Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom often goes along swimmingly. Unfortunately, the story too frequently rides the current instead of going anywhere fresh. The result is a fun enough film that doesn’t expand on its core characters much. Perhaps a symptom of growing superhero fatigue, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom sacrifices character depth pushing the plot toward shallow CGI spectacle. Although don’t get me wrong, the visuals are a colorful coral reef alive with fantastical beings and sinister submariners.
The story takes off years after the first film. Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman is now king of Atlantis. He grates against the role as bureaucracy and traditional prejudices prevent him from leading the undersea realm in bold new directions. What solace he finds comes from beating pirates and sea monsters senseless then using those tales to thrill his newborn son. Returning as well is the ruthless villain David Kane a.k.a. Black Manta, whose quest for revenge leads to a lost Atlantean kingdom. Dark forces align and Aquaman must seek the help of his bitter brother Orm to stop an evil threatening the whole world.
There’s a lot to like in the overall idea of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Arthur’s nature doesn’t suit the stuffy traditions of Atlantis, and since he loves the land as much as the sea, he wants the two worlds united. Yet, old prejudices abound preventing anyone from seeing his vision of a brighter united future. Black Manta’s plot for revenge results in a Faustian bargain that speaks volumes about the toxic path he’s taken. Finally, the effort to reconcile with Orm throughout the adventure brings in the optimism DC films have been largely missing.
The only problem is that very little of this occurs outside of blunt exposition. Most of the plot is moved forward by info dumps. Instead of showing anything, monologues spoon feed plot leading to the next CGI extravaganza. Characters don’t do much to earn the little growth which occurs, they simply change because the story says to. Arthur “Aquaman” Curry remains the same person from start to finish. He learns nothing over the course of the movie.
As such, another stumbling block is clunky messaging. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom wants to make a poignant statement about global warming as well as acknowledge the pandemic. However, the point being driven home is merely climate change is bad. While I agree with the sentiment, the way characters bluntly deliver that message is a little condescending. Characters state outright that the planet heating up is bad then talk about the consequences. Everything is discussed instead of shown.
All in all, there’s a lot of potential for interesting character interaction, growth, and inspiring messages about forgiveness as well as taking care of the planet. Most of it feels lost when the point is driven home like a crashing wave. Still, lack of subtlety is a plus when it comes to action.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom delivers the goods with splashy CGI set pieces. Epic battles explode across the screen. During which, every character gets some moment to shine. Whether it’s a chance for heroism or villainy, the film doesn’t disappoint displaying ambitious action. Clashes are intense and occasionally comical. Plus, they always fit smoothly into events. Nothing ever feels forced or unnecessary, and risking spoilers, although the finale is kind of weak sauce, it wraps up everything nicely.
This film is another excellent example of filmmakers leaning towards a Silver Age inspired aesthetic. Not only does this mean more mirthful depictions of characters, it permits vibrant colors to fill the view. While there are dark portions of the film, they never stray into grim and gritty.
Fantastical animated settings look like something akin to Curt Swan’s art with just enough modern upgrades to make them uniquely contemporary. Furthermore, certain stylizations pay interesting homage to various imaginative inspirations. I often couldn’t help drawing comparisons to Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Mysterious Island”. The titular lost kingdom is reminiscent of Minas Morgul in The Lord of the Rings, and its monstrous inhabitants call to mind Lovecraftian creatures such as those found “In the Mountains of Madness.” Although 3D adds nothing to the mix, the visuals in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom are intensely satisfying.
Performances are solid throughout. Amber Heard features less prominently than she did in the first film. Still, her role as Mera is respectfully sidelined, though she returns for well-timed heroism worthy of any comic book champion. Patrick Wilson brings an unexpected comic element to this depiction of Orm. His aristocratic stiffness is an ideal foil juxtaposed against Jason Momoa’s effusive Aquaman. The way Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is almost a buddy comedy road movie, it would’ve been nice to see more of them interacting.
Jason Momoa remains a phenomenal depiction of Aquaman. His physicality makes the character intimidating, while his playful effervescence keeps him appealing. His optimistic desire to reconnect with Orm feels genuine, and he has a heartwarming moment with his Temuera Morrison. Reprising his role as Tom Curry, Arthur’s father, their moment discussing parenthood is the kind of scene too often missing from Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.
The rest of the cast do well with their roles. However, the script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick may be juggling too many characters. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Nicole Kidman don’t get much to do expect appear in action scenes. And while director James Wan coherently captures everything with comic book flare, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom feels too familiar—a case of “seen it all before.” And just one more sign of that creeping superhero fatigue infecting cinemagoers.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is great dumb fun. And that shouldn’t sound bad. It’s an enjoyable film, with comedic charm, thrilling visuals, and a well-paced plot. Though filmmakers missed a lot of chances to develop characters or compose a more compelling narrative, the simple story closes the book on this variation of Arthur Curry. This is satisfying, albeit forgettable, action eye candy.