‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ Sinks the DCEU
Dec 23, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Dec 23, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
The sequel to the highest-grossing DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film of all time has arrived, continuing the story of Aquaman. As the final entry before director James Gunn reboots the franchise with Superman in 2025, it falls to director James Wan and star Jason Momoa to end the series on a high note. But is it worth watching?
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Arthur Curry, a.k.a Aquaman (Jason Momoa, Baywatch Hawaii), juggles his duties as ruler of Atlantis with raising his newborn son alongside Queen Mera (Amber Heard, Machete Kills). The couple’s peace is shattered when old enemy Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Matrix Resurrections) resurfaces, hellbent on using global warming to release an ancient evil. To save the world, Arthur will team up with his disgraced half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, Hard Candy) to find Manta, and prevent the return of the Lost Kingdom.
The film places Momoa and Wilson in the DCEU’s version of a buddy comedy, with all the bickering, misunderstandings, and eye rolls that implies. Sadly, the bodybuilding surfer schtick that Momoa used to transform Aquaman from a walking punchline into one of the Justice League’s most popular members can’t sustain a 124-minute movie.
The fact that Wilson out-acts him on every level aside, the film’s lackadaisical, slapdash nature feels like everybody forgot this was supposed to be a superhero movie and just let Momoa do whatever he wanted in front of a green screen for a few hours. When Orm demands to know just what the heck Arthur is even doing on the throne if he refuses to take anything seriously, he’s just saying what the audience is already thinking.
Award-winning actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II spends the film in full cartoon villain mode, yet somehow manages to be completely uninteresting as Black Manta. For all of his talk about getting revenge on Aquaman and his family for the events of the first film, he’s never menacing (or interesting) enough to make us think he could actually do it. The fact that he’s relying on a hapless scientist (Randall Park, Wandavision) to help him pull off his nefarious scheme makes one wonder what he would have done if he hadn’t run into the guy earlier in the film.
Amusingly, hot off the heels of Blue Beetle, this is the second DC film in a row where a villain needs the help of a hapless scientist played by a comedian to accomplish his goals. Whether that’s the result of coincidence or laziness is entirely up to the viewer, but it’s fun to imagine those scientists meeting up to compare experiences.
Where Disney’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was tiresome in its clumsy attempts to weave an overarching story for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, The Lost Kingdom has no such concerns: Returning director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) hurtles characters from one inane sequence to the next, continuity, logic, and reason be damned.
As we see Arthur and Orm running from giant grasshoppers or seeking information from a slug-like undersea mob boss, the race to stop global warming has rarely been this ludicrous. Between the platitudes about family, the reformed bad guy, and action sequences with about as much weight and consequence as a Looney Tunes short, it’s official: The DCEU has gone full Fast and the Furious.
As in the first film, Amber Heard’s Mera is a force to reckon with, her water-bending powers putting Arthur’s punching and kicking-based attacks to shame. Unlike Arthur and Rom, she doesn’t waste time with one-liners, swagger, or schtick – she’s here to kick ass and take names. When Mera is on the offensive, you just know the bad guys are going to be in trouble. If she’d been on the case from the beginning, Manta wouldn’t have stood a chance, no matter how many comedians he surrounded himself with.
Exasperatingly, much of The Lost Kingdom is clearly well-made to the point of some sections being flat-out gorgeous – but it’s impossible to care about any of it because of the sheer absurdity of what you’re witnessing. Indeed, the well-crafted excesses recall director Joel Schumacher’s infamous Batman & Robin (1997), an equally overblown, effects-heavy production whose nonsensical nature killed DC’s big-screen aspirations until 2005’s Batman Begins. But where Schumacher’s film had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman’s campy overacting to keep one awake, Momoa’s charm wears thin all too quickly.
“Jumping the shark” and “nuking the fridge” are Hollywood expressions referring to the precise moment that a franchise screws up so badly, there’s no coming back from it. The Lost Kingdom packs on the WTF from the get-go; from Momoa’s face being repeatedly urinated on, and Wilson gleefully eating cockroaches, to Martin Short (Only Murders in the Building) voicing a [second-rate, trying-hard] copycat Jabba the Hutt, Aquaman 2 is a movie you will regret being sober for.
Given that this film closes the book on the universe introduced in 2013’s Man of Steel, it’s probably for the best that The Lost Kingdom ends when it does; by the time you get to the execrable mid-credits scene, you’ll be counting your blessings, and grateful that it’s over.
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