Before DC Studios hits the reset button on its cinematic universe, audiences are treated to one final adventure in the underwater world of Atlantis. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom marks the end of an era for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), capping off a franchise that brought us hits like Wonder Woman and Aquaman as well as misses like Batman v Superman.
When Jason Momoa’s Aquaman splashed onto screens in 2018, it became the highest grossing DC film ever, riding a tidal wave of over $1 billion globally. Naturally, hopes were high for a worthy sequel. But the road hasn’t been smooth sailing. The project faced delays, leadership changes at DC Studios, reports of poor test screenings leading to reshoots, and the constant swirl of controversy around star Amber Heard.
Yet despite its turbulent production, Aquaman 2 brings together director James Wan and Momoa for one last epic adventure before the DCEU gets a reboot. It has the chance to either conclude this divisive but financially successful era of DC films on a high note, or offer a glimpse into the franchise’s future under new leadership.
While it may not fully deliver on all its ambitious promises, Aquaman 2 ultimately provides an enjoyable – if slightly messy – ride that should satisfy fans looking for a fun superhero romp. Before rebooting with a clean slate, DC takes the opportunity to give one of its most popular heroes a worthy, if bittersweet, big-screen farewell.
Between King and Kin: Exploring Arthur’s Turmoil
At its heart, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom grapples with the internal struggles of its central hero, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa). Now the ruler of Atlantis, Arthur faces new challenges balancing his royal duties with obligations to family.
As king, Arthur contends with skeptical Atlantean factions questioning his loyalty, given his half-human heritage. Seeking to protect Atlantis upon learning of an ancient evil awakened on Earth, Arthur pursues solutions that avoid outright war with humanity. This sparks tensions with hardliners like the Clan Council, who view surface-dwellers as enemies. Arthur walks an uneasy line, striving to serve as a bridge between two worlds.
Simultaneously, we witness Arthur’s attempts to be a present husband and father. Having started a family with Mera (Amber Heard) since the first film, Arthur clearly revels in moments of domesticity like playing with his son. Yet kingship often draws him away from home for prolonged periods. We sense Arthur yearning for the simple contentment of the lighthouse abode he shares with Mera and his dad on land. But Atlantis requires its ruler’s constant attention, forcing difficult choices.
Arthur’s internal tug-of-war between obligations provides strong narrative thrust. Momoa deftly depicts a man struggling to reconcile aspects of himself – reluctant king, devoted partner and father, protector of two realms. His turmoil feels deeply relatable for viewers with clashing priorities. Despite superpowers, Arthur remains grounded by ordinary human frailties.
Central to Arthur’s journey is his complex dynamic with half-brother Orm, former Atlantis ruler turned unlikely ally (Patrick Wilson). Their testy fraternal relationship, including humorous bickering, evokes Marvel’s Thor/Loki dynamic.
Yet Aquaman avoids simplistic hero-villain categorization. Orm retains ruthlessness from his Ocean Master days, but demonstrates nagging conscience upon allying with Arthur. We sense conflict within Orm, torn between lingering resentment of his surface-born brother who usurped his throne, and buried recognition that Arthur’s vision for Atlantis may be right.
This inner turmoil positions Orm on a redemptive arc more nuanced than typical comic book antagonists, with potential for greater nobility. Patrick Wilson nails Orm’s mercurial shifts between friend and foe, undercurrents of jealousy and obligation simmering beneath the surface as he aids Arthur’s quest. Their filial friction, ultimate loyalty in crisis, and Arthur’s unconditional forgiveness of past grievances make for a potent storyline.
While Arthur and Orm occupy center stage, Amber Heard’s Mera is puzzlingly sidelined to a handful of lines despite being Arthur’s wife and Atlantis’ Queen. A bigger role for Mera could have provided rewarding drama exploring her relationship dynamics with Arthur and Orm. Unfortunately she, along with Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), remain largely underutilized.
By anchoring Aquaman 2 on Arthur’s inner turmoil and his complicated bond with Orm, the film delivers an emotionally resonant superhero story about the conflicts between duty, family and identity. Their brotherly clash-and-reconciliation arc forms the narrative and thematic core.
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Diving Deeper Into Atlantis
Visually, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom delivers the sumptuous aquatic fantasyscapes that made its predecessor such a visual marvel. Director James Wan expands the vibrant underwater world, steering his sequel into exciting new narrative waters.
We traverse vivid aquatic environments from the neon-lit futurism of Atlantis cityscapes to the prehistoric primordialness of long-abandoned ruins. The extensive world-building conveys a fully realized, multidimensional society existing far below the ocean surface. Marveling at the alien beauty and intricacy of Atlantean life, one appreciates the breadth of imagination underpinning this hidden civilization.
