Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom review: A serviceable slice of comic book nonsense
A more rousing and resonant sign-off to the DCEU would have been welcome before James Gunn's impending reboot of the franchise.
Jason Momoa’s first solo outing as the underwater superhero-turned-king of Atlantis was a well-received billion-dollar hit in 2018.
Indeed, it remains the highest-grossing adventure in the DC Extended Universe, launched by Man of Steel 10 years ago, so it was no surprise that executives at Warner Bros were keen to greenlight a sequel.
However, a combination of a pandemic, studio changes and other off-screen challenges delayed production and led to rewrites and reshoots.
Suffice to say, expectations were lowered, although original director James Wan returns for the belated sequel that finds Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, hanging out at his dad’s lighthouse and adjusting to being a father to a baby son.
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However, the juggling of family life and child-rearing with the mundane demands of running a kingdom and maintaining peace with other realms leaves him snoozing on the throne.
But that calm is destroyed when old foe Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and craven scientist sidekick Dr Stephen Shin (Randall Park) discover the fabled Black Trident under a polar ice cap, bestowing the villain with enough power to avenge the death of his father and cause a climate catastrophe in the process.
Emboldened by the trident, Manta steals an essential element for his schemes from Atlantis, injuring our hero's love interest Mera (and sidelining Amber Heard from much of the picture, or saddling her with banal dialogue like "I sense something in the water"), and leaving Arthur with no alternative but to seek help from angry half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who was overthrown as king at the end of the first film and is now incarcerated in a remote desert stronghold.
The ensuing action-packed prison break is the cue for a chalk and cheese "road movie" out of the Midnight Run playbook, which sees the bickering siblings having to park their differences for the greater good, not least when they discover Manta and his minions on a volcanic island populated by mutated fauna and flora eager to snack on them both.
The evolving bromance between uptight, no-fun Orm and his Tiggerish usurper certainly lightens the mood, especially when it emerges that the source of Manta’s power is an ancient Sauron-like evil with links to the Atlantean family tree.
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As the director of Insidious and The Conjuring, Wan again channels his horror nous with a gallery of toothsome nasties, though none that compare to the fearsome Trench creatures from the first film.
There is the usual quota of concussive confrontations and the welcome return of Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus), Nicole Kidman (as Arthur’s Atlantean mum) and Temuera Morrison (his human dad).
Also, hardcore Aquaman fans will recognise that it is Topo, Aquaman’s cephalopod sidekick in the comics, helping the half-brothers on their quest.
A serviceable slice of comic book nonsense rather than a damp squib, then, but considering it’s the swan song to the DCEU franchise before the 2024 debut of the James Gunn iteration of the DC Universe, a more rousing and resonant sign-off would have been welcome, despite a cheeky final line nod to a certain Marvel blockbuster of yore.