Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – movie review

Once seemingly a license to make money, the sheen seems to have worn off the superhero movie genre following a few disappointing films like The Marvels, Blue Beetle and the troubled The Flash. And now here comes what is, arguably, the nadir of the genre with this waterlogged sequel to 2018’s Aquaman. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom provides the last nail in the coffin of this franchise.

When the film opens we get a brief recap of the previous film to bring us up to date on Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa). He seems to be bored with the routine of being both a father to his newborn son and also ruler of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. But the return of his former enemy David Kane, aka Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen), soon shakes up his world. Black Manta is seeking vengeance on Aquaman for killing his father and swears to destroy everything and everyone he holds dear. With the help of scientist Dr Stephen Shin (Randall Park) Black Manta has obtained the mysterious fabled black trident which gives him power over an ancient malevolent force. But, in the meantime, he is also raiding Atlantean vaults around the world for reserves of the rare element orichcalcum. He is burning them up, which is heating up the earth’s surface and the global warming levels are approaching catastrophic levels.

To counter the threat Aquaman must reluctantly team up with his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), the former king of Atlantis who had been exiled to a prison far away at the end of the first film. Once Aquaman has freed Orm the bickering siblings must learn to work together to save both their undersea kingdom and the surface world. But can Aquaman even trust his own brother.

The problems with this film begin with the lacklustre and formulaic script, which is credited to four writers including David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (who scripted the 2018 film), director James Wan, Thomas Pa’a Sibbett and star Jason Momoa. The film explores themes of father/son relationships, responsibility, vengeance and even global warming. Wan may have been adept with the demands of his horror franchises like the Saw and The Conjuring series and its spin-offs, but here he seems all at sea in handling this special effects heavy disaster. The key action scenes are muddled, messy and chaotically handled rendering them virtually unwatchable. For the most part the film is boring.

The film overloads on its state-of-the-art CGI and green screen effects, courtesy of an army of digital artists and visual effects companies which makes it appear almost animated at times. Admittedly cinematographer Don Burgess does a great job of shooting this undersea world that Wan and his production team have created. The production design from Bill Brzeski has been heavily influenced by Ray Harryhausen and gives the material the look of those B-grade creature features from the 50s.

But even worse are the disengaged performances from the leads. Momoa, who seemed to have a blast as the villain in Fast X, lacks his usual charm and charisma here. His personality here remains dour throughout much of the film. Wilson appears disinterested, and his performance here reeks of contractual obligation stuff. Abdul-Manteen turns in a cliched performance as the stereotypical villain here who spends most of his inane dialogue issuing orders and making threats. And the likes of Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard are wasted in fairly thankless roles. Martin Short attempts to provide some comic relief as the digitally created Kingfish. Temuera Morrison and Dolph Lundgren reprise their roles from the original.

Momoa has hinted that this will be his last appearance as Aquaman – if so, he goes out with more of a whimper than a bang.

Greg King

Other reviews you might enjoy: