Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom review: A damp squib

Follow up to hit 2018 film is too formulaic, bloated and soulless to be anything but a disappointment

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom comes five years after Aquaman was released. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
Powered by automated translation

Five years is a long time in Hollywood.

When Aquaman was released back in 2018, it proved to be such a hit, grossing more than $1.15 billion at the box office, that movie fans hoped it would rejuvenate the DC Extended Universe.

That dream failed to materialise. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom doesn’t just mark the sequel to the nautical blockbuster, but it’s also the final installment to the DCEU, as Warner Bros have hired James Gunn and Peter Safran to oversee a new slate of DC movies.

With all that in mind, it was hard not to go into Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom without much excitement. If the studio releasing the movie doesn’t care about it, why should viewers, too? Sadly the film doesn’t do anything to rouse viewers out of this indifference. Despite occasional moments of fun, it is too formulaic, bloated and soulless to be anything but a disappointment.

Set several years after the events of Aquaman, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is now the king of Atlantis, married to Mera (Amber Heard), and they even have a son, Arthur Jr. Curry has to split his life between the land and the sea, and he is finding his royal duties rather tedious.

Under the guidance of naive marine biologist Stephen Shin (Randall Park), David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) finds Atlantean artifacts and a black trident that, when he holds it, allows him to communicate with Kordax (Pilou Asbaek), the ruler of the lost kingdom of Necrus. He promises to give Kane the power to destroy Curry.

After Kane attacks Atlantis, Curry realises that he’ll need help to defeat him. He needs to do this urgently, too, because every time Kane uses orichalcum metal to power the artifacts, they emit high amounts of greenhouse gases, which are rapidly increasing the effects of global warming on Earth.

Curry decides to break his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) out of prison to aid his battle with Kane. They travel to an underwater city and a volcanic island to find Kane, who soon learns that in order to unleash Kordax and the frozen Necrus army, he will also need the blood from any of Curry’s family, too.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom never comes close to differentiating itself from its predecessor. It’s not just that it doesn’t add any thing of significance to the cast and that it uses the same villains as Aquaman, with Orm getting a redemption arc and Kane becoming even more villainous.

The returning cast all lack the camaraderie and energy that helped to paper over the cracks of the original and make it enjoyable.

The only time Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom picks up any steam is when Wilson and Curry have to work together to find Kane. An extended sequence where they’re on an island in the South Pacific and have to escape huge insects and plants that are trying to eat them recreates Aquaman’s playful humour and colourful action, while Wilson is the only actor that injects vitality into a really woeful script.

Director James Wan manages to keep the action coherent, and repeatedly finds cool and inventive ways to put you in the heart of set-pieces, but he’s held back by some laughably bad visual effects that immediately take you out of the movie.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Director: James Wan

Starring: Jason Mamoa, Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II 

Rating: 2/5

Ultimately, though, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom really fails because it spends too much time borrowing elements from Marvel’s much more successful comic-book movies instead of embracing what makes the character and world so fun and unique. The warring brothers plot is the same as Thor and Loki, so much so that Aquaman even jokingly calls Orm Loki at one point, while the music cues echo Guardians Of The Galaxy. Even its ending is taken straight from Iron Man.

This is arguably the same reason why, over the course of its 15 movies, the DC Extended Universe has failed to match the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fingers crossed, Gunn is able to cinematically articulate what’s made Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al so popular for so long and, unlike the DCEU, finally delivers movies befitting of the characters.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is out in the UAE on Thursday

Updated: December 24, 2023, 12:13 PM
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Director: James Wan

Starring: Jason Mamoa, Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II 

Rating: 2/5