MOVIES: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom arrives at a weird time for superhero movies. Even in 2018 when the first film came out; it made a billion dollars at the box office and was one of the most fun blockbusters of that year. Now; less than six years later, the follow up almost feels unneeded; despite James Wan returning, reports of widespread reshoots and the fact that the DCEU this film was apart of has died a slow death; it can’t help but feel like The Marvels which came out only last month: completely unneeded, unnecessary – and unimaginative.

Yes audiences still show up for superhero movies – we’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Across the Spider-Verse Part One earn huge acclaim this year; but they have to be imaginative, they have to be bold – daring even. Not so with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which pulls from every sequel trope imaginable in a story laden with exposition and the need to set up an overcomplicated world with seven kingdoms and millennia of mythology. We pick up several years later where Aquaman (Jason Momoa) now has a kid, Arthur Jr; and we’re introduced to the King of Atlantis in a tonal mismash of the story with immature piss jokes and a Guinness product placement: after all the goodwill of Aquaman it feels like the film goes out of its way to sidestep that all one by one – reducing Amber Heard’s Mera to the traditional wife of the superhero stereotype who gets injured and looks after the mother of the child – what’s worse is all the chemistry between Heard and Momoa is non-existent here and the two feel uncomfortable sharing screentime with each other; let alone playing husband and wife. Much of Mera’s role being reduced is far from the least of the movie’s problems – but it’s a resemblance of something that feels entirely corporate as opposed to something that resembles James Wan’s vision.

The flashes of gonzo energy that Aquaman had in spades are few and far between. The film is at its best when it’s showing that more filmmakers should have been raised on Gerry Anderson’s Stingray and superanimation – there are multiple nods particularly in the design of the underwater craft. The action sequences are pulpy and entertaining even if like every other superhero film purely unremarkable – there’s no real stakes; and there’s plenty of big moments where characters are likely to die that are undercut seconds later, rendering no narrative impact or weight at all to this film: and as a result it feels entirely hollow and superficial. Gone is the Lord of the Rings meets Mad Max: Fury Road but underwater madness; instead we get a by the books narrative with a typical villain doing typical villain things and the pairing of the villain of the last film with Momoa’s Aquaman – which, just in Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, where Loki is directly referenced – is the source of the story’s best material: I loved seeing Patrick Wilson and Momoa work together as their reluctant sibling rivalry, though predictable – works like a charm. Wilson is deeply overqualified to be here – but all the same, I loved him for that.

It’s a shame Momoa doesn’t quite have the leading man material to carry the heavier parts of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. He’s at his best when he’s playing a careless surfer dudebro but when the more emotional material comes into play he struggles – and that renders the film to be largely wasted because of that. It doesn’t land. It feels entirely unremarkable; as pleasing as it is to see a local beach stand in for the Sahara desert during a middle act chase sequence – and the theme song by Rupert Gregson-Williams is as triumphant as ever; but Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom can’t help but feel like yet another non-entity of a superhero movie in a year full of them. That may be fine if it was just one or two films but when we’ve had The Flash, The Marvels, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania arrive with precious little of a fanfare – it speaks of a rot in the entire genre.

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