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Review: Is ‘Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom’ Worthy Of Being DCEU’s Encore Film?

Review: Is ‘Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom’ Worthy Of Being DCEU’s Encore Film?

How did “Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom” fare up to the expectations? Let’s discuss

 

 

Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom, the highly anticipated sequel to the 2018 DC film Aquaman, is finally here for the world to see. With such high anticipation and speculation fueling the excitement and anxiety from both fans and Warner Brothers Executives alike, one has to wonder “Is this really how the DCEU ends?”

 

It’s been five years since Jason Momoa (AKA Aquaman) charmed and captured the emotions of millions of fans, and I mean that in a literal sense. It made history being the third DC comic book film adaptation to join the coveted billion-dollar club. Elevating the name of James Wan (who directed both Aquaman films) atop the name of critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (director of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, which both grossed over a billion dollars worldwide) from being an adored indie horror director to an acclaimed blockbuster creative newcomer. This also marked the first billion-dollar film for the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) Film sector since its conception in 2016. 

 

So going into the release of the second installment, the burden of being able to emulate the box office success and fan adoration of the first film in Aquaman’s journey, lies heavily on both Momoa and Wan’s shoulders. How did the movie fare up to the expectations? Let’s discuss.

 

This is your warning: Spoilers ahead.

 

 

We pick up seven years after the events of Aquaman (2018), with Arthur Curry AKA Aquaman taking it one day at a time, living at a house by the beach and trying to balance his different roles as a superhero, king and husband to Mera (Amber Heard). Within the first few minutes, we get a surprise new character: a baby! Yes, Aquaman is now a father. 

 

Through consecutive fast-paced montages, we get a look at where Arthur is currently; he’s living a family life, doing house chores, serving as the king of Atlantis and sleeping through court procedures (any father who has a baby at home can relate). One moment he is coming home, tired from a long day of maintaining peace and order in the sea and, in the next scene, he’s changing diapers. These lighthearted moments set the tone of this film: a feel-good, fast-paced action film with family and duty as its driving force.  

 

Keeping family in mind, one key story arc of this film is that we witness Arthur take a chance to rekindle his relationship with his disgraced brother, Orm AKA Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson). The scene where both brothers reunite gave me a sense of anxiety. Taking a look at Orm’s history, we are reminded how he failed to rule over Atlantis and was then succeeded by his half-brother, a man he considers an outsider, and how he turned his brotherhood with Arthur into full of resentment. However, some events force Arthur to embark on a quest to hunt down Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and thwart his plan to set free an age-old evil into the world.

 

 

Momoa and Wilson’s chemistry in this film was an easy sell. From providing the audience with a poignant parallel of their broken relationship to watching them slowly heal and learn to trust each other again. Every scene they share elevates the film. Think a mesh of the superhero genre and classic 70s buddy cop fare.

 

Visual Effects Supervisor Nick Davis deserves massive credit for how great the visuals and overall look of the film turned out, improving greatly from the first. I appreciate how they listened to what the audience loved from the first film and took the opportunity to showcase more of it in this one. The beautiful world of Atlantis is brought to life once again by the VFX team, seemingly more vibrant than before; the colors and lights were so mesmerizing you might want to reach out to the screen and be part of that world.

 

My main criticism of the film is how it attempted to flesh out the main antagonist, Black Manta; however, the character never really got the chance to connect. He does not get enough agency in this film, especially when you put him in contrast with Arthur and Orm. Given that he was possessed by an ancient spirit, we know that he was not fully acting on his own accord. This would’ve been an exciting concept to explore, but when he’s sharing a scene with the returning Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park), Black Manta is completely shadowed over. Not sure if this attests to the hilarious talent of Park or the writing and direction Black Manta got as a character. Given fans had expressed their doubt of Black Manta before, this isn’t really new. But I was excited to see him again in the sequel, with hopes of the character becoming more menacing and unstoppable, but it just felt like the same flat and forced delivery.

 

 

The story itself also has a lot of plot holes that kept pulling me out of my trance of enjoying Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom. Certain motivations and character arcs were either easily resolved or abandoned altogether (more evident in the third act) in order to make the story progress and move forward. 

 

Previous fan favorite characters were also underutilized, such as Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and Mera. While I understand that the primary focus of the film is to develop Arthur as a family man and to reconcile Orm in the eyes of the viewer, I can’t help but to also wonder about the lack of female agency in the film.

 

And if you’re like me, who might have forgotten that Aquaman now has a baby, then chances are you also find the plot development wasted. I was dumbfounded with how little that arc had to do with the film, aside from a sudden shift of importance on the bloodline to the throne, which resulted in Black Manta kidnapping their son in the final 30 minutes of the film.

 

 

Now to answer the question if the Aquaman sequel holds up to the first film and is it a satisfying end to a decade of DCEU films? It's all a matter of perspective. If you prefer a coming of age story, knowing where you belong, and understanding your role in a world that you believe is not meant for you, then the first Aquaman might still be your favorite. But if you are craving for a one-off low-stake, feel good, light hearted, visually pleasing, family-centric action film filled with undertones of comedy and masculinity, then Aquaman The Lost Kingdom might just be your best film of 2023. 

 

In contrast, a decade of DCEU films that started with the promise of reinstating DC Comics as the best IP in the industry of superheroes, ended with a visual feast, disconnected from the other films and filled with “what-ifs?” A decade of movies crafted with the intention of being a blockbuster megahit that kept leaving the fans feeling satisfied yet exhilarated on the journey to get there. A worthy encore performance that feels in line with the rest of the act.

 

 

Art Macky Arquilla

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