The next chapter in Arthur Curry’s story is getting closer to reaching shore, as Aquman and the Lost Kingdom is set to hit theaters in just a few months. This water-soaked installment will see Jason Momoa return to play the lead role, and he’ll be joined by a number of other returning stars from the first movie as well. However, director James Wan has officially confirmed that one franchise alum didn’t return for this latest installment – Willem Dafoe, who played the role of Vulko in the first movie. In addition to giving that confirmation, Wan also provided an explanation for why Dafoe didn’t make the trip to Atlantis this time.
Yes, Aquaman 2 does already have an impressive cast that – in addition to Jason Momoa – includes the likes of Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Nicole Kidman. However, pretty much any film would be blessed to count Wilem Dafoe amongst its ranks. James Wan discussed the actor’s absence from the highly anticipated sequel while chatting with EW and explained that it was simply Dafoe’s schedule that kept him from signing on. As disappointing as that may be for some, the Conjuring director went on to explain that Vulko’s exclusion did allow for one positive development:
Willem is not in this one, no. Part of the reason was because his schedule did not work out for us. But what that allowed me to do was expand on Atlanna's role. Atlanna in this one ultimately becomes Arthur's advisor. Because Arthur's not from this world, she helps him better understand the world and the politics of how things work.
In the original 2018 film, Vulko was a mentor to Arthur Curry, training him for years while also serving as the vizier within the kingdom of Atlantis, By doing so, he helped the half-human/half-Atlantean man get in touch with his undersea roots. Vulko remained loyal to the legacy of Queen Atlanna amid Prince Orm’s takeover of the Atlantean throne and was imprisoned for that. By the end of the movie, Vulko was still alive and, like many of his constituents, he opted to follow newly installed king Arthur.
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It’s quite understandable just why Wilem Dafoe (who found Aquaman to be different from his Spider-Man experience) was unable to return, as he’s been quite busy over these past few years. Some of the movies he has on the horizon – including Poor Things and Inside – had production schedules that overlapped with the DC film’s. Though it’s a bit of a bummer that he won’t be popping into the final DCEU movie, it’s at least great that his omission opened up more narrative possibilities for Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna. While she played a solid role in the first movie, the Lost Kingdom trailer seems to tease that she’ll be pivotal to the events of the sequel. It’ll be quite interesting to see how James Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick add layers to the character. The prospect of Kidman being given more to do is also exciting.
And of course, the presence of most of the other original stars is sure to enthuse fans. Just about everyone is returning, including Amber Heard, who’s reprisal of Mera has been subject to speculation as of late. Nevertheless, Heard did appear in the trailer (briefly), and fans had thoughts about that. James Wan fielded a question about Mera’s reduced role being due to the attention surrounding Heard and her legal issues with ex-husband Johnny Depp. However, it would seem that nothing changed with his story plans in that regard, as Mera was apparently always meant to take a backseat this time around. That’s because this story put Arthur and Orm’s relationship at the forefront.
The future of the Aquaman franchise seems uncertain, with the launch of the DCU franchise on the horizon. This could very well be the final time we see Jason Momoa’s version of Arthur Curry as well as his allies. But if this movie proves to be a hit and studio co-head James Gunn and co. want to keep the series going, I wouldn’t mind seeing Willem Dafoe return as Vulko. That’s on the condition that his schedule matches up, of course.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – one of the biggest titles on the schedule of 2023 new movie releases – opens in theaters on December 20. To prepare, you can stream its 2018 predecessor using a Max subscription.