As I get older, I struggle with the idea of fantasy films. There are fewer days ahead than there are behind me. Yet, no matter our respective ages, there is always a hero to look up to, someone whose values we want to take in and adopt as our own. Some of us have kids, and others are on a less-than-enlightened path. Somewhere in the middle lies the remnants of the DCEU and the character of Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa. James Wan brought us the character in 2018 in a strong entry, Aquaman. The film postulates what an underwater hero would look like, buffed out and with perfectly long locks on his bearded head, as he defended Atlantis from his brother, Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson), and Black Manta’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) revenge plot. The sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom plays out the first story’s consequences. James Wan returns to the director’s chair.
Set five years after the events in Aquaman, the titular character, doubling as Arthur Curry, is now a father. The film’s opening sequences suggest his being a father might have a bearing on the story to come. However, the script from David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick doesn’t fully follow through on the thread, marking the first transgression in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s story. However, the story builds on the relationship between Arthur and his father, Tom (Temuera Morrison), but then lets that story thread fizzle out. Ok, strike two.
While Aquaman plays both father/son, he also plays king to the Atlanteans, who seek to keep themselves hidden from we landlubbers and has become more of a symbol than a leader. Aquaman seeks to be more than a diplomat, and Momoa wears this boredom almost too well.
Fear not, because Black Manta is up to his antics in trying to exact revenge on Aquaman, and with Dr. Stephen Shin’s (Randall Park) assistance, Black Manta is positioned to do so. Yet, this story thread also seems exceptionally thin, as if Johnson-McGoldrick and Wan didn’t feel fully committed to its ideas and principles. Abdul-Mateen gives a solid performance as he follows the clues behind the black trident that promises him the power to exact his revenge. Strike three. Is that batter out?
Not necessarily, though it is close. Aquaman realizes he cannot stop Black Manta or the ensuing ravaging of the environment on the world above without aid, in this case, from his imprisoned half-brother, Orm Marius. Wilson’s re-introduction is Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s most graceful and inventive part, serving as the foundational theme. Together, Momoa and Wilson are solid, though when the story calls for action, some of McGoldrick-Johnson’s and Wan’s action-dramatics work, while many others do not.
The difficulty with this sequel is that it knows that there are fewer days ahead than behind for the character and any threads it lays out, the vestiges of the Synderverse coming to an end, with Warner Brothers planning a reboot of the storied DC universe.
Candidly, there was very little emotional connection to either film that I could latch on to and suspend my disbelief for two hours. It helped that, within the 3D imagery, we are provided some backstory, so those who have yet to see the first Aquaman can play catch up and not be lost. It doesn’t change that the five years between this first film and its sequel are heavily felt. One could say that they dealt with the stretch convincingly, with Aquaman and Mera (Amber Heard) getting married and having a son. However, we shouldn’t pretend like that.
Another challenge with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is that lurking just beneath the surface of boredom is its uncanny awkwardness through the atmospherics Wan engendered: a number of the sets and even Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score feel like something out of a 1950’s Flash Gordon serial. It evokes feelings of familiarity, which immediately seem out of place.
One aspect of the film that brought joy and laughter is John Rhys-Davies’ voice work as the Brine King, the ebullient actor’s voice reminding this critic of Brian Blessed’s Vultan from Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom barely gets away with its serialized nature, even though it feels awkwardly out of place owing to the lack of follow-through on most of the character threads. The entire cast and crew feel as bored as the story lets on, which is not good when the audience expects more. Is it as bad as implied? No, it isn’t bad. Parents with kids looking for an escapist film over the long holiday weekend should find something to take away from it. Momoa gives it his college try, and Wilson is solid. However, the entire affair is awkward, unremarkable, and ultimately inconsistent.