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REVIEW – ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ is a Pulpy Action Adventure

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While all of the films in the DC Extended Universe had their own twists on the iconic DC Comics characters, Momoa’s Aquaman was the most unique and memorable. Momoa, along with directors Zack Snyder and James Wan, truly made Aquaman cool; so cool that the first Aquaman film made over $1.15 billion worldwide, making it the highest grossing DCEU film (over the likes of Batman v. Superman and Justice League).

Considering Aquaman’s unique place in the DCEU, there’s some poetry to the fact that the sequel film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, will officially close out the DCEU and clear the way for James Gunn and Peter Safran’s DC Universe reboot.

Despite a variety of challenges to get this film made, Momoa, Wan and the entire filmmaking team managed to craft a pulpy action adventure with fantastic action and amusing humor. While the seams of production challenges are visible, particularly in the film’s first act, the final product is an entertaining global quest that provides welcome glimpses of the larger potential for the Aquaman universe that Wan had envisioned.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom premieres in theaters December 22nd.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Theatrical Poster
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Theatrical Poster

Official Synopsis

Director James Wan and Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa—along with Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Nicole Kidman—return in the sequel to the highest-grossing DC film of all time: “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Having failed to defeat Aquaman the first time, Black Manta, still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman 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, 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.

All returning to the roles they originated, Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry/Aquaman, now balancing his duties as both the King of Atlantis and a new father; Patrick Wilson is Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and his nemesis, who must now step into a new role as his brother’s reluctant ally; Amber Heard is Mera, Atlantis’ Queen and mother of the heir to the throne; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is Black Manta, committed more than ever to avenge his father’s death by destroying Aquaman, his family and Atlantis; and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, a fierce leader and mother with the heart of a warrior. Also reprising their roles are Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Randall Park as Dr. Stephen Shin.

Directed by Wan, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is produced by Peter Safran, Wan and Rob Cowan. The executive producers are Galen Vaisman and Walter Hamada.

The screenplay is by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, from a story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Jason Momoa & Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, based on characters from DC, Aquaman created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger.

Joining Wan behind-the-camera is his sterling team of “Aquaman” artisans: director of photography Don Burgess (“The Conjuring 2”), production designer Bill Brzeski (“Jumanji: The Next Level”), editor Kirk Morri (“Furious 7”), composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (“Wonder Woman”) and music supervisor is Michelle Silverman (“Malignant”). Visual effects supervisor Nick Davis (“The Clash of the Titans” films, “The Dark Knight”) and costume designer Richard Sale (“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Ready Player One”) also join.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents An Atomic Monster / A Peter Safran Production of A James Wan Film, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” set to open in theaters internationally beginning 20 December 2023 and in North America on December 20, 2023; it will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures™ & DC Comics
YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures™ & DC Comics

THE REVIEW – An Amusingly Absurd Action Adventure

A sequel to a billion dollar film seems like it would be a slam dunk, but Momoa, Wan and the entire creative team had to endure quite the tumultuous journey for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. From delays, extensive reshoots, and other challenges, there’s a feeling that this film, and the DCEU as a whole, is limping to the finish line.

All the drama is disappointing because once the film is able to shed a slow start mired by obvious production issues, it’s quite entertaining. Set not long after the events of the first film, Arthur Curry (Momoa) is now a father and raising his son with his wife Mera (Amber Heard) and his own father, Tom (Temuera Morrison). On top of his fatherly duties, Curry is also the King of Atlantis, and must divide his time and focus taking care of his son on land, with his obligations under water.

It’s a pleasant new perspective for a superhero film to see Curry trying to meet the needs of an adorable infant son, building a home and raising a family. The problem is that for a long stretch, it’s genuinely unclear whether Mera is part of the family or not. The film almost seems to imply that Mera is no longer in the picture, framing Arthur and Tom as two men trying to raise a little boy. Until randomly Mera does pop up to confirm that she is still part of the family. The dynamic is bizarre and feel like the result of a patchwork effort to rework the film too many times.

