'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom' Is a Wet Blanket

Directed by James Wan

Starring Jason Momoa, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Randall Park, Temuera Morrison, Pilou Asbæk, Vincent Regan, Amber Heard

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

BY Courtney SmallPublished Jan 2, 2024

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom introduces a recurring gag early on that involves Arthur Curry (a.k.a. Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa), King of Atlantis and now a doting father, getting hit with bodily fluid while changing his son's diaper. It's an amusing joke that inadvertently serves as a metaphor for the current relationship audiences have with comic book-inspired films in general: fans keep showing the genre unwavering love, only to be splashed in the face with waste in return.  

A decade and a half after Iron Man and The Dark Knight ushered in the lucrative golden age of superhero cinema, comic book movies have become a victim of their own success with an oversaturated market and studios reluctant to tinker with the time-honoured formula for success. Why change the secret sauce to a Big Mac when you can mass produce the same taste over every franchise? 

The problem with this logic is that people eventually tire of eating the same old burger every day, especially when other chains are taking their meals to new and exciting heights — and DC learned this lesson the hard way in 2023.

These problems can best be summed up by this latest installment in the DCEU, a film so risk-averse, it's afraid to step out of its own shadow. While James Wan's 2018 film Aquaman was a confident and fun mix of comedy, action and Indiana Jones-esque adventure, his sequel is a lifeless work in desperate search of identity.

The crux of the film's plot involves Arthur attempting to balance daddy duties with his responsibilities as a ruler of a society stuck in its old ways, while his archrival, David Kane (a.k.a. Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), seeks revenge on Arthur for the death of his father. With the help of scientist Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park), David discovers orichalcum, an ancient Atlantean energy source powerful enough to fuel naval fleets, which is banned from use because it emits dangerous greenhouse gases. 

Making David even more dangerous, he comes into possession of a black trident that gives him great power and knowledge, and contains the essence of Kordax (Pilou Asbæk), brother of Atlan (Vincent Regan), the first king of Atlantis whose body is trapped in the lost kingdom of Necrus. To find David and stop him from resurrecting Kordax, Arthur breaks his villainous brother, Orm (a.k.a. Ocean Master, played by Patrick Wilson), out of prison with the hopes of utilizing his criminal contacts.

As the brothers bicker their way towards Necrus, the film relies heavily on their differences for moments of levity and to reinforce corny platitudes about the importance of family that would make Dominic Toretto's eyes roll. What makes the latter especially frustrating is the fact that Arthur's family is practically non-existent outside of Orm. Aside from Arthur getting advice from his dad (Temuera Morrison), Lost Kingdom relegates his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) to just one underwhelming major action set piece and pushes his wife Mera (Amber Heard) to the margins of the film, barely seen to the point that audiences could mistake Arthur for a single dad.

Visually muddled, Lost Kingdom's Atlantis lacks definition and the sense of wonder expected from an advanced underwater city. And thanks to the convoluted plot and constant exposition in the film, the visuals only serve to remind viewers of the far better films that Lost Kingdom takes inspiration from: a shady nightclub owned by a crime boss (Return of the Jedi), a jungle with overgrown plants and bugs (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), a hidden advanced kingdom reluctant to announce itself to the outside world (Black Panther). At one point, Arthur even refers to Orm as Loki and makes a joke about sending him back Asgard.

Outside of learning that even DCEU characters spend their free time watching Marvel movies, there's nothing entertaining for audiences to latch onto. Arthur and Orm provide some amusing moments together, but their conversations are as forced as the situations the bloated script places them in. Even the odd-couple dynamic between Mera and Arthur that made Aquaman fun and adventurous feels watered down this time around.

Similar to the way Arthur falls asleep due to boredom while sitting on the throne, the film fails to get the heart pumping in any meaningful way. Lost Kingdom is literally and figuratively swimming with the fishes.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

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