‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ Review: The DCEU Goes Belly-Up With One Last Disappointment

James Wan’s choppy, unsatisfying superhero sequel ends the franchise on a low note

Aquaman 2
DC/Warner Bros.

After 10 years and 15 or 16 movies — it depends on how you count — the DC Extended Universe comes to a close with “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” It’s been a long, strange trip but this is where it ends. And I think we can all agree that it’s pretty cool of Warner Bros. to spare our collective feelings by ending this franchise on a film so bad we won’t even miss it.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is a hacked up mess, and that’s not just the editing, but boy is it also the editing. The film tediously recycles the plot of the original, with two characters switching places and another one cut out so haphazardly that it’s genuinely embarrassing and hurts the whole film. Plus it’s an uncleaned fish tank of visual noise, with laughable dialogue and a plot that makes less sense than usual.

To be fair it’s not like the original “Aquaman” was a high point in the history of superhero cinema, but James Wan’s attractive and epic production was anchored by the endearing chemistry between its stars, Jason Momoa and Amber Heard. The movie may have been formulaic and ridiculous but it was an amusing journey through a series of strange locales with memorably weird moments and an occasional grasp at gravitas. It was Conan the Barracuda-barian and that was just fine.

Like the original, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” sends Aquaman on a series of quests to one weird place after another to prevent a villain who has gone mad with power from wrecking the world. Also like the original, Aquaman spends the whole film bickering with someone he can’t stand and gradually growing to like them. Except this time instead of physically sparring with King Orm and verbally sparring with Mera, he’s physically sparring with Black Manta and verbally sparring with Orm. It’s almost like a new movie but not really.

Meanwhile, Mera has been demoted from a powerful hero with a powerful personality to a woman who has babies, folds laundry and sits dutifully by Aquaman’s side. She barely speaks and when she does it’s to dole out exposition or remind us that yes, technically she’s still in the film. Either Heard’s role was awkwardly cut down in post, as has widely been speculated, or “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” just has an underwritten and sexist screenplay. Possibly both, but either way it’s a huge distraction and it undermines not just her character but Aquaman’s as well. If we take this film’s editing at face value it suggests he sidelines his spouse at every opportunity and has no interest in anything she has to say. Some hero.

Since last we saw Aquaman he has taken his place on the throne of Atlantis, even though he’d rather be spinning donuts on his wicked chopper and telling violent stories to his newborn son. (Incidentally, Aquaman gets peed on so many times in the first half of this movie that you expect it to be important later, like maybe Arthur Curry Jr. is going to save the world by peeing on Black Manta’s power suit and shorting out its circuits. But no, it’s just a joke that was already hackneyed when “Three Men and a Baby” did it. And it happens over and over.)

Anyway, if there’s one thing Aquaman hates more than bad guys it’s representational democracy, because he thinks the Atlantean parliament is standing in the way of him doing what really needs to be done. Exactly what that is, the film leaves up to our imaginations so that we can assume it’s a good thing and not whatever a lout with no political experience would probably actually do with unchecked power.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Anyway, when Black Manta tries to destroy the world with ancient Antlantean climate change the only way to track him down is to enlist the help of Aquaman’s villainous brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson). The people’s representatives don’t like the idea of letting a former leader who took over the most of the world and got countless of people killed out of prison, but Aquaman does it anyway. Because he knows better. Over the course of their worldwide adventures our hero learns that this murderer and despot is actually a really good guy once you get to know him.

There doesn’t seem to be a coherent thematic through-line in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” except maybe that great men should be allowed to do whatever they want so long as other great men think it’s okay. Black Manta’s scheme revolves around the real world issue of climate change but the film also suggests that climate change has an easy fix. All we have to do is get the Atlanteans involved, which has as about much connection to the real world as the scene where the Aquaman, Orm and the regular human Dr. Shin (Randall Park) all get blown up, but somehow the explosion does more damage to the super-people than the normal guy.

James Wan is nothing if not a consummate entertainer, whether he’s directing a freaky horror movie or a nonsensical car chase movie or an underwater superhero flick. There are definitely moments in “The Lost Kingdom” with visual panache and there’s no shortage of enjoyably weird monsters. But the story is so poorly conceived, the CGI worlds are so busy, and the editing is so choppy that it’s hard to get invested in any of it. The visual effects are chaos. The sound effects are chaos. It’s exactly the kind of insipid malarky superhero movies spent the last few decades trying to prove that they’re not.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” isn’t the worst DCEU movie, and thanks to “The Flash” it’s not even the worst DCEU movie of the year. But these are incredibly low bars and the film deserves no credit for barely clearing them. That being said this film does deserve credit for one thing. The last shot of this movie, without giving anything away, is one hell of a way to end an entire franchise. At some point in production they knew that that this was going to be the last shot and that’s the way they decided to go out. It’s one hell of a choice, and when you see it I think you might agree that it kind of says it all.


2 responses to “‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ Review: The DCEU Goes Belly-Up With One Last Disappointment”

  1. Mark Avatar

    Oh, we are going to throw un a “sexism” accusation to support a proven abuser who should have been cut out of the film entirely? Such a hypocrisy in this society. They even have a Mera “action figure” for sale.

  2. Unknown Avatar

    “Sexism”? Please. Many of us DO NOT want Amber Turd to be in the film. This is the closest thing they could do to deal with Amber Turd who was unfortunately still under contract so she had to be in it in some form. And there’s them saying they “won’t give in to fan pressure”. Came back to bite them in the butt, didn’t it, eh? Even then, it was a lose-lose situation. Many would boycott Aquaman 2 as long as Amber Turd is in it. And Elon Musk made things worse, giving many people even more reasons to hate him. But even then, it was said that the story was rehashed or something. Heck, even the initial screening was a disaster which people walked out of. If Amber Turd was not in it, at the very least Aquaman 2 will barely survive.

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