Movie Review: Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom
I will say this for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the long-in-the-works sequel to 2018’s Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa in the title role: I laughed quite a bit. Does
it matter that the funniest parts weren’t supposed to be humorous? Not really. It’s the essential conundrum with this piece of intellectual property from DC Comics. The
very concept is absurd, occasionally with a tongue-in-cheek wink. And it’s difficult not to snicker when Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman is forced to spout nonsensical dialogue (“I’ll be sending a cephalopod with you”) and repeat the word “orichalcum”—the legendary metal of Atlantis, which emits greenhouse gases—with deadly seriousness.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom arrives as the DC Extended Universe is gasping its last bit of air before sinking to the bottom of the franchise ocean, never to be seen again. This corner of the superhero market is essentially being shut down as the relatively new chief executive officer of DC Studios, James Gunn, reinvents the universe anew, starting with Superman: Legacy, due in 2025. Given that the latest Aquaman adventure was delayed from 2022 to 2023, it lands in theatres as something of an afterthought.
(Reports of reshoots and cast conflict plagued the set.) Although the film, from talented horror movie director James Wan, isn’t quite the whale-size disaster pundits were
expecting, it’s also not some grand goodbye to this version of these characters. It’s just a meaningless, standalone adventure.
The movie starts out with a goofy prologue in which Momoa describes what he’s been up to in a version of the “*record scratch* *freeze frame*” meme. His character, Arthur Curry, otherwise known as Aquaman, is now a father to a baby boy with his wife, Mera, played by Amber Heard, whose real-life legal battle with her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, added another layer of media frenzy around this production. She has a solid amount of screen time, for what it’s worth, but both Mera and Aquaman’s mother, Atlanna (Kidman), are quickly sidelined by the plot.
Arthur divides his time between land and sea. In the latter, he serves as King of Atlantis but isn’t too happy with the gig because of all the bureaucracy. He just wants to be swimming around kicking ass, so we get dialogue like this: “I’m so bored I don’t even know which end of the Brine King I’m supposed to be looking at.” (The Brine King,
for those not in the know, is a giant crab who is, in fact, king of one of the Atlantean realms.) Arthur’s world is upended when his old foe David Kane, aka Black Manta (Yahya Abdul- Mateen II), unearths an evil trident in his quest to murder Arthur in revenge for the death of his father. The spirit of a nasty former ruler, now looking like some kind of creepy skeleton, possesses Kane, giving him strength and telling him he’ll receive the vengeance he craves if he helps unleash an army of long-believed-dead monsters trapped in ice.
To do this, Kane starts collecting supplies of the precious orichalcum (say that three times fast), a substance that elevates the world’s temperatures. Aquaman must team up with his now-imprisoned half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), the villain from the first movie, to save the day. Momoa himself is a sustainability advocate, and the climate change plot is in keeping with his off-screen activism. It’s well-intentioned, and yet, with all of its talk of magical gas polluting the environment—rather than, you know, human beings—it also somehow manages to downplay the genuine crisis facing our planet. Plus, whatever narrative momentum it had (never exactly propulsive to begin with) stalls when Kane and his plot take centre stage.
The arrival of Wilson as Orm livens things up a bit, in part because Wilson is so intensely committed to the part. His self-importance is played just right and counters the gung-ho, macho-man energy that Momoa exudes. Wilson makes a meal out of a tiny beat in which Orm doesn’t know how to move his arms when running because, of course, he’s
from the sea. Speaking of the sea, underwater is where Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is at its best because it’s where Wan and his production team can get creative. An
interlude, for example, in which Aquaman and Orm visit a Jabba the Hutt-inspired crime lord voiced by Martin Short while a fishy torch singer croons, is pretty enjoyable. Alas, the back and forth with Black Manta is deadly, but not in a fun way, and when real stakes are introduced in the form of peril for Aquaman’s loved ones, they register like a pebble in a pond.
Ultimately, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom seems destined to be forgotten, much like the realm it imagines. Inconsequential and, a lot of the time, quite boring, it ends with a poignant summary of the DCEU: Patrick Wilson picking up a cockroach, adding it to his sandwich and enjoying the crunch it provides.