While most of this week’s chatter concerning DC Studios will be about the much-anticipated screening of “The Flash” on Tuesday night, Warner Bros. Discovery’s big CinemaCon presentation also offered the first real look at the other big-budget DC fantasy, James Wan’s “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
Originally set for release in December 2022 and then pushed first to March of this year and finally on December 20, 2023, the underwater actioner features the return of Jason Momoa as Aquaman as he reluctantly teams with his deposed brother (Patrick Wilson) to deal with a series of threats, including the return of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s vengeful Black Manta. And contrary to what the internet has been spouting for the last few years, Amber Heard is indeed back as Mera.
“Nobody hits my brother… except for me,” Orm says in the trailer.
The teaser opens with Jason Momoa’s Arthur raising a baby, seemingly alone (does Mera perish in the sequel?) with his father on the surface world. We get huge action sequences, including underwater mass battle scenes, Aquaman battling an underwater sub and our hero knocking over a statue with a headbutt to make a bridge. We see masses being (fatally?) attacked by a green infection while Arthur finally turns to his brother (Patrick Wilson) to help with taking on a rejuvenated Black Manta.
Arthur’s dad notes that the most heroic thing to do is to not give up, while the trailer ends with Wilson noting that “if you [Arthur] lead, Atlantis will follow” before Aquaman and Black Manta leap into the air at each other. We do see a few shots of Mera in action, but lines about a mid-film tragedy that cost lives seem to imply that Aquaman becomes a widower at some point, but that’s speculation. It’s still a jaw-droppingly gorgeous fantasy spectacle, with crisp, clear and colorful underwater photography showing that James Wan isn’t handing over the underwater franchise crown to James Cameron without a fight.
The original “Aquaman” was a slow-burn mega-hit, earning $335 million off a $72 million debut to become the leggiest live-action comic book superhero movie since Tim Burton’s “Batman.” It parlayed $298 million in China — still a record for a non-“Avengers” superhero flick — toward a $1.148 billion global total. Under normal circumstances, the follow-up would be a surefire hit. But five years later, much has changed in terms of the perception of its stars and the perception of its brand.
We’ve already seen “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” face-plant with just $155 million despite the first “Shazam” becoming an acclaimed little hit ($366 million on a $90 million budget in 2019), and the relative success of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” provided no comfort to “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
Ironically, after a decade of Hollywood being dominated by DC and Marvel superhero properties, the key to “The Lost Kingdom” avoiding such a fate will be in establishing itself as a must-see spectacular regardless of its place in a broader DC Comics universe. If this first footage, along with the same prime pre-Christmas release date, is any indication, that may be entirely plausible.