Aquaman will forever be the film that no one can explain regarding its success. It had a nicely sized opening at the box office back in 2018 and then reached a billion dollars. It was the only DCEU film to do that (Joker wasn’t in the DCEU.) It took us five years to get the sequel, and it’s definitely not going to reach a billion. But should you see it? As my Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Review will tell you…yeah, if you’re up for seeing a fun movie to end the year.
A quick recap. In the last film, Arthur Curry became King of Atlantis after defeating his brother Orm and saving the surface world from the wrath of the oceans that his brother would’ve unleashed. The sequel sends things a while into the future, where Arthur is still king. He got married to Mera and has a child named Arthur Jr., and he’s doing his best to be a good king but is struggling with politics (a very familiar thing for us to hear) and doesn’t know if he can be the king he needs to be. Meanwhile, Black Manta has spent his time since the first movie traveling the world with Dr. Shen, searching for Atlantean artifacts so he can rebuild his power suit and kill Aquaman. This leads him to find the Black Trident and send everything on a collision course to catastrophe.
In truth, if you’re looking for a very nuanced plot, this movie isn’t going to satisfy you. But not every superhero film is going even to attempt that, and James Wan clearly wanted his “brotherly comedy” sequel to be “within the lines” while having fun. After Black Manta starts his attack on both Atlantis and the surface world for an “unknown reason,” Arthur is forced to break Orm out of prison so he can find Black Manta and stop the plagues that are killing his people, and stop the greenhouse gas overload that is warming the planet.
Easily, the biggest highlight of the movie is the dynamic between Arthur and Orm. We only saw them in an antagonist rivalry in the first movie, but here, we get to see them act more like brothers. Yes, it’s very comedic, but it works. Plus, we get to see hilarious moments like Orm basically doing the “Naruto run” because he doesn’t know how to be above the water (which tracks with the first movie’s scenes with him on land.)
You can see that Arthur is at least TRYING to be a good brother to Orm and that Orm is struggling with what he was taught his whole life by his father. If you recall, his father was a jerk, so Atlanna fell in love with Tom and hid Arthur with him to keep the two alive. By the end of the film, they do right by the brothers and even do something that the comics have hesitated to do with Orm so that I can appreciate that.
Before I go any further, I want to highlight how incredible Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is as the Black Manta. He was great in the first film, but I loved him even more here with his being “possessed” and yet still having his unrelenting desire to kill Aquaman. This is the kind of character who is “one-note” because of his motivation, but it works for him because he lives to that creed and desires revenge more than anything. In fact, in the end, there’s a moment when Aquaman tries to save his life, and Manta straight up goes “never” and is willing to take his chances rather than be saved by the guy who killed his father. So, his making a “deal with the devil” aligns with what he believes. And the new suit and “power boost” made him feel like an even bigger threat than before.
Transitioning to the action, there were a surprising number of action beats in this film that felt “fresh,” as weird as it may sound. James Wan ensured we had another visual feast to sink our teeth into between the fights on land and in the water. Yes, not every fight is grand (including the final fight with Aquaman and Manta, where it looks like they’re both CGI models), but it was fun more times than not.
Plus, we got even more worldbuilding for the underwater realms, which I can tell was something James Wan wanted very badly.
The cast in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom overall was solid, even though it was the “Arthur and Orm show” once the two were on screen together. I think the thing I’ll miss the most going forward is Momoa’s Aquaman. He changed the perception of what the king of the seas can be, and you could tell that Momoa was having a blast doing certain scenes, injecting Polynesian culture into the character, and more. Plus, I loved how Arthur did his best to be a good father and king first. He even relied on his own father (the great Temuera Morrison) for help. Some of those early scenes with father and son were true standouts.
And, yes, since this is officially the “last film in the DCEU,” everything that’s done in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a wash. But it did have a kind of “peace out” moment at the end that many will appreciate.
However, I’ve come to the point in my Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Review where I must “water things down.” See what I did there? And while I liked the film, several elements stuck out in a kind of “forced” or “weird” way.
For example, while the supporting characters stood out in their own ways, at times, they felt more “tacked on” than anything else. They even killed off Vulko off-screen, and that felt VERY odd. The most fleshed-out side character was Dr. Chen, who I appreciated, but you kind of wish that the other characters were shown off more.
Another issue character-wise was the “climactic final battle” against the Lost Kingdom and its king. They spent the whole of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom building up Black Manta as this epic threat, and then they backhand his role so that they can give it to Orm and set up a “bonding moment between brothers.” Like I said, there’s not a lot of nuance here, some will be fine with it, but I was disappointed because Manta was worthy of being that avatar, and they threw it away. Plus, when the undead king was resurrected, he died with comical ease, and yet King Atlan had to seal him away instead of just killing him. Really?
That wasn’t the only “wait, why is this happening like this?” moment in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, including why certain characters were in one place versus the other. But arguably, the biggest “Are we really doing this?” story beat was when we find out that Arthur is being hamstrung as king due to a council that they reveal for this movie. So they’re willing to let Orm do all he wants, and Arthur can’t even have a chance to do his stuff? This is another example of “show, don’t tell,” it irked me that this was how they were going about this storyline. And then, in the end, he ignores them and does all he wants, which is how a KING would act most of the time.
Another oddity, especially given this film’s numerous delays, was that things didn’t feel as “crisp” VFX-wise. Multiple underwater scenes with the Atlanteans had the faces and hair feel “off” in a way the first film didn’t. As noted before, some of the fights with characters like Aquaman and Black Manta looked very CGI compared to what we had before.
Even still, as my Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Review hopefully shows you, this film is worth your time. It’s not the best movie, but it’s hardly a belly flop in the pool. There’s plenty to enjoy here, and we’ll likely miss this version of Aquaman once the DCU arrives because there is something special about this character that the DCEU brought to life…and now it’s gone.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Review
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom might not be as fun as the first film, and it had a message it REALLY wanted to tell above everything else, but James Wan did create something good that you should check out when you have the chance.
- Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Review