Friday 22 December 2023

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (Movie Review)

After a decades-worth of storytelling spread across fifteen movies of varying quality, the DCEU comes to an unceremonious end with the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. And what a wild ride it has been, boasting its fair share of highs and lows. So it was indeed a bittersweet affair heading into the new Aquaman, even as I wondered how it could possibly wrap up the entire franchise in any meaningful way. But as I quickly discovered while watching the film, those aspirations were never on the table to begin with, as evidenced by its business-as-usual approach to storytelling. So I guess the real question then is whether or not the film is still worth seeing even with the knowledge that we've arrived at the end of the road.

Serving as a direct sequel to 2018's Aquaman, the movie finds its titular hero adjusting to life as the ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. He must also pull double duty as a new dad, having started a family with love interest Mera since the events of the first film. Meanwhile, his archnemisis Black Manta is still hellbent on getting revenge, a pursuit that would bring him into possession of an ancient artefact that imbues him with superhuman strength. In order to stop him, Aquaman must seek help from unexpected places or risk failing to prevent a global catastrophe that would threaten all surface dwellers and Atlanteans alike.

It didn't take me long into Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom before I could tell that there was something clearly wrong with the movie. Perhaps it was its derivative story that first gave it away, as it borrows quite a number of plot points and story elements from the likes of Lord of the Rings but never quite matches the brilliance of their execution. Or maybe it was the stilted dialogue that often had the cast sounding like actors in an amateur high school play. Or the way the film relies heavily on exposition dumps, with characters even offering running commentary on actions that should be otherwise apparent to the audience, almost in an effort to ensure understanding amidst all the chaos.

And there was indeed a lot of chaos involved, as the film kept piling on setpiece after setpiece. It didn't exactly help that some of the effects bringing those action scenes to life were of the questionable sort, with varying degrees of quality in its creature design and the sea of CGI they inhabit. Even the licensed music that accompanied some of those scenes sometimes felt tacked on, barely serving to elevate what was going on onscreen and instead acting as a distraction. All these things ultimately coalesce to create a movie that often feels sloppy and unfinished. 

But somehow, as though through some ancient magic and wizardry conjured up by director James Wan, the whole thing still manages to work, or at least it never truly collapses under the weight of its hodgepodge storyline and wooden deliveries. This is largely due to the fact that the movie fully embraces its own zaniness, much like the first one did. It also never tilts completely into the realm of silliness either, ala Thor: Love and Thunder. I found myself laughing with the movie as much as I was laughing at it, and it was only then that I had to concede that I was indeed enjoying myself.

It is as though the filmmakers knew all the things that helped propel the first movie to become the DCEU's first and only billion-dollar grosser and they doubled down on all of it. It fully embraces the fantastical side of the DC Comics it is based upon, depicting underwater cities and desert kingdoms populated by all manner of creatures, all of which were pleasing to see brought to life on the big screen. The action was also some of the best I've seen in the DCEU in a long time, stretching the limits of plausibility while giving more than enough eye candy to satisfy action junkies. 

I must of course acknowledge the fact that some of the things I just mentioned could very well be considered turnoffs by some. After all, not everyone I spoke to about that first film appreciated its more lighthearted take on the superhero genre or the little visual flourishes and gags that helped flesh out its underwater kingdom. This is to say that anyone expecting something less campy might be disappointed to see the movie fully lean into the camp. But if you liked what you got in the first film and are content with getting more of the same, then there is plenty to love about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Looking back on the DCEU as a whole, it is clear that the franchise lacked any kind of cohesive vision tying together its cinematic universe, or that whatever grand plans or ideas that fueled early entries like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were simply never given any room to grow or flourish. And that, in itself, is the true tragedy of the entire endeavor, that sense of loss at the thought of what could have been. But as far as final entries go, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom at least serves as a worthwhile last hurrah that I can easily recommend to fans of the first film and anyone looking for some effects-heavy entertainment over the holidays.


  1. DC just never had a master plan like Marvel did. I already knew to go in with low expectations.
    And while not part of this DC universe, The Joker and The Dark Knight both made over a billion dollars.

    1. True, those DC movies did cross the billion dollar mark. And yeah, going into a movie with lowered expectation is never a bad idea.

    2. Saw it this afternoon. I was entertained. Yes, it was by the numbers and pulled from many other movies. And bit too much tell rather than show. But overall, my wife and I enjoyed it. I think the second half really picked it up.
      I checked and The Dark Knight Rises also went over a billion dollars. Maybe DC should stick to the Detective Comics/Dark Knight universe? We'll see what Gunn does with the franchise reboot.

    3. Nice. Glad you both enjoyed the movie as well. And yeah, Batman seems to be DC's most bankable superhero at the moment.

  2. It's possible if this crosses a billion dollars worldwide (unlikely) they could make at least one more sequel and just let it exist in its own pocket universe like The Batman and Joker.

    I like serious superhero movies but I also liked the first one as just a fun popcorn movie. At this point I think that's all DC needs to worry about and should stop worrying about "cinematic universes." You can see this year where Marvel's is finally collapsing under its own weight; Jonathan Majors's conviction being just the latest blow to "Phase 5."

    Anyway, Happy Holidays!

    1. Thanks PT. Happy Holidays to you too. And you're right, it would be all but guaranteed to get another sequel if the new film somehow manages to clear the billion dollar mark,.