, according to multiple sources.

This is the third round of reshoots for the movie, directed by James Wan. That is almost an unprecedented number, even for a movie of this scale.

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Lost Kingdom has faced several headwinds as it swims towards a Dec. 20 release date. It was postponed several times (it originally was due to bow in December 2022), and like its DC movie brother, The Flash, its making has now spanned three regimes at Warners.

The movie was greenlit under the Warners regime led by former film boss Toby Emmerich and his lieutenant, DC Films head Walter Hamada, as a sequel to Aquaman, which proved to be a surprise hit and stands as the highest-grossing DC movie of all time with $1.148 billion.

Principal photography wrapped in January 2022, but by summer, Emmerich was out (Hamada soon followed), both casualties of the merger that created Warner Bros. Discovery. 

The movie was in the middle of post-production and beginning test screenings that summer. While a timeline is not clear, from summer 2022 to the beginning of 2023, The Lost Kingdom underwent two rounds of reshoots and held several uninspiring test screenings.

After one round of test screenings, new Warners film bosses Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy got involved, as they were running point on DC until Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav could find a permanent DC boss to replace Hamada. Sources say that in the fall, Abdy took a strong creative stance and got involved in the editing of one cut. However, when that version tested, it scored lower than the previous version. That led to another round of reshoots.

Different visions of executives notwithstanding, it is unclear what the problems were, but one insider said the underlying issue of story clarity has been an ongoing concern.

Also at issue: Batman. 

Hamada wanted Michael Keaton’s version of the character to be akin to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in the Marvel movies — an elder statesman who could pop up in various films, including the now-shelved Batgirl, as well as The Lost Kingdom. But shifting release dates muddled things. At one point, The Lost Kingdom was set to open in March 2023, several months before Keaton’s return in June 2023’s The Flash. So in late July 2022, two months after Abdy and DeLuca took over Warners, Ben Affleck joined a round of reshoots as Bruce Wayne, to replace a scene Keaton shot. But then the movie was moved again, this time to after Flash, putting Affleck’s appearance in question. The latest cut of the film features neither version of the Dark Knight, according to sources, as new DC heads James Gunn and Peter Safran do not want to promise a movie universe that will not come to fruition nor tie it down excessively to past failures. “It was pretty chaotic,” said one source.

(And some of the chaos may not have been the studio’s or filmmakers’ fault. Some of the calendar moves were due to overloaded visual effects houses, a phenomenon that occurred during the pandemic and that affected both Flash and Lost Kingdom, causing a cascade of release date pushes.)

More test screenings of cuts occurred in February, and again in April. By this time, Safran, a producer on the first Aquaman as well as The Lost Kingdom, had become co-head of the newly-created DC Studios, along with Gunn.

It is unclear how Safran’s transition shifted the movie’s fortunes, if at all. Insiders say that the filmmakers were in the dumps by the seemingly never-ending post-production process and water-logged test scores. However, the skies may have cleared with the new reshoots. 

Gunn is said to have weighed in on the most recent cut and the leadership approved a five-day shoot. Sources say the shoot went so well that Wan and company completed what they needed in only four.

And to some, the fact that Warners is willing to keep spending money to make the film better shows that the studio has faith in The Lost Kingdom. (In February, according to sources, the filmmakers of Blue Beetle, the other remaining DC movie that was made during the AT&T era and comes out in August, asked for two days of additional shooting but the studio turned them down. Safran had also been a producer on Beetle before his ascension to the executive ranks.)

Lost Kingdom is already an expensive production. It was greenlit at a $205 million budget and shot during the pandemic, which was a burdensome expense on tentpole productions. Additionally, every frame of the movie involves visual effects, another major cost. The reshoots have only raised that overall budget.

Lost Kingdom is the final movie of the DC Extended Universe, which launched a decade ago with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. It’s December release date approaches as Warners’ DC movies are flopping at an unmatched level. October’s Black Adam, March’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods (also produced by Safran) and last month’s The Flash were money losers in their theatrical runs. Though Gunn and Safran plan on rebooting DC films with Superman: Legacy, that title won’t be out until July 2025. No one wants another miss and there are questions as to how much bruising the DC movie brand can take.

The filmmakers and studio knows the value that smart post-production can bring. The first Aquaman was also facing turbulent waves and is said to have found its footing only in post, when a new ending was burnished and the movie tightened to a zipper two hours and twenty-three minutes.

As for Wan, he was upbeat when he spoke to THR in April as he continued to work on the film: “This movie has something to talk about [climate change], but it’s still a fun action-fantasy movie.”

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