The current DC cinematic universe ends this weekend, but the capper is unfortunately a shrug.
For almost a year, we’ve known that DC’s cinematic universe that started back with 2013’s Man of Steel was coming to an end with James Gunn overseeing the reboot of the new universe beginning on film in 2025. The current DC cinematic universe finally ends this weekend with the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which is a sequel to the 2018 megahit Aquaman. While there are some great visuals, funny one-liners, and moments that Jason Momoa help elevate the once mocked superhero, this sequel is more of the same as its predecessor but with more issues. Just like we saw in the other comic book cinematic universe from Marvel Studios with The Marvels, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is mostly a nothing burger while being neither good nor bad. Just OK.
Set a few years after the events of Aquaman, we find the superhero (Jason Momoa) as the king of Atlantis, ruling with his wife (and queen) Mera (Amber Heard), and they now have a kid. However, Black Manta returns to threaten Aquaman’s family and Atlantis after getting a hold of the Black Trident, a cursed weapon that causes unspeakable damage. To stop Black Manta, Aquaman seeks help from his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) who has been locked away ever since the events of Aquaman.
Like many superhero sequels before, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom plays some of the same hits: bigger, louder, and bringing in a villain from the first film put in a more prominent role in the follow-up. But leading up to the film’s release, there have been numerous reports regarding the troubles the film has encountered throughout production with the studio pumping extra money into various attempts to make it better. Rest assured that an effort was made here as the visuals look much better than what we saw in the superhero’s first solo outing. James Wan, who’s back behind the camera, offers up some great, new, awe-inspiring sea creatures, including a new seahorse Aquaman rides and other creatures Aquaman and other various humans interact with throughout the film. There are other great visual treats to admire here too, with some that really stand out if you see the film in IMAX 3D.
However, this one positive area doesn’t make up for the incoherence that’s prevalent throughout the film, whether it’s the story, certain character arcs, or general pacing (with the third act in particular feeling rushed). The film also attempts to be a buddy adventure movie between Aquaman and his brother, but even those results are mixed at best. In addition to this, the film doesn’t give audiences any idea why Lost Kingdom is part of the title until we are way past the halfway point. But overall, this sequel feels like another movie from its same cinematic universe–2017’s theatrical release of Justice League–where there are “too many cooks in the kitchen” trying to piece this thing together and keep it at two hours, max. While four people are credited for the story, I imagine many more were involved than named.
Aside from visuals, the cast for the most part is fine. You can tell Momoa likes playing the King of the Seven Seas, as the banter he has on camera with other cast members gives off a “Saturday morning cartoon” vibe that fits with this iteration of the superhero. Thankfully, Patrick Wilson was brought back for the sequel, and his character can step out of his wheelhouse as he “works” together with his brother to stop Black Manta. And speaking of Black Manta, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II gets the short end of the stick (or trident in this instance) when it comes to the script but does the best he can with what he’s given as the main antagonist of the film.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom feels like a mishmash of a film in search of trying to conclude its own cinematic universe (even though I like the idea of global warming as a plot point in the film). Jason Momoa’s Aquaman leaves behind quite a legacy, which likely kept this cinematic universe going after his first solo outing became the biggest DC film of all-time and for good reason–the first outing was silly, but a lot of fun. It’s unfortunate that Lost Kingdom is more of the same and adds nothing new or exciting for this version of the character. Thankfully, the people involved in these films can now do other things. While Jason Momoa will be in James Gunn’s new DC cinematic universe as Lobo (allegedly), I’m glad director James Wan can now escape blockbuster/IP stuff and return to his horror roots. Wan has done more than enough for Warner Brothers with his two Aquaman films. And sure, while Lost Kingdom might not be on the same level as the first Aquaman film, Wan made a badass version of a comic book character that people thought was lame. And that in and of itself is something to be proud of. Along with holding the title of biggest DC film to date, of course.