Review: ‘Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom’

Despite Jason Momoa's Best Efforts The DCEU Ends Without Making A Big Splash

Whatever one thinks about the crumbling Snyderverse and the end of the DCEU, there were definite highlights. One of them was 2018’s Aquaman, the highest-grossing DC Universe movie, beating films with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.Jason Momoa’s brawny, bullish, take on the fish-talking supe was a breath of fresh air and pitch-perfect casting. It was summer popcorn entertainment at the start of winter, and director James Wan played it perfectly. In a way, it makes sense that the DCEU comes to a close with a sequel to its highest-earning movie. If only that sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, wasn’t sunk by reshoots, rewrites, cuts, problematic actors, and more.

In a way, it feels sorta pointless to review Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. It wasn’t designed to be the final part of anything, just the next chapter in what should’ve been a long-running, successful franchise. But after a year in which DC movies have been getting dragged critically and financially, a fresh reboot is being launched by James Gunn. That means no more Aquaman, at least not played by Momoa. And so this film feels like a road going to nowhere. Warner Bros. belatedly added an “Aquman’s Epic Last Stand” tag to its recent promos to give the impression this was always the path, but watching the movie tells you differently. It feels rushed and incomplete, with only Momoa’s enthusiasm and big personality rising in an ocean of mediocrity.

Interestingly, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom ignored any connection the underwater hero had to the Justice League. There’s no mention of any other heroes, and he’s presented still as a mystery to the surface world. But then Arthur Curry has a lot on his plate. After dethroning and imprisoning his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), he became king of Atlantis, a job that he hates for all of the bureaucratic nonsense. More importantly, he became a father to the baby boy he shares with his wife Mera (Amber Heard). The opening act of the film plays like a family comedy where the dad is left behind to care for baby all by himself; changing diapers, getting pissed on, lacking in any sleep. Not that Arthur is alone; he’s got Mera and his dad (Temuera Morrison) helping out, but parenting is hard even for superheroes.

Picking up on the B-plot of the previous film, Aquaman’s archnemesis David Kane aka Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) returns to take one more stab at getting some revenge. This time he’s found the powerful Black Trident that grants him increased powers and increased bloodlust. Vowing to destroy everything Aquaman holds dear, he strikes at the heart of Atlantis and the hero’s family.

That’s pretty much the entirety of the plot cooked up by returning screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, working solo this time. In a way, it’s refreshing to have such simplicity in Black Manta’s villainy. He hates Aquaman and wants to destroy him. It’s kinda old school, actually. There’s some other nonsense about rising ocean temperatures but it doesn’t amount to much when Black Manta’s hatred is the real driving force. Aquaman’s only hope for survival is freeing his brother Orm and teaming up with him, creating a Thor/Loki dynamic of sibling rivalry and shaky trust issues.

Speaking of shaky, the production issues seem to have stretched to the visual department, where muddy CGI makes the underwater sequences more murky than they need to be. Unfortunately, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom looks too much like some of the worst DCEU films out there in the special effects department. I don’t like comparisons between Marvel and DC, but the latter has only occasionally found a way to make the images pop like you’re truly seeing a comic book come to life. Marvel has had that skill locked down from the beginning.

Utilizing his well-rounded background in horror and popcorn blockbusters, James Wan delivers action and fright in equal measure. Wan’s shelved The Trench spinoff seems to have inspired some underwater horror sequences where tentacled monsters lurk. Manta’s destructive attack on Atlantis is impressive, including a rapid-fire chase through the slipstream making for a wild roller coaster experience.

However, every time the film seems like it’s finding its footing, something takes you back out of the moment. Strange editing choices suggest a lot of scenes were deleted at the last moment, interrupting the film’s momentum. A lot of these edits were clearly targeted at Amber Heard’s Mera, whose role is drastically reduced to little more than reaction shots, expository dialogue, and one scene meant to write her out for a long stretch. With rumors that Heard and Momoa had problems with chemistry, it’s no surprise they are barely together on screen at all.

What the film has going for it is Momoa. There’s a reason why he’s proven to be the best casting choice in all of the DCEU. With a growl, a smile, and a laugh that booms like the crashing of waves, Momoa is having the time of his life as Aquaman and that feeling can be infectious. If rumors are true that he’ll leave this role and instead play Lobo, a character he has long wanted to be, then we’re all in for a treat. But for now, Momoa’s Aquaman is still a blast to watch and the main reason why spending a couple of hours with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom won’t leave you drowning with regret. It’s just disappointing that Momoa’s final time as King of the Seas didn’t make a bigger splash.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom opens in theaters on December 22nd.


Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-aquaman-and-the-lost-kingdomWhatever one thinks about the crumbling Snyderverse and the end of the DCEU, there were definite highlights. One of them was 2018's Aquaman, the highest-grossing DC Universe movie, beating films with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.Jason Momoa's brawny, bullish, take on the fish-talking supe...