Action Adventure

Review: ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ is a Water-Logged Sequel that Sinks Under the Weight of Its Own Ambitions

December 21, 2023Ben MK

Ever since the beginning of the DC Extended Universe, fans have been comparing it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And with the MCU having a five-year head start on the DCEU, it's easy to see why. Films like Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor established the new gold standard in the superhero genre, and even though movies like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman managed to be blockbusters in their own right, they still struggled to escape the shadow of the competition. It's a spectre that has haunted the DCEU for the last decade, even with the success of Birds of Prey, The Suicide Squad and The Batman. But with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, those comparisons can finally be put to rest, as the DCEU swims off into the sunset for the last time.

Once again captained by James Wan, this followup to 2018's Aquaman finds half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) trying to adapt to his new roles, not only as the new ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, but as a dad to his and wife Mera's (Amber Heard) new bouncing baby boy, Arthur Jr., who also happens to share Arthur's gift for communicating with the creatures of the ocean. It's been a few years since Arthur and his allies stopped his power-mad half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) from waging all-out war with the surface world, and since then, the seas and all its sub-surface, multi-species communities have been relatively peaceful. Little does Arthur realize, however, that an old threat is about to resurface in the form of Tom Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has spent the last few years trying to rebuild his damaged Black Manta power suit, so that he can finally take his revenge on his sworn nemesis and annihilate Aquaman and all of his kin once and for all.

Enlisting the help of reluctant scientist Stephen Shin (Randall Park), Manta has been scouring the globe for Atlantis itself. What he stumbles upon instead, however, is the frozen remains of the long-lost kingdom of Necros, an underwater empire once ruled by the brother of King Atlan himself, King Necrus (Pilou Asbæk). Freed from his icy tomb thanks to the effects of global warming, Necrus has been lying in wait for someone to take up his black trident, a deadly weapon forged with dark magic that grants the holder unimaginable power. Unbeknownst to Manta, though, there's another caveat to wielding the trident — and when he does so, he's unwittingly possessed by Necrus himself. It's a supernatural alliance that spells certain doom for both Atlanteans and humans alike, as Manta uses the mystical properties gifted to him by the trident to set into a motion an evil plan to overhead the planet. And if Arthur is to have any hope of stopping his arch enemy, he'll have to form an alliance of his own — by freeing Orm from his prison and convincing him to embark on a joint quest to stop their common enemy.

What follows marks the end of an era. Unfortunately, rather than going out with a crowd-pleasing bang, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom sends the troubled DCEU off with a dissatisfying whimper, as Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick try in vain to make this sequel more epic than its predecessor, while only succeeding in making the result increasingly ludicrous in the process. From the way the story liberally borrows from The Lord of the Rings to the film's corny sense of humor and its mind-numbingly chaotic action set pieces, which resonate as a thinly-veiled attempt to compensate for the movie's lack of genuine plot, there isn't much in this second Aquaman installment that qualifies as praiseworthy. And so despite the filmmakers' best efforts, even hardcore DCEU fans will find it challenging to wring even a modicum of enjoyment out of this waterlogged adventure.

That said, there's one aspect of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom that at least lives up to its promise, and that's the way it brings Arthur's journey full circle. For even though the film itself may leave moviegoers befuddled, it's nice to see its titular character at least receive a proper arc. Other than that, sadly, this final, flawed entry in the DCEU proves more problematic than not. And while only time will tell if Superman: Legacy and the reborn DC Universe will turn the tide, one thing's for certain — you can't get much lower than the bottom of the ocean.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom releases December 22nd, 2023 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some language. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 4 min.

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