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Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom review: the quintessential DCEU movie


Warner Bros.’ plan to rehabilitate Aquaman’s image by transforming him into Jason Momoa was one of the more curious things about the DC Extended Universe back when the franchise was first coming together. The idea of a bulky, boozy prodigal son of Atlantis seemed a little silly at the time, and it was. But it also worked surprisingly well in (contrast to the rest of) Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and while that film might not have been much to write home about, Aquaman’s presence within it seemed like a hopeful sign that Warner Bros. might still be able to right the ship eventually.

Small gasps of that same hope were present in director James Wan’s first uneven Aquaman solo feature, whose dazzling underwater set pieces, and lighthearted tone both made it feel like a much-needed breath of fresh air for the DCEU. Given the first Aquaman’s incredible box office success, it came as no surprise when a sequel was announced. Back then, it was easy to imagine the follow-up film being a reflection of the lessons Warner Bros. learned from its difficulties getting the rest of the DCEU off the ground.

In Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom, you can plainly see just how much attention Warner Bros. has been paying to the public’s response to its own unwieldy franchise of comic book adaptations, and to the direction that its competitors like Disney / Marvel have been taking their projects lately. But in the wake of the entire DCEU now being shuttered and set aside in favor of a hard reboot, you can also see The Lost Kingdom as a monument to everything that was great (which was not a lot) and terrible about this particular superhero movie experiment.

Rather than wasting time framing itself as part of an expanding universe the way some of Warner Bros. other recent live-action DC films have, Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom puts all of its energy into reintroducing you to half-human / half-Atlantean king Arthur Curry / Aquaman (Jason Momoa). As both a human-borne member of the Justice League, and the rightful heir to the Atlantean throne, Arthur’s widely known as a unique kind of hero throughout the many oceanic kingdoms secretly thriving deep within the Earth’s oceans.

But a few years into his marriage with Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur’s also become a father, and as committed as he is to keeping his kingdom safe, he’d much rather spend most of his downtime time kicking it with his family. Though family and inheritance have always been a big part of Aquaman’s lore, The Lost Kingdom spends so much of its first act banging the “Aquaman’s a cool dad, now” drum that it almost feels like the film pulled the plot beat right out of Marvel Studios’ recent playbook.

Whereas Justice League and Aquaman’s Arthur was a frattier, beer-guzzling kind of bruiser prone to knocking heads before asking questions, Momoa tries to bring a playful sweetness to the character this go around meant to speak to how fatherhood softens and strengthens him. Though you’d expect the parenthood turn to put more focus on Arthur’s relationship with Mera, The Lost Kingdom puts more emphasis on how the baby’s arrival deepens Arthur’s bonds with his own father Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), and mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). To a point, that emphasis helps The Lost Kingdom differentiate itself from other films about superheroes becoming parents like Thor: Love and Thunder and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But as the film unfolds, Heard’s notable lack of screen time becomes an increasingly conspicuous reminder of the The Lost Kingdom’s behind-the-scenes troubles.

The Lost Kingdom is insistent about reminding you how much Arthur loves being a family man. But with humanity’s pollution threatening the planet’s oceans, and menaces like David Kane / Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) plotting to destroy Atlantis, there’s rarely a time when he isn’t being pulled away from the people he cares about most. If The Lost Kingdom narrowed its focus to Arthur’s struggles with being torn between his lives on land and sea, the movie would probably play a bit more like a smooth, self-contained sequel building on well-established ground.

Instead, The Lost Kingdom piles on so much worldbuilding, and features so many set pieces that it feels less like its own distinct story, and more like an unwieldy narrative behemoth cobbled together from the wreckage of Warner Bros.’ scrapped The Trench spin-off film.

The Lost Kingdom is often a smorgasbord of visual delights as it follows Arthur down to the bottom of the ocean where Atlantis and other kingdoms are all presented as different parts of one a beautiful, sprawling bioluminescent world that puts Wakanda Forevers Talokan to shame. But as inspired as the film’s visuals are, its plot tends to be as predictable as it is winding. And it spends so much time introducing new faces and underwater locales that it isn’t until the third act that anyone actually gets around to mentioning the existence of a kingdom whose being lost might be of some importance.

More than anything else, that bloated quality is what makes The Lost Kingdom feel like a product of the DCEU, but it’s far from the franchise’s worst film. Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom isn’t a particularly amazing or inspired film, either, but rather one that crosses the finish line to a relay race Warner Bros. was never going to win.

Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom also stars Patrick Wilson, Randall Park, Dolph Lundgren, Martin Short, and Indya Moore.



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