Movie Review: ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’

Jaosn Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Jaosn Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

In theaters on December 22nd, ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ represents the last gasp of the Zack Snyder-overseen DC movie universe before new studio arm bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran sweep (almost) all before them as they build out their new vision for DC Studios.

Directed once again by James Wan (who made the billion-plus success that was the first ‘Aquaman’), it arrives following a wave of delays and changes. So, does the sequel live up to the silly-but-fun original?

Does ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ sink or swim?

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

Regrettably, we must answer a solid no to the question. ‘The Lost Kingdom’ feels more like a senior handing in a sloppy work project, little concerned with how it’ll be received.

This is superhero storytelling on autopilot, another world-threatening situation, another rote test for the hero, another villain with even less shading than he had in the first movie. And fairly shocking given the people involved and how they managed last time.

Related Article: Director James Wan Sinks Rumors of Chaos Around ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’

‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’: Script and Direction

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

Written once again by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story by not just director Wan but also Momoa and his producing partner Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, this is the sort of film that makes you wonder just why it took so many people to come up with a movie screenplay this basic.

Mired in some very obvious tropes and storylines, ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ is really just the 7500th telling of the “hero tested by returning villain who has found some dark ancient power to help his cause, forcing the protagonist to team up with another former antagonist to save the world”. And if you felt me falling asleep as I wrote that, imagine what I went through during the movie.

This is a film that borrows so heavily from other, better movies –– a dab of ‘The Matrix’ (in Black Manta’s squid-like attack craft), a splash of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (the backstory for the ancient power at the heart of the story) and just a sprinkling of ‘Black Panther’ (both in Arthur’s clash with someone who feels they should have his job and in a way we won’t explore here).

Topo the Octopus in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros.

Topo the Octopus in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

Aside from a callback to the drumming octopus known as Topo (an element from the comics that served as a one-off joke in the first movie but is here revealed to be an intelligence agent and a source of more occasional humor in this one) there is very little that feels at all fresh or truly interesting here.

The whole affair is tired and repetitive, the treatment of the story beyond rudimentary and the drama only really serving to stitch together set pieces that themselves come across as several different variations on the idea of Aquaman and Patrick Wilson’s Orm running from things or punching them.

Wan, meanwhile, gets to inject some of his usual horror overtones into the movie –– one or two sequences work (such as Black Manta showing up at Aquaman’s father’s house in darkness after he has conspired to shut off the power). But in general, let down by varied quality of the visual effects (for a film that took this long to finish, you have to worry about some sequences that look like they’re from the theme park version of the movie), this is certainly among his lesser movies.

The re-shoots and changes that happened along the way clearly had an effect, and most of what still works about the movie is by sheer luck rather than design.

‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’: Performances

Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

If there is any real saving grace in the movie, it’s Momoa’s committed performance as the leading man, full of wisecracks (even if he does start to sound like Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man at times) and finding fun chemistry with Wilson’s Orm.

For his part, Wilson gives good snark, fully embracing the idea of the frustrated ruler who can’t stand the doofus who is on what he sees as his rightful throne.

Elsewhere? Poor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is reduced to an afterthought as a villain, who has his vengeful mission but very little else to do. At his side is Randall Park as scientist Dr. Stephen Shin, making the most of a nebbishy stock character and scoring one or two laughs.

And the rest of the heroic characters are barely there –– Temuera Morrison as Aquaman’s father Tom has a couple of solid scenes with his son and grandson, but you have to wonder why Nicole Kidman bothered showing up again as Momoa’s character’s mother beyond a contract and a payday.

Coming out even worse, though, is Amber Heard, who occasionally appears to be added in through visual effects and beyond one helpful moment, has so little to do you can understand Heard’s concerns that her character has been reduced to nearly nothing.

‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’: Final Thoughts

Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

As an ending to the DC universe in its pre-Gunn era, this is like the mess of sticky drinks left on the floor after a party –– there’s no real wrap-up for anything and the usual teasing hint for future stories is pretty much absent.

Given how Wan, Momoa and the rest brought some knowing fun to a character who has been a joke in the past, it’s all the more disappointing that their follow-up is a bombastic but hollow enterprise, a less-than-satisfying end to a movie universe.

‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ receives 6 out of 10 stars.

“The tide is turning.”

PG-132 hr 4 minDec 20th, 2023

Showtimes & Tickets

Black Manta, still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death and wielding the power of the mythic Black Trident, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman down… Read the Plot

What’s the story of ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’?

Having failed to defeat Aquaman (Jason Momoa) the first time, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman down once and for all.

This time Black Manta is more formidable than ever before, wielding the power of the mythic Black Trident, which unleashes an ancient and malevolent force. To defeat him, Aquaman will turn to his imprisoned brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), the former King of Atlantis, to forge an unlikely alliance. Together, they must set aside their differences in order to protect their kingdom and save Aquaman’s family, and the world, from irreversible destruction.

Who else is in ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’?

The cast for the new superhero outing also includes Amber Heard as Mera, Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin.

Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R Center) Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures / ™ & © DC Comics. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. TM & © DC.

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