Black Manta seeks revenge on Aquaman for his father's death. Wielding the Black Trident's power, he becomes a formidable foe. To defend Atlantis, Aquaman forges an alliance with his imprisoned brother. Together, they must protect the kingdom. (from IMDB)
Forgetting the thoughts that, perhaps, the movie-going public just might be feeling serious superhero fatigue at the cinema, it's tough to ignore the fact that Warner Bros' DC cinematic universe has been lacking for most of its 10-year run. But, as we prepare for a full-on reboot of said cinematic universe (with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn running the show creatively), the current iteration of the DCEU comes to a close with 2023's Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The aquatic superhero's one and only sequel isn't anything to write home about, either, but its disappointing result is a fair representation of what the DCEU has been throughout its decade in existence.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is exclusively a sequel to the 2018 hit movie, Aquaman, and doesn't add anything to the DCEU's overall storyline. While hardly extraordinary, Aquaman was a well-crafted and fun superhero vehicle for Jason Momoa's titular character. It was a highly enjoyable underwater romp that defied expectations and was a suprising highlight of the DCEU. A sequel was inevitable, and I think it's safe to say that it was one to look forward to. However, with news of the collapse of the DCEU coming during the production of the sequel, not to mention the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial drama, the fate of the Aquaman sequel seemed doomed from the start.
But the weirdest thing about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, is it almost seems like it hardly even tries to be anything more than a cookie cutter sequel. It feels rushed, thrown together, spastic, schizophrenic, goofy at times, and altogether messy. Oddly enough, it seems to have its heart in the right place thematically -- Momoa is visibly committed, but the movie hardly feels like a natural successor to its 2018 predecessor. For one, if I didn't know James Wan was in the director's chair once again for the sequel, I never would guess the same director worked on this movie. The tone is different, the pacing is different, even the look and feel is different. I'd love to know how much of The Lost Kingdom is Wan's intentions and how much is the result of studio involvement. Sure, the movie is an entertaining superhero adventure film, but it's got the worst case of sequelitis I've seen in some time (Although The Marvels, released just a month prior to this one, is certainly a bigger mess than this one).
Again, it feels like Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is all over the place. It's hard to know how much of the Amber Heard drama had affected the storyline and editing, but her role is demoted to more of a side character than a main one. You may be surprised to see how much more of her remains in the movie than you'd expect, but I think it'd be near impossible to cut her out entirely and make the story still work. Still, her role is greatly diminished, and there are stretches of the story where it's kind of noticeably awkward that she's absent from the film. If you are familiar with the controversy surrounding the actress, her absence from scenes that feel like she should be included is tangible. So whether or not the original plan was for Momoa's Aquaman to pal around with his villain brother, Orm - played by Patrick Wilson, those scenes end up being the highlight of The Lost Kingdom. Once the two reunite, it suddenly becomes sort of a buddy comedy. And while that tonal shift is maybe a tad jarring, it makes the movie come alive in a new way. And the formerly menacing villain is now the straight man to Momoa's surfer dude schtick.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is back as the villainous Black Manta. In all honesty, his big-bug-eyed-suited villain from the first film wasn't exactly my favorite part of that movie, but he's back in the sequel this time as the official Big Bad (as opposed to King Orm in the first movie), and when Manta gets a hold of a cursed trident that possesses him with evil supernatural powers, it starts feeling more like a campy 90s superhero movie than something more serious. Yahya is fine in the role, but I can't help but feel like the character just lacks in general. Everything about the character seemed to come across better in the 2018 movie, and here it just feels a bit too over-the-top, if not entirely redundant.
The content is on par with the first movie, with perhaps an increase in profanity use, including an incomplete use of the "F" word from Momoa. Without spoiling too much - and feel free to bypass this remark if you don't want to know - but a lot of controversy surrounded the film months before its release, suggesting that Black Manta would end up slaying Aquaman's infant son in the movie. Thankfully, that doesn't end up happening, but that doesn't mean Black Manta doesn't try. It does seem unfair that the movie was subject to inaccurate backlash before it had even been seen by anyone. (However, could that storyline have been changed following the rumor and before its release? It's hard to say for sure.) Otherwise, the action scenes offer a fair share of action violence with minimal blood. There isn't any excessive gore or anything, but you can expect some bloody scrapes and cuts along the way. There are also a couple gross-out gags, like Aquaman tricking Orm into eating a cockroach.
In the end, while Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom isn't the worst superhero movie of 2023 (The Marvels wins that honor), it may be the most disappointing. Wan has proven to be a capable director, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom would suggest otherwise. It's a big movie with great ambitions, but its delivery is haphazard, far too chaotic, tonally schizophrenic, and visually overwhelming. Here's hoping that it's only up from here for the future of DC movies.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/3/24)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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