AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM
December 22, 2023 / Warner Bros. Pictures Canada
Starring: Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman, Amber Heard, Dolph Lundgren, Randall Park, Vincent Regan, Pilou Asbaek
Directed By: James Wan
Having failed to defeat Aquaman the first time, Black Manta (Yahja Abdul-Mateen II), still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman (Jason Momoa) 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.
Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom closes the chapter on the DCEU with a fun but messy adventure that stays afloat thanks to the wonderful pairing and chemistry of Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson, who both capture the fun nature of the superhero genre in a film otherwise plagued by rewrites out of James Wan’s control.
Thirteen years ago, the DC Extended Universe kicked off with Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, reimagining Superman’s origin story while setting up the building blocks to create an interconnected universe for the DC superheroes to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is no doubt that the DCEU has been riddled with drama since its beginning, from meddling studio executives, fan campaigns to release director cuts of the films, and various changing directions for the universe itself, but the DCEU has still delivered some of the best DC films to date with impeccable casting for many of its heroes. It’s hard to imagine actors other than Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in the roles of Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and now, a decade later, their tenure in the DCEU comes to an unplanned conclusion with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom as DC prepares another reboot for its superheroes under the leadership of James Gunn. While Momoa’s last outing as Arthur Curry is riddled with problems beyond his or director James Wan’s control, remnants of their original vision for the film remain and create an entertaining adventure that relies heavily on the performances of Momoa and Patrick Wilson.
Of all the most recent films in the DCEU, none suffered from more reshoots and studio interference than Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Not only did the film have to change elements to match varying directions for the DCEU from which version of Batman are we moving forward with, the future of the DCEU itself, and finally to the DCEU being ended and needing to remove any future storyline setup, this film had to retcon the appearance of Amber Heard after her messy legal battle with Johnny Depp. This led to numerous reshoots and rewrites, and watching the film it is apparently evident in the first and final act. It is clear that most of Heard’s performance has been reduced, not because she is not prominent in the story as that is clear, but because in the scenes she is present in other characters replace her function and she just quietly hangs out in the background of the shot. This leads to lots of voice over and characters talking directly to the camera without any other characters in the shot, both signs of reshoots without the entire cast present. The story itself is fine, the global warming messaging is noble even if there are villain issues and the stakes feel somewhat underwhelming. After being set up in the first film, Black Manta deserved to be the primary villain and not a pawn, while the true big bad gets shafted in the final act and deserved a more exciting climactic moment actually fighting Aquaman.
However, the film is at its best when it’s a road trip brother comedy with Momoa and Wilson in the middle hour where Wan’s original vision comes through. The results are a truly fun film that makes you wonder what this sequel could have been in its original iteration. Momoa and Wilson have electrifying chemistry that brings the film to life, as they bicker and work through their complicated relationship, even if some of the jokes are cheap and will have you rolling your eyes. Momoa is his usual charming and goofy self, reminding audiences why he is perfect in the role of Arthur Curry, while Wilson steals the film as Orm. The first film had Orm as the villain, but this time Wilson gets to play with both the light and darkness within Orm as he gets a chance at redemption. He has the most interesting character and best writing of the entire film, and Wilson delivers a compelling performance that makes you hope that he gets cast again in another blockbuster franchise as he is truly one of the most underrated actors currently working in the industry.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II once again is formidable as David Kane aka. Black Manta, capturing the madness of his character and delivering some truly chilling villainous moments. It’s just too bad he isn’t given more to do, as this should be his film as the primary villain with more run-ins with Momoa’s Aquaman. The rest of the cast varies from good, such as Nicole Kidman who always gives a good performance but has little to do here and the always fun Martin Short for an entertaining scene as the voice of the Kingfish, to nonexistent, like Heard and Temuera Morrison, both of whom are only brought out when necessary to progress the plot along.
Visually speaking, the film looks pretty great. Yes, there are some moments of questionable CGI, but they are few and far between and nowhere near the lows of The Flash, showing that DC Studios allocated its CGI budget to this film over The Flash. As with the first film, Wan creates a dazzling world brought to life by a mixture of CGI and costume design that is completely immersive. The visuals are only amplified by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ musical score which captures the grand adventure of the film with bombastic music to energize the film at all times.
It’s a bittersweet experience watching Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom as it's the end of an era that many film goers will miss. There is no doubt that many viewers will see Jason Momoa as their Aquaman after portraying the character terrifically over three films, and while the film itself has its fair share of problems, Momoa once again brings the fun. While it’s hard to not notice the effects that the extensive rewrites and reshoots had on this film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom still remains a fun final outing for the DCEU thanks to the performances of Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson who revel in the fun, brother road trip comedy that James Wan originally envisioned for this film.