'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom' Review
December 21, 2023
It’s hard to care, let alone write, about the incredibly uneventful Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the last gasp from the bloated, rotten corpse that is the DCEU. It’s a soaking wet mess, not from H2O, but from the sweat of editor Kirk M. Morri as he tried to stitch this Frankenstein’s monster of a production together into a tolerably cohesive “cinematic experience.” The reports of multiple reshoots, reedits, reconfigurations of timelines, and just overall studio meddling are apparent at every moment, with the final product sharing the same amount of creative energy as a used Toyota Corolla.
As the most well-liked member during Zack Snyder’s time at the helm, it’s fitting that Jason Momoa’s Aquaman / Arthur Curry would be the one to usher this mega-franchise out the door. Writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (with story credits also given to director James Wan, Momoa, and Thomas Pa'a Sibbett) wastes no time getting this farewell train going, revealing that Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) got married, had a son, and now rule over Atlantis as king and queen. Still present are Arthur’s parents Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and Tom (Temuera Morrison), as well as the allied King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).
But for every hero, there must be a villain, with Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) still maintaining that position from the first film. This time, however, he’s made a deal with an underwater devil: Free this long-imprisoned enemy of Atlantis and he will be bestowed with enough power to destroy Aquaman and everything he cherishes. Absolute power has corrupted absolutely, with Manta being blinded to the consequences his rage has on the environment. Blah blah blah… Arthur must learn what it means to be a king… blah blah blah… Patrick Wilson returns as Arthur’s half-brother Orm… blah blah blah… a giant battle commences… blah blah blah… the end.
Look, we’re now 33 films deep in the MCU and 15 for the DCEU, so nothing can really be a spoiler anymore. We’ve truly seen it all, which was admittedly much shallower than I would have expected. But if you’ve developed short-term memory loss over these past few years or go full Velma and drop your glasses in the theater; you’re in luck, as this audiobook of a script doesn’t let anything go unnoticed through its relentless exposition. Whether it’s during a montage, a flashback, or just a regular scene, there’s always some sort of narration or formulaic plot-driven explanation. This might be one of the first blockbusters to treat the visual component of cinema as a secondary tool.
And any visual flourishes here have been rendered naught by James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water last year (can you believe that these two films were at one point going to release on the same day!). There’s no egregious VFX sloppiness, just a lot of uninspired uses for such a vast world. Also paling to Cameron is the clunky messaging about environmentalism and xenophobia, with some of Arthur's speeches coming dangerously close to the level of Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground.
Kidman and Abdul-Mateen II are too good to be doing this kind of thing (again), with Willem Dafoe being the lone lucky one who was able to get out of his contractual obligations. It should have been telling that no major additions were made to this cast, with only talks of departures and backdoor firings. That’s pretty much been the DC way these past ten years: don’t try much of anything new and endlessly fight with each other.