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Review: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

Directed by: James Wan

Premise: A sequel to the 2018 movie. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is now King of Atlantis and a family man. Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) threatens the Earth’s ecosystem with the technology of an ancient civilization.

What Works: The previous Aquaman feature was visually distinct not only within the DC Extended Universe but also within the superhero genre as a whole. Unlike the gritty imagery of Man of Steel, 2018’s Aquaman looked and played like a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980s and The Lost Kingdom continues that aesthetic. Whenever the Aquaman sequel slows down enough to show us what’s on screen the visuals are consistently impressive especially the bioluminescent undersea worlds. Atlantis is home to a variety of creatures and at times The Lost Kingdom has the feel of the early Star Wars films, especially Return of the Jedi. The Aquaman sequel also benefits from a warm feel. Arthur Curry/Aquaman is not the brooding tortured soul of some other DCEU films and Jason Momoa’s gregarious presence is appealing. Both Aquaman films are about family and the sequel’s father-son moments, especially between Arthur and his father (Temuera Morrison), have a nice organic warmth that contrasts with the digital environment of the rest of the movie.

What Doesn’t: The story of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a mess. A lot of this movie is just incomprehensible. There’s no making sense of what is happening. The film starts with Black Manta determined to acquire new technology so that he can kill Aquaman. An ancient trident apparently channels the supernatural spirit of a long gone empire. It’s implied that Black Manta is possessed by that spirit but exactly what’s happening to him and who these supernatural beings are is unclear and uninteresting. The narrative has purpose or direction. The heroes travel from one place to the next but there is no sense of where they are going and why. The film yanks the audience from one place to another but it’s rarely clear where the action takes place in relation to anything else. Subplots are hinted at but not followed through. The Atlantian council threatens Aquaman’s hold on the throne, Aquaman suffers imposter syndrome, and he struggles to balance his duties with his homelife. Nothing comes of any of this. No one grows or learns anything or makes a sacrifice. The film is very busy while at the same utterly static. It’s a slop of ideas and story fragments that don’t come together.

Bottom Line: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is an appropriate end to the DC Extended Universe as it was marked by inconsistency and sloppy storytelling. It’s a disappointing follow up to an enjoyable predecessor.

Episode: #979 (December 31, 2023)