When it comes to spectacle, Wan pulls out all the stops. Colossal creatures unleashed include a Horror Kraken with gigantic tentacles enveloping warships, and a towering behemoth dubbed the Karathen – imagine Godzilla with an anglerfish head! These nightmarish leviathans clash with Atlantean mech-knights astride mechanical sea dragons in thrilling fashion. The grandiose visuals at times echo fantastical battles in The Lord of the Rings, plumbing an almost biblical sense of ancient primal fury.
James Wan also wisely incorporates elements of his horror pedigree to genuinely disturbing effect. The sinister soul-stealing night creature Pontus and its army of decaying zombie Atlanteans conjure jump scares galore, amplified by disquieting darkness. These scenes showcase Wan’s mastery at generating tension and thrills. The horror dimensions add fresh flavor to standard superhero fare, while expanding Aquaman’s bestiary of threats.
For sure, the unrelenting parade of visual showstoppers grows excessive at points. The rapid bombardment dulls the impact of later creature reveals and clashes, lacking the novelty carried initially. A more judicious application of effects could have preserved enough intrigue for subsequent world expansions.
Nonetheless, Aquaman 2 delivers lavish aquatic wonder vistas merging science fantasy and eldritch horror to mostly wondrous results. Wan clearly possesses a deep love for constructing fully inhabited fantasy realms. If at times excessive rather than subtle in execution, the film nonetheless gifts audiences mesmerizing sights rarely glimpsed in live-action blockbusters. The visual craft alone warrants the price of admission for fantasy fans.
Bumpy Seas: Navigating Narrative Shortfalls
For all its visual splendor, Aquaman 2 stumbles in some areas of storytelling. The film checks off familiar boxes rather than innovating – understandably, stakes feel enormous for a closing DCEU chapter seeking wide appeal. Yet trope reliance contributes to a certain episodic predictability.
We get standard scenes establishing Arthur’s struggle to balance Atlantean governance with family time, reinforced multiple times. An early sequence with Arthur thwarting terrorists offers trademark heroic swagger yet seems shoehorned to reiterate his “caught between worlds” angst. These Parts feel less organic drama than repetitive reminders of the theme.
When Arthur and Orm reluctantly partner to stop Black Manta’s apocalyptic agenda, their tension-filled collaboration also adheres closely to buddy-comedy bromance tropes. We check off expected story beats – initial friction, bonding through mishaps, suspicious rifts suggesting betrayal, and eventual mutual understanding. The formulaic approach rarely surprises.
This surface-skimming storytelling extends to emotional arcs. Orm reproducibility grapples with his ambition vs nobility – we await the inevitable last-act choice between self-interest and defending Arthur. While Patrick Wilson mines complexity from the role, the writing lacks nuance.
The climatic confrontation with god-monster Karathen, touted as an extinction-level event, also resolves abruptly in perhaps 15 minutes of screen time. Our heroes prepare extensively for this doomsday-threat, but conquer it with almost casual ease. The swift resolution denies catharsis and drains the closing action of import or meaning.
The Karathen battle exemplifies Aquaman 2’s broader struggle encapsulating subtler character moments amidst deafening CGI spectacle. Quieter exchanges between Arthur, Mera and Orm feel rushed between lengthy effects-heavy sequences. Any opportunity for a resonant denouement aftermath the Karathen fight is discarded outright, leaving character resolutions feeling unearned.
While an enjoyable romp, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom would benefit tremendously from more patient storytelling and nuanced character writing between its striking visuals. Less formulaic plot beats and more innovative narrative risks could have lifted this film to truly great fantasy epic status rather than just typical superhero fare. The emotional payoffs don’t always satisfy like the production design does. But it still delivers adequate entertainment for a multiplex matinee.
Standout Performances Amidst Stormy Seas
Much of Aquaman 2’s emotional impact relies on the conviction of its lead performances – namely Jason Momoa’s Arthur and Patrick Wilson’s Orm. Thankfully both actors rise to the occasion with charismatic flair.
As the linchpin holding this sprawling fantasy mosaic together, Momoa exudes his signature effortless charm. Physically imposing yet full of bravado humor and vulnerability, his Arthur convincingly embodies a reluctant leader questioning his life’s direction. Momoa’s acting chemistry with Wilson also delights during their verbal sparring scenes, channeling brotherly love-hate frustration. Their dynamic propels the story forward through sheer force of their compelling presence.
