Written by: Adam Vaughn | December 21st, 2023
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (James Wan, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.
James Wan takes a break from horror films, returning to the DC universe to continue Aquaman’s journey. This time, our hero (Jason Momoa, Fast X) finds himself balancing being both King of Atlantis and father/husband Arthur Curry. But old adversaries close in on Arthur/Aquaman, as Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Candyman) uncovers the Black Trident, a weapon hosting an ancient, ghostly evil that threatens the entire planet. Aquaman must stop evil from rising up with the help of his imprisoned brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson, Insidious: The Red Door).
Unfortunately, Aquaman’s odyssey this time feels even more generic than before, with James Wan (Malignant) clearly going through the motions and repeating conventional superhero archetypes. While this doesn’t stop the movie from somewhat entertaining, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom smacks the audience with a wide variety of plot points, visual settings, characters, and themes to the point of disorientation. Wan seems to borrow from many different currently trending superhero tropes, among the most obvious being the dynamic between Arthur and Orm, which mimics the Thor/Loki brothers’ struggle.
I give Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom points for its visual effects, art direction, costumes, makeup, as Wan’s Aquamansequel certainly has a riveting aesthetic, with a unique balance of action elements with horrific imagery that only he can muster. Mixed with precise action editing and solid cinematography, the film refuses to completely disappoint by reaching the kind of on-par notes that the majority of superhero movies hit. The Marvels hit the same notes this year, and with the same disappointing results.
All the visual style, however, cannot mask the fact that Wan would rather grab at what has been done before, with both the franchise and the genre, than attempt to bring the storytelling to new heights. I blame the fact that the superhero genre itself seems to have run out of ideas in the past few years, which wastes the clear talent that Wan has had in other genres of filmmaking. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom may entertain, but does not impress.