Movie Review: 'Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom'

"This movie is the best argument yet for why this version of the DCEU in its entirety should just be cut adrift."

Movie Review: 'Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom'

2023 has not been good for the DC Extended Universe. The year will end without “The Flash” as one of the top 20 highest money-earners at the domestic box office. “Blue Beetle” will finish out of the top 30, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” out of the top 40. Newest offering “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” will probably fare a little better since it’s been positioned as the big Christmas weekend release, but it can finish out of the top 50 for all I care because this movie is terrible.

Since we last saw Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), he’s settled into two new roles in his life. On land, he and his wife Mera (Amber Heard) have welcomed a son, which they raise alongside his parents (Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison). Underwater, he is now fully king of Atlantis. He likes being a father much more than being a king, but duty calls ever since he banished his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to a prison in the desert. His nemesis Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), has gone through some changes too, now employing a research team to help break him into Atlantis so he can avenge his late father. I have no idea how he affords his staff, his facilities, or his gadgets. I know piracy pays well, but does it pay that well?

With the help of Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park), Manta stumbles across ancient Atlantean technology in the form of the Black Trident, which allows the holder to wield incredible power, but also corrupts their soul. Manta was already pretty corrupt, but with the trident, he starts wreaking havoc on the entire world. It’s up to Aquaman to stop him, and he has to do so by breaking Orm out of prison. Neither brother is thrilled to be working with the other, but the only way to defeat Manta is together.

The movie is at its best when it lets Momoa and Wilson carry the scene. The actors are charismatic and play off each other well. The banter they’re given isn’t always funny, but it’s easy to see where they have the potential to be funny. Also, and I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I liked a gag where Arthur learns that his brother has never tried surface food and shares with him a certain “delicacy.”

The movie is at its worst at all other times. The redemption arc for Dr. Shin is painfully drawn-out and he ultimately does so little that his good-guy status at the end feels unearned. The CGI creatures are unconvincing and unpleasant-looking. Worst of all, the underwater action sequences are murky and hard to follow. I could never keep track of who was alive and who was dead until they reemerged in follow-up scenes. It’s not quite as bad as the action in “Meg 2: The Trench,” but I’m sure that movie was hampered by a limited budget, whereas this one had much more resources and still looks like a mess.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is a throwaway DCEU movie at a time when the franchise can’t afford to throw anything away. As much as I like Momoa and Wilson, I can’t recommend putting them in another standalone movie anytime soon, not until this arm of the franchise can be completely straightened out. The only way I see these characters working again is if they’re part of a bigger team-up with more DC heroes, but even that’s looking increasingly unlikely with every character bombing lately. This movie is the best argument yet for why this version of the DCEU in its entirety should just be cut adrift.

Grade: C-

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some language. Its running time is 124 minutes.

Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.

Last Update: Dec 27, 2023 9:17 am CST

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