However, the usually crackling romantic chemistry between Momoa and Amber Heard (Mera) falls curiously flat. Their scenes together feel stilted and passionless, lacking the lively rapport witnessed previously. Rumors of behind-the-scenes tensions likely contribute to this lifelessness. Whatever the cause, the emotional foundation of Arthur’s motivations suffers from the faltering connection with his onscreen partner.
Conversely, Patrick Wilson offers a standout turn as the embittered yet conflicted Orm. Wilson taps impressive emotional range in eliciting empathy for the exiled former king, while retaining ruthless edges that complicate his allegiances. It’s a remarkably nuanced portrayal of a wounded antagonist utilizing self-interest to rationalize redemption.
Comedic levity arrives courtesy of Randall Park as eager scientist Dr. Stephen Shin. Park milks his nerdy fish-out-of-water awkwardness among hardened Atlantean warriors for laughs. His journey toward self-realization provides helpful commentary on ethical choices faced by even non-powered beings in the world of superheroes and villains. Park demonstrates acting chops beyond just playing for punchlines, confirming his ability to create layered, compelling supporting roles.
Overall, compelling lead performances overcome some glaring lack of chemistry to steer Aquaman 2 into sufficiently entertaining waters. It succeeds primarily due to Momoa and Wilson’s likeable embodiment of iconic DC characters, providing a solid foundation for potentially intriguing franchise developments yet to come.
An Imperfect Yet Entertaining Finale
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom doesn’t quite emerge as the crowning achievement some hoped for, suffering from pacing problems and reliance on formulaic plot beats. Yet it remains an enjoyable underwater escapade, bringing James Wan’s oceanic saga to a mostly satisfying completion before DC’s cinematic landscape changes.
It lacks the tightness of storytelling that characterized its predecessor’s breakneck world-building introduction to Atlantis. But the sequel expands the vibrant aquatic civilizations and Selection mythos in visually stunning fashion, even if the glut of CGI occasionally numbs. Where narrative imagination falters, production design soars.
What resonance the film offers derives primarily from leading man Jason Momoa conveying Arthur Curry’s struggle at reconciling dual aspects of himself – reluctant superhero, loving partner and father, bridge between worlds. Patrick Wilson also impresses in depicting the multilayered motivations of Orm, transcending simplistic villainy for a more complex portrayal. Their fraternal chemistry sustains interest when pacing lags.
As the final vestige of the DC Extended Universe before James Gunn reboots the franchise, Aquaman 2 feels more accidental coda than definitive full stop. It was conceived well before current studio shakeups and personnel changes. One senses plot threads left deliberately dangling for future exploration that will not occur in this incarnation.
So the film functions better viewed on its own terms rather than some cumulative artistic crown jewel. It bids the DCEU a wistful if clumsy goodbye, hindered more by external factors and production pressures than failure of core creative vision. We get hints of a more fully realized universe that never quite developed before falling into stasis.
Nonetheless, Aquaman 2 provides ample slick aquatic action for undemanding audiences seeking escapist spectacle. It doesn’t achieve profundity, but succeeds as a playful, if bittersweet, farewell celebration honoring beloved iterations of its icons. DC completionists or fantasy fans should find sufficient crowd-pleasing summer diversion even if the storytelling occasionally treads water. Casual viewers can enjoy this as a standalone journey without needing background on tangled canon. It floats well enough on its lush visual merits and the charm of Momoa’s hero.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Despite narrative shortcomings, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom delivers a fun and visually spectacular superhero adventure that provides a fitting, if flawed, farewell to the DC Extended Universe. Led by charismatic performances from Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson, it’s an enjoyable underwater escapade for comic book fans. The messy yet lively Aquaman sequel effortlessly immerses us within vivid aquatic fantasy vistas. But an overreliance on formulaic plot points prevents the story from sticking the landing. Still, the film’s sheer imaginative world-building gifts audiences a sufficiently entertaining farewell to this version of DC’s aquatic icon, even if it never fully realizes the saga’s grander ambitions.
- Visually spectacular with lush, imaginative underwater sequences and environments
- Vibrant world-building that expands the Atlantis universe
- Jason Momoa gives a solid, charismatic performance as Aquaman/Arthur
- Patrick Wilson is excellent as the conflicted Orm, adding complexity
- Momoa and Wilson have strong brotherly chemistry
- Creative action/battle sequences incorporating horror elements
- Fun escapist adventure with lighthearted humor
- Storytelling and pacing issues, overly formulaic at times
- Overreliance on CGI spectacle at the expense of subtlety
- Mera/Amber Heard underutilized compared to first movie
- Momoa/Heard romantic chemistry falls surprisingly flat
- Emotional character arcs feel rushed/unearned