BY JACK RANSOM DECEMBER 23, 2023
Well, here we are, the end of arguably the most consistently inconsistent series of feature films ever to be committed to screen: a cult like super-fandom devoted to three films (Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, Zack Snyders Justice League), critical disasters (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman 1984), critical darlings (The Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman), billion dollar hits (Aquaman) and a consistent string of bombs (everything they have released this year so far). How does the DCEU go out do you ask? With a bang or a whimper?…
The 15th and final instalment in the DC Extended Universe. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom sees the King of Atlantis (Jason Momoa) forge an unlikely alliance with his brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson). Setting aside their differences, they join forces to protect their kingdom and save the world from irreversible destruction when Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) returns seeking revenge.
...Neither really, just somewhere in between. It still showcases just how much the superhero/comic book flick was the tour de force of the box office bag in the late 2010’s, leading to Aquaman soaking up over $1 billion worldwide and a sequel instantly greenlit. However, a constantly shifting studio, a rapidly sporadic cinematic universe, a global pandemic and a huge controversy surrounding one of the IP’s biggest stars all led to constant delays and for this sequel, which quite frankly (like with The Flash) a part of me still can’t quite believe it exists.
I’m a sucker for the first film and the parts that worked there (mostly) work again here. However, the screenplay and world building this time around are substantially undercooked and any character development (Aquaman’s new found family life and context of Black Manta’s return), depth or focus is thrown out the window for a fast paced riff on the ‘buddy cop’ action adventure formula that most likely was not the original plan for this sequel. That’s not to say this isn’t fun in an utterly disposable and efficiently paced way. I was never bored at all and whilst its ideas may be derived of other films, it injects enough wacky, gung-ho personality to mostly be forgiven.
At least the myriad of delays have allowed the visual effects team to deliver some fantastically eye-popping undersea visuals. The neon tinged, futuristic and chaotic look of Atlantis is still the highlight, as well as the King Fish led pirate city that Aquaman and Orm visit, which sees a host of scaly, tentacular and multi-eyed marine-life singing, drinking and gambling. Manta’s volcanic island lair is gargantuan and the bold vibrant plant life and lethal inhabitants are prominent. Lastly, the overarching antagonist’s colour scheme is pure 00’s edge and he is undeniably a rip-off of Sauron.
Whilst the action set pieces may not be as impressive as the first film, Wan still knows how to choreograph a set piece. Manta’s first attack on Atlantis a wildly goose chase of sharks and speed tunnels, each clash with Aquaman utilises the spinning camerawork effectively and accentuates the hyper-kinetic choreography and lastly the brotherly team up brawls and comedically injected ‘run away’ sections are turn your brain off plot movers. Wan injects his horror roots in with fittingly over-the-top scene transitions, a couple of jump scares, sound effects (the dramatic lightning strike sound when Manta appears in the background of a shot got a chuckle from me) and there’s even a homage to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s iconic camera flash sound.
Performance-wise Momoa clearly still relishes playing this character and whilst he clearly has been instructed to largely go for the ‘dude bro’ schtick here, his bursts of fear and anger are well executed. Patrick Wilson quickly switches into the ‘bad guy becomes a good guy’ persona efficiently and though his return motivations are largely bog standard ‘revenge/end of the world’ fodder and Abdul-Mateen II hams up the villainous, vicious bastard role entertainingly. Most notably is the clear absence and shafting of Amber Heard’s Mera, of whom was second lead in the previous film. Here she is reduced to largely just ‘being’ in shots and occasionally swimming into battle with a handful of lines. It’s undeniably awkward and a shame as the duo’s relationship was a crux of the first film and should have been developed further here. Lastly Nicole Kidman and Dolph Lundgren swim in for their paycheques and float away.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a decently entertaining shot of undersea nonsense that honestly could have been something more, had this universe ever worked out consistently. The visuals are eye-poppingly wacky, some of the performances are entertaining and Wan drops in a myriad of slick and creative camerawork. The screenplay is mostly a surface level mess and the whole vibe of the feature just feels cobbled together, with traits and tropes borrowed from superior features. That being said, I was never bored and had dumb fun time.