Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Review: A Decent DCEU Departure

The DC Extended Universe is coming to a close. 2023 has seen four DCEU movies of varying quality and consistent box office underperformance, with Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle, and now, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The sequel to the 2018 film stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Here, we have a new superhero adventure where he must team up with his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to fight the villainous Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). I was a huge fan of the first Aquaman movie, and I can confidently say this is an underwhelming but serviceable sequel to that film.

My experience watching this movie started with a whimper, as my local AMC theater did not play the Nicole Kidman advertisement before the film started (even though she’s in this movie). But once the movie started, I had a sinking feeling that the movie would not be as strong as its predecessor. It starts with a group of pirates taking a bunch of people hostage on a ship, and then it immediately cuts to Aquaman arriving to save them. The buildup to his arrival feels weak, especially after how well-crafted his character introduction was in the first movie. From there, we have the opening action set piece, but it is narrated by our protagonist as he tells the story to his child.

This film sees Arthur settling down with his wife Mera (Amber Heard) and his young son, but David Kane/Black Manta is out for revenge on Aquaman for killing his father. From there, we have our adventure that’s a bit rough around the edges. The narrative beats can feel a little messy from moment to moment as Kane discovers a black trident that will help him destroy Aquaman. It seems simple enough, but as the movie progresses, the story gets a little bit too caught up in its world, and it’s not always easy to get invested in. There are many excellent set pieces in this movie, but the narrative holding everything together is somehow both thin and convoluted.

This arises with Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park), a character who made a cameo in the first movie and gets significantly expanded on here. Park is always a likable, welcome addition to any movie he’s in, and he’s no stranger to superhero fare after his role as Jimmy Woo in the MCU. He gets many moments to shine in this movie, and although his storyline is tied heavily to Kane’s goal, it feels like a few minutes could have been shaved off of this area. Everything surrounding the antagonists feels a bit disjointed, especially in the final act, but you always know what Kane’s motivation is and what he will do to get it.

While the first movie was a buddy adventure between Arthur and Mera, this movie focuses on Arthur and Orm. Although I prefer the first movie all in all, the buddy dynamic in this sequel works better because we have two brothers butting heads the whole time. Momoa and Heard don’t have too much chemistry together, but Momoa and Wilson are a fun duo. Aquaman is a funny, exuberant character, while Orm was the main villain of the first film. Orm maintains a few of his antagonistic qualities and prejudices here, and the way he plays off of Aquaman is great. In this comedy duo, he’s the straight man, while Aquaman is the funny man. It’s a bit of a globetrotting buddy cop action adventure that doesn’t always work but has many entertaining moments.

As far as the action goes, it’s not as good as the first movie. While the final act gives you all the underwater spectacle you’d expect, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom can be a bit inconsistent. The first movie had a sweeping sense of geography, pulling out in flashy wides and involving everyone in the action. This sequel is fun at times but does not always know what to do with a strong reliance on CGI and logical leaps. One early battle doesn’t have Aquaman join until far too late, and never answers what he was doing for the first half of the battle. However, the movie does have a superb final boss battle where Wan knows how to frame the action in a way that’s kinetic, but you can always see what’s happening.

A disappointment with this movie is its use of the supporting characters. The big players here are Aquaman, Orm, Black Manta, and to an extent, Dr. Shin. However, Mera only shows up sporadically throughout the film and gets no further development. I can excuse this one because it seems as if Warner Bros. was cutting her scenes down due to the actress’s real-life controversies (it doesn’t help that she’s in the movie at all). Kidman is an exceptionally talented actress, but this movie makes no use of her besides giving the occasional exposition dump. She’s there; she’s along for the ride, but you’re not invested in her presence.

Willem Dafoe does not appear in the movie either due to scheduling conflicts. It’s not a terrible loss since Vulko was mainly relegated to exposition dumping in the first movie, but the writers simply kill him offscreen and barely use his death as an important character growth for the protagonist, even though Vulko was his mentor from childhood. The best elements here include Momoa, who pulls from his bag of charismatic tricks and has a ton of fun as this character, and the other main players who make this movie worth watching.

It’s time we bid farewell to the DCEU. It’s a surprise that this day has come, but Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a serviceable standalone swan song. There are a few heavy-handed themes about climate change that can feel forced, especially as there are sections where characters just watch long TV broadcasts of reporters talking about climate change. Not all of the comedy and emotional beats land, but this film is good enough to turn on and watch. It isn’t one of the stronger DCEU entries, but you won’t have a bad time watching this sequel.

SCORE: 6/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.

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