Thursday, December 28, 2023

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom: A Review



2023 may finally be the year when those long-held ideas about "superhero fatigue" finally come to fruition. This year we have had seven live-action superhero films, and all but one of them are sequels: Ant-Man 3, Shazam 2, The Flash 2, Captain Marvel 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Blue Beetle and now Aquaman 2. Technically, all these films have other titles as all but Blue Beetle are sequels, but I frankly don't want to type them all out. We close out this cacophony of people in tights with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Is it a terrible film, or even a terrible superhero film? No, for I still think Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania is still far, far worse. Aquaman 2 is just there, neither a horror or a thrill, a product of people essentially exhausted by it all.

Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa) has mostly settled into his role as King of Atlantis. He has his wife Mera (Amber Heard) and their son, Arthur, Jr., watched over by Arthur's father Tom (Temuera Morrison). Aquaman's old enemy David Kane aka Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) still seeks revenge against him for the death of Manta's father. Manta's scientist Stephen Shin (Randall Park) has located a powerful trident that soon begins corrupting Manta's mind. In exchange for releasing the entity behind the Black Trident, Manta will be avenged.

This is very bad news. Releasing the orichalcum deposits hidden within Atlantis may bring about an ecological disaster that will destroy the sea and surface worlds. Despite everyone's best efforts, Shin and Manta have acquired the deposits. In order to help them, Aquaman now has to get his imprisoned brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) out. Orm, for his part, detests having anything to do with Arthur, but it is better than prison.

It is discovered that the way to release the villain Kordax from his ice prison is through the blood of the royal line. That puts Arthur, Jr. in danger. Will Arthur and Orm put aside their differences to save Arthur, Jr. and stop Kordax? Will Atlantis finally emerge from the shadows to take its place among the surface nations? Does anyone care?

I think by now Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was doomed mostly through not fault of its own. There is a curious lethargy to things, as if everyone involved is just tired and wants to get all this over with. There is no enthusiasm for anything in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom because whatever story it is telling is just not interesting or engaging enough to pay attention.

At times, there seems to be almost a desperation about the whole thing. I feel for Momoa, whom I sense really did his absolute best to sell the film and the character. He played Arthur as mostly intentionally funny, someone who enjoyed things and had a quippy manner to him. His best moments were not when fighting against Mantra but in endlessly ribbing Orm. "Come on, Castaway. Grab Wilson and let's go," he tells his brother. Another time, he quips, "Look, Loki, I'm not looking for advise here".

It is going to be maddening to comic book fans to try and explain how DC's Aquaman knows about Marvel's Loki. Momoa really did try to sell Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom as a fun, almost goofy film. He is almost desperate in the comedy, such as when attempting to sell the human-phobic Orm about the joys of steak and beer or convincing him that cockroaches are a delectable sweet.  

This is played perfectly well against Wilson, about the only one to emerge from Lost Kingdom with any sense of dignity. I think it is because he appears to be wholly committed to this project. Other actors, such as Nicole Kidman as their mother, the barely seen Amber Heard or Abdul-Mateen II's villain, are either too bored or too broad in their own performances. Wilson is taking all of this seriously. Perhaps too seriously, but Orm is a more serious character, so I cut him some slack.

Park, who has also bounced between DC and Marvel, is the opposite of Momoa. Yes, he is playing desperate. However, he is playing desperate as in he does not want to be there and cannot wait to get out. Try as I might, I could not shake my sense that things here were cobbled together from bits and pieces, strung together almost by sheer will. Though the screenplay is credited to David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (who also has a story credit), Thomas Pa'a Sibbett, star Momoa and director James Wan also have a story credit. My sense is that there were more people involved. It cannot be a coincidence that there is a global warming element in Lost Kingdom.

At one point, Mantra remarks that things are now to his benefit. "Thank goodness for global warming," he says. Shin replies, hesitantly, "That's not exactly a good thing". It might have been a good thing, but I think most people frankly have grown too bored with the messenger to care. Oddly, I was reminded of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Both films ends with some kind of speech about the topic du jour: nuclear disarmament and global warming respectively. Granted, Lost Kingdom at least did not focus exclusively on global warming and ended with I think rock music as the King of Atlantis all but told us to rock on. How interesting that the ending reminded me of Iron-Man

I can say that, for myself, I did not hate Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. It does have pretty colors.

While I cannot recommend it, I cannot find it in my heart to demolish it. I did not hate Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. My main reason is that it is not a terrible film. It is really a nothing film. It is something to have in the background while you are doing your dishes or the laundry. It fills the emptiness of sound. I suppose that is a positive.  

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has as its tagline, "the tide is turning". I think most everyone will agree with that, though it may not be turning the way anyone at DC or its rival Marvel would like it to. 

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