If there’s one good thing that came from the DCEU, it was making Aquaman cool. With the enticing casting of Jason Momoa, Aquaman became one of the most eccentric superheroes in this universe and made the only film in this franchise that made over $1 billion worldwide. As fitting as it would be to use Aquaman for this cinematic universe to go out with a bang, The Lost Kingdom arrives too little too late.


The biggest positive of Aquaman is that he seems to have his life together. The sequel opens with Arthur Curry divulging his current lifestyle as a king of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, a husband to his Atlantean wife Mera, a father to his newborn son, a devoted son who still has beers with his old man on land, and a hero who finds time to stop pirates on the seas. Even after enduring the usurping methods of his imprisoned brother Orm and growing frustrated with the underwater kingdoms unwilling to work with the surface world, he continues charging ahead with little doubt.

source: Warner Bros.

The fact that Arthur has more of his life together seems like a good idea, considering how little time he’s given to expand on his life. Outside of the opening monologue, aspects of his family life are downplayed so that his mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), almost feels like an afterthought for her minor time on the screen. There’s no time to appreciate any of the family drama when there are fantastical places to visit and a supervillain to stop.

A Classic Villain

With his pathos established in the first film, David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) can finally live up to the title of Aquaman’s primary antagonist, Black Manta. There’s a conflict with how Black Manta is framed in this tale, where he’s still bound by revenge for his father’s death, but also falling back on classic supervillain antics. He’s now assembled his own battleship of minions with matching uniforms and his suit ready to fire laser beams at Aquaman. While it’s neat to see this villain behave in a simpler manner, his simpler attitudes make him feel less compelling.

Black Manta’s chance at revenge comes in the form of unearthing a hidden underground kingdom. This kingdom is home to dark magic and zombies, where the populace is consumed by a planet-destroying element that grants vicious power to dominate all. Naturally, Aquaman and Atlantis must find a way to stop this threat, even if it means going against the political stuffiness of the feuding kingdoms. A reluctant scientist (Randall Park) can only do so much to stop a guy who is willing to kill babies.

The Super Aqua Brothers

The film highlights how Arthur relies on his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to guide him towards Black Manta. The two feuding brothers have a great dynamic, considering that Orm knows little about the surface world, having spent his entire life in Atlantis. Arthur relays his love of cheeseburgers and convinces his brother that cockroaches are the most delicious snack on land.

source: Warner Bros.

Between this culture clash and their bickering over tactics on extracting information, it’s fun to watch them venture off together, more than any forced DC Comics crossover could ever muster. There was hope after Arthur mentioned “I know a guy,” and it wasn’t some lackluster insertion of Ben Affleck’s low-key Batman or Ezra Miller’s awkward Flash. The battle of the brothers was easily the best part of the film.

Fast Fantasy

The least interesting part of the film is the central plot of Black Manta’s evocation of ancient evil magic. Outside of Arthur playing off Orm, nearly every character is locked into speaking about saving the world, with little room to expand on anything. There’s no time for Atlanna to fawn over her grandson when she has Atlantian secrets to reveal. There’s no time for Mera, arguably the most powerful of Atlantians with her ability to manipulate water, to become a contributing companion since she’s written out entirely from the second act. There’s not even time to have Temuera Morrison ground this story with cultural influences; which would’ve been amazing to see how he interacts more with Orm.

To keep the film down to a trim two hours, the bulk of the dialogue talks about Black Manta and his quest for the green-house-gas-emitting magical resource of orichalcum. This lukewarm allegory for climate change comprises so much of the story that characters like the stern Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) and the grumpy Brine King (John Rhys-Davies) are reduced to merely barking orders.

source: Warner Bros.

This fast-paced exposition darting from location to location robs the film of appreciating its fantastical sights. There are some great places to explore, from the bustling traffic of Atlantis to an underground prison of bone-themed monsters to a scummy underwater haven for criminals. This is a film where Martin Short voices a slimy fish mafia leader, and the film keeps his role strictly business-related. How do you waste Martin Short like this? A film that features an octopus secret agent could stand to slow down to appreciate some of these wonders, lest they zoom by the screen before the audience can appreciate any of it.

Conclusion: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Despite Aquaman’s need to make one last cannonball for the DCEU, he only makes a mild splash in a mostly empty pool. With the party over and little else to go, the Aquaman sequel at least has the decency to be more of its own thing than another piece of the DCEU puzzle. It’s certainly a more entertaining film than the various DCEU productions that felt more like a mess of ideas.

But with the speed of this adventure set to overdrive to ensure a tight running time, it’s hard to enjoy the simpler pleasures of Jason Momoa being saved by an octopus riding a seahorse and Patrick Wilson munching on bugs. Even for not being bound by the restrictions of adhering to this cinematic universe, this film makes a clear case for how there’s only so much that can be done with the franchise’s best-performing DCEU character. Oh well. At least the film doesn’t have questionable cameos of dead actors or a gag about pee in a jar. That’s a mild win, even if it arrives at the very end of a failed era in DC Comics movies.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is playing in theaters on December 22nd, 2023.

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