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film review
  • Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
  • Directed by James Wan
  • Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
  • Starring Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson and a whole lotta fish
  • Classification PG; 124 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Dec. 22

Washing ashore after years of behind-the-scenes drama and reshoot rigmaroles, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom cannot help but feel like the quack-iest of lame-duck sequels.

After all, why should audiences care about the final entry in an interconnected series of comic-book films that corporate overlord Warner Bros. Discovery is explicitly declaring a failure? If new DC Studios heads James Gunn and Peter Safran care so little about this version of Aquaman and his Justice League super-friends that the executives are starting from scratch with a new Superman movie in 2025, then why should moviegoers bother to turn out for this franchise’s last gasp?

So it is with not a little bit of surprise – and a tidal wave of irony – that the new Aquaman closes out the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) not with a whimper but a bang. Okay, that is too strong of an endorsement, as The Lost Kingdom is not exactly a good film. But it isn’t a bad one, either. At least not on the level of atrociousness that DC delivered earlier this year with the execrable double hit of Shazam: Fury of the Gods and The Flash. (We also got the needless but harmless Blue Beetle.) If Jason Momoa’s hero simply must be drowned, then my man goes down fighting.

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Director James Wan amps up the comic-book quirks of his first Aquaman film by several notches in Lost Kingdom.Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics/Handout

The story is, as suspected, nothing special – and requires a stronger memory of the 2018 Aquaman than perhaps expected. Basically, Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Momoa) is trying to balance his duties as the recently crowned king of Atlantis with life as an exhausted new father, with his Atlantean wife Mera (Amber Heard) having recently given birth to a cute little boy who has a habit of urinating in his pop’s face. (Whether that is an act Momoa and Wan would also like to direct to Warner brass is left up to interpretation.)

Everything is good on land and under the sea until the first film’s villain, the pirate with a personal grudge nicknamed Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), returns with one of those demonically powered tridents that are always left kicking around the ocean floor. Hate when that happens. All this mystical trouble – which is delivered via a global-warming theme that feels about as sincere as the film’s respect for co-star/tabloid target Heard (who gets about seven lines total of dialogue this time around) – requires Arthur to bust his estranged brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), out of prison to help set things right.

Director James Wan amps up the comic-book quirks of his first Aquaman film by several notches – there are giant-crab warriors, an octopus sidekick, a Jabba the Hutt-like gangster fish voiced by Martin Short – while keeping the pace relatively tight. Aside from a few genre-obligatory exposition-dumps of dialogue in which ancient lore is unloaded with an unseen-but-felt eye-roll, The Lost Kingdom is almost entirely a series of underwater wham-bam-thank-you-clam set-pieces. The wavy action is rendered with a, well, fluidity that is if not beautiful or consistently comprehensible than at least unfamiliar from so many other bland and more landlocked superhero slugfests.

Wan also has two aces up his wetsuit in Momoa and Wilson. Playing the Thor and Loki of the DCEU (a comparison that’s underlined with a decent one-liner), the two have an easy frenemy chemistry that pushes the film close to zippy buddy-cop territory. And whenever Momoa’s mischievous comic energy comes close to grating, Wilson’s sturdy straight-man act is right there to recalibrate things. If the producers of Fast & Furious are listening, please cast Wilson as Momoa’s even-more-evil brother in Fast 11.

Through design or happy accident, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom closes out the DCEU on a mid- to high-water mark. Your turn to sink or swim now, Gunn and Safran.

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