Friday, December 22, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

You forgot this was coming out, didn’t you?

There was a time not long ago when Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s profound incoherence would have been cause for concern. Focus groups would have been gathered. Re-writes would have been ordered. People in suits would have met in boardrooms and waited their turn to repeat important-sounding phrases like “brand awareness” and “synergistic intellectual property integration” as many times as necessary to keep their jobs. A reshoot schedule would be intentionally leaked to a popular YouTuber who would convince his followers that this is all part of the plan, that the studio has the fans’ best interest at heart and just wants its latest $200 million Content Series Entry to be worthy of the franchise’s sacred legacy. But it’s 2023, folks. The year of Blue Beetle. Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Ezra Miller. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Jonathan Majors. Secret Invasion. No one gives a shit anymore. We’re done. Oversaturated. As ever, Hollywood has learned all the wrong lessons from success and driven the gravy train right off the tracks.
But let’s approach Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom in good faith, shall we? A few years after deposing his evil half-brother Orm (a reliable Patrick Wilson) and winning the throne of Atlantis, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) has grown restless. Though victory has earned him the heart of Mera (Amber Heard) — with whom he now shares a son — ruling his kingdom has proven to be a far less interesting proposition than saving it. Bureaucratic policy debate isn’t exactly the Guinness-slugging Arthur’s forte, so it probably comes as a bit of a relief when Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) uncovers a powerful reserve of Atlantean energy pods that — with the help of Dr. Stephen Shin (the nigh-inescapable Randall Park) — he uses to fuel his revenge against the underwater nation. Unable to stop Manta on his own, Arthur frees Orm from his captivity and tracks the villain to his volcanic island lair. There, he learns that Manta’s power derives from Kordax, dormant ruler of the lost kingdom of Necrus. With Manta’s help, Necrus’ dark power is poised to rise again.
Director James Wan, whose original 2018 Aquaman was charming enough to make up for its convoluted story and forgettable characters, returns to the bottom of the sea with considerably less joie de vivre this time around. The Lost Kingdom is by no means dour — Momoa brings his usual “dumbbells and hot wings” energy and squeezes as much life out of his computer-generated environment as he possibly can — but it’s so overplotted that there’s simply no time to develop a tone in between all the exposition. Working from a story by Wan, Momoa, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett (and patched together haphazardly by what must have been a team of overworked editors), The Lost Kingdom is exactly the bloated corporate entity genre filmmakers as talented as Wan should be avoiding at all costs. There are touches, sure — a Jabba-the-Hutt-esque gangster voiced by Martin Short recalls the first film’s fun with octopus drummers — but they’re too few and far between to make up for its erratic, scattershot storytelling.

Up-and-comer Abdul-Matteen is wasted on a grab bag of colorless platitudes about revenge and power and whatever else these stock villains are supposed to care about, while warm presences like Temuera Morrison and Dolph Lundgren are relegated to thankless background roles that count on the audience’s ability to remember who the hell they were and what the hell they did in the previous film. Most egregious, though, is the squandering of cinema’s own Nicole Kidman, who is a silent bit player in two separate action sequences before the film deigns to give her some starchy business to deliver an hour in. We’re used to Academy Award winners cashing paychecks in these movies, of course — Someone ask Susan Sarandon if she remembers being in Blue Beetle — but there’s something frustrating about this one. Time that could have been spent developing the uneasy bond between Atlanna and her half-sibling sons is given instead to Randall Park, again playing a high-strung everyman who has to explain the rules and science.
But again, does any of this really matter? The DC Extended Universe has already been rebooted, leaving both Aquaman and its charismatic star — sorry — out to dry. A potential merger between Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global would — I’m really sorry — muddy the waters even further, robbing The Lost Kingdom’s game-changing ending of any and all dramatic heft. It’s regrettable that corporate restructuring and industry gossip are even part of this discussion of art, of course, but this is the world they’ve built for us, the — and I’m reaching for this one — waters they’ve asked us to tread. Fifteen years after Iron Man, it’s hardly our fault for being overwhelmed, for growing numb to a product so thoroughly diluted that it starts to feel like nothing at all. It’s long past time for a reset, a reevaluation of what audiences need versus what they think they want. None of us can claim to know what that will be, but — fish-shaped crimelords notwithstanding — it certainly isn’t Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is in theaters now.


  1. Muddy waters asked to tread out to dry. 👏👏👏👏
    So you’re saying this one is only for the die hard Aquafans? Gotcha.

  2. I feel like DC movies tend to swing for the fences more than Marvel. That's what i like about them. It doesn't always work (i'm not a fan of both Shazam), but by god i'll be there everytime to see if it does

  3. I have never been interested in the wave of superhero films that began in the late 2000s, always wondering when audience enthusiasm would wane. That it has lasted for a decade and a half is impressive. I am reminded of the Italian film industry of the 1960s and 1970s, producing so much of a certain genre (over 400 westerns or many dozens of giallos) that there was nothing new left do with it.

    What is ahead for Hollywood is very uncertain now, but I do hope there will be a more diverse range of movies coming out of it.

  4. I didn’t forget about it, but I certainly don’t care about it. I’d be lying though if I said I wasn’t curious what the James Gunn-ification of DC is going to look like.