DC has grappled with its brand identity from its cinematic get-go, unsure of where to stand tonally, bouncing between lighthearted stories to flat-out flops. In recent years, the colossal comic book movie studio has collected themselves and has started to understand which direction they want to head in, even if it means abandoning projects that would have added a bit more depth to the franchise’s complexity. Director James Wan, who has recently been making headlines for his bizarre horror Malignant, divulged the plot of what would have been an Aquaman spinoff. The Trench, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the villainous Black Manta, would have expounded on the monsters of the deep seas. However, DC has now cancelled the project.
The Trench was described to be a “horror-tinged” DC movie that would have been produced by Wan in association with Noah Gardner and Aidan Fitzgerald behind the screenplay. Warner Bros. announced the plans to fulfill development on the movie and would provide more context to the particular scene in Aquaman where Arthur “Aquaman” Curry (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) sail off to the middle of the ocean – a scene that is one of the movie’s most compelling set pieces. Talks around moving forward with The Trench’s production hushed to a whisper, and in April 2021, DC and Warner Bros. confirmed that the Aquaman spinoff would no longer be included as a part of the studio’s slate for upcoming projects.
The spinoff may not be happening, but DC and Warner Bros. are still backing Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, a sequel to the first Aquaman after it made a splash at the box office. Wan hasn’t let Black Manta go, either, and during DC FanDome, revealed a closer look at the character design, his ship, his costume, and advanced tech gadgets that would be featured in the movie. Wan directedly cited New 52 and Silver Age DC comics as his inspiration behind the villain’s look in the second series installation.
Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta villain origin story may have been denied its green light to proceed, but it is expected that he will play a substantial part in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. While breaking down the DC film timeline chronologically, The Trench would have nestled between Aquaman and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Depending on how Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom choose to maneuver itself plotwise, The Trench could appear later down the timeline.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has made waves with its own controversy after Amber Heard was not fired from the sequel amid the ongoing legal battle with Johnny Depp, alleged false accusations of abuse, and exposing her own abusive behavior in audio recordings. Heard has reportedly been given a larger role in the sequel as Mera, which has left DC and Warner Bos. under fire for not replacing Heard. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom producer Peter Safran reiterated that the studio would decline to even consider releasing Heard from the series and said, “I don’t think we’re ever going to react to, honestly, pure fan pressure…We felt that if it’s James Wan, and Jason Momoa, it should be Amber Heard. That’s really what it was.”
Black Manta, even without his spinoff of The Trench, will return in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. DC has already chosen a holiday release for the sequel, and the second Aquaman film dives into theaters on December 16, 2022.