Once the disorienting first act of the film is over with, and Curry begins his mission to stop Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) from destroying the planet begins in earnest, the pace picks up and the story is able to fully embrace Wan’s weird imagination. The whole gang from the first film is back, and it feels like a family reunion. It’s surprisingly heartening to see Curry break out his sibling nemesis Orm (Patrick WIlson) to seek his aid in battling Manta. Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) and Kingfish (Martin Short), round out the all-star team of aquatic heroes, who all contribute some memorable moments to the story. In particular, Short’s Kingfish, a giant walking lobster, is the perfect microcosm of the entire film – absurd and ridiculous, yet hilarious and endearing.

PATRICK WLSON as Orm in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures™ & DC Comics
PATRICK WLSON as Orm in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures™ & DC Comics

The film excels in the action and humor, with Momoa leading the way in both areas. Momoa and Abdul-Mateen’s sheer physicality and on-screen presence elevate the fight sequences. If there were ever two individuals born to play superpowered characters, it’s the two opposing leads, and it’s thrilling to see them clashing throughout the film, culminating in a truly magnificent trident duel that could stand next to any Star Wars lightsaber fight.

What makes Momoa unique as a superhero lead is that not only is he a physical marvel, but he has a disarming charm and humor as well. Here, Momoa seems the most comfortable that he’s ever been in the role of Aquaman, carrying himself with an ease that allows him to drop one-liners with confidence. There have been films where Aquaman’s “super-bro” characterization has been far too exaggerated (such as his brief drunken appearance in The Flash), but thankfully, here he is more grounded and relatable. This is the Aquaman that audiences will want to hang out with and share a drink.

The cast around Momoa is a mixed bag, with some great performances by Temuera Morrison, Patrick Wilson and Randall Park, returning as Dr. Stephen Shin in a more substantial role. On the other hand, along with Heard’s uneven presence (Mera ultimately remains a substantial part of the story, despite what the first act would have you believe), Kidman’s Atlanna and Lundgren’s Nereus are dragged down by uninteresting roles and distractingly poor dialogue. Half the time, I couldn’t make out what Nereus was saying, and worse, I didn’t care enough to try to figure it out.

Outside of the first act, the most disappointing part of the film is Black Manta’s arc. As Wan told me in our interview, the first Aquaman was intended to be just an introduction of the villain, who would rise to power in this film. And while that is Manta’s general storyline, his mission to exact revenge on Curry for his father’s death is too ridiculous to accept, stripping the character of any chance for empathy from the audience. Further, the way his story ultimately concludes is a disservice to Abdul-Mateen’s talent and performance.

JASON MOMOA as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures™ & DC Comics
JASON MOMOA as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures™ & DC Comics

From a technical perspective, the film’s 3D feels like a vestige from another time. Almost as if this film began production in the early 2000s, when the 3D film craze was at its height. The 3D wasn’t particularly impressive or noteworthy, and distracted from the film.

Overall, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom feels like a throwback, reminiscent of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and even Star Wars. It’s weird, cheesy and fun. Unfortunately, audience tastes have changed in the five years since the first Aquaman film came out, and the sequel feels stuck in the past. It doesn’t provide anything that is distinctly unique or fresh in the superhero genre, and that’s not enough to satisfy audiences in 2023.

Still, any analysis of the Aquaman films must mention what a wonderfully diverse franchise it is. Not only is it the first major superhero franchise helmed by an Asian director, it’s also the first superhero film by an Asian director to get a sequel. The franchise’s two stars are a native Hawaiian actor in Momoa, and a Black actor in Abdul-Mateen, and it prominently features Māori actor Temuera Morrison. In this film, the two most prominent members of Black Manta’s team are played by Asian actors Randall Park and Jani Zhao. However the Aquaman franchise will be remembered, it will always be one where a film led by a diverse cast and director made over $1.15 billion worldwide.

THE RATING – 3/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 3

Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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