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Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom: Is It Actually Bad Or Fine For What It Is?

Remember how the first Aquaman came out and was a colossal success? It really seemed like everything was finally on track for the character after years of jokes and abuse. Then tragedy…or well…insanity struck. The sequel was plagued with reshoots, scheduling conflicts, and an ever-changing landscape of the DCEU. Plus there’s the Amber Heard of it all, which has grown increasingly complicated. Today on DC Revisited, we’re getting into it all, as we dive into James Wan’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Before the first Aquaman had found massive success, Warner Bros was already hard at work on developing a sequel. Jason Momoa himself pitched a story to the studio, wanting to be more involved in the sequel’s development. This makes sense as Momoa really was the face of Aquaman and had shifted the perception of the character from a blonde man in tights that talks to fish to a long-haired, Island man, built like a brick shit house. Momoa teamed with his screenwriting partner Thomas Pa’a Sibbett and submitted a 50-page treatment. While Warner did purchase the script, few of the ideas were actually utilized. Mostly because after the massive success of the first film, more power was given to James Wan. He was the mastermind behind it the first after all, so Warner put him in charge of development and writing for the sequel, though he wasn’t sure if he’d be returning to the director’s chair.

Working with Wan, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick would then formulate their own ideas with Momoa’s and turn them into a full-fledged screenplay. Peter Safran, who would team with James Gunn on the new DCU, returned as a producer.

Aquaman the the Lost Kingdom follows Arthur Curry as he struggles with fatherhood and being the king of Atlantis. Black Manta is still on a mission of revenge, so he’s seeking the power of the Black Trident so that he can be strong enough to take on Aquaman. To attain that power, Manta must heat up the world, melt the polar ice caps, and free the true source of the Trident’s power. So Arthur must team up with his brother Orm, to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m sure some of you rolled your eyes but I’d say climate change is a perfect problem for Aquaman to be facing. He’s an environmental hero so it’s a slam dunk of storytelling. It’s just how it’s presented that can be deemed…rough.

Jason Momoa would of course return to the role of Aquaman/Arthur Curry. We finally see him at his heroic journey’s end, becoming a very different person than he was when we first met him. Momoa still brings the same level of charisma and charm, while spending a considerably more amount of time in his super suit. 

Stepping away from his role as the main bad guy, Patrick Wilson comes back as Orm. His title of Ocean Master has been stripped, and he’s rotting in a prison. But Arthur needs his help, so he takes the path of a good guy, bringing along his classic Wilson charm. He and Momoa work well together and, if anything, there needed to be more of them interacting. 

Amber Heard’s Weird Role

Now let’s address the Amber Heard of it all. While she had a prominent role in the first film as Mera and essentially teamed with Arthur Currey to complete his mission, there was speculation as to what her role would be this time around. That’s because in between the two movies her reputation took quite the hit, due to her divorce from Johnny Depp. The trial that followed didn’t exactly paint her in the best of light and led to fans asking for the actress’s removal from the film. That didn’t happen, but there have been rumors that Billionaire Elon Musk, Heard’s ex-boyfriend, actually threatened Warner Bros. So Heard stayed in the film. Though, if James Wan is to be believed, the intention was always for the sequel to follow Arthur and Orm, with Mera taking a back seat. At this point, it’s very he said, she said, though one side has been caught in lies much more than the other. Heck, in a very strange move, Heard accused Momoa of taunting her on set, saying he would show up drunk and dress like Johnny Depp. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen how Momoa dresses in real life but…yeah, I’d say that’s just his style. Given how close the two were on the set of the first film, this shift was quite odd. I guess it’s not surprising that Heard felt everyone was against her, given how much the media maligned her. But hey, poop in your partner’s bed, and you’re probably going to have a certain reputation.

Then, despite the trailer making it seem otherwise, Mera’s presence is all over the film. She appears at several big moments and they make it clear that Arthur wouldn’t have beaten Orm without her help. Though, I’m not going to lie, she could have easily been cut with little to no change to the story. She only says 11 lines and is featured in about 20 minutes of the 2-hour film. But even then, she’s hardly the primary focus of most of her scenes. If anything, I’m sure there’s a cut where she has even less screen time, and she was just added in to group scenes. Heard claimed during the trial that Warner cut down her role and took away an action scene with Manta as well as a love scene with Momoa. But I just can’t imagine where she’d fit into this outing.

What did they do to Black Manta?

Despite being one of the villains in the first, Yahya Abdul-Matteen II, returned as Black Manta. He’s still on a mission of vengeance against Arthur for his father’s death and has an incredible screen presence. Unfortunately, Black Manta is all bark and no bite, and yet again plays second fiddle to a more powerful bad guy. It’s kind of shocking that they make the same mistake with his character in two films in a row, especially after one of the chief complaints about the first film, was its utilization of Manta. A chief example is that Manta is the person that kills Arthur Jr. in the comics, yet here he’s easily stopped and will be a footnote in Aquaman’s history versus his main villain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be getting another one with him to make up for it.

Nicole Kidman would return in the role of Atlanna and she has a little more action this time around, although it’s hard to say how much was her and how much was her stunt double. She also serves more as Arthur’s advisor, taking that job from Mera. Despite her screen time being slightly more here, like Heard, there are times when she just feels green-screened in. Similarly, Temuera Morrison‘s Tom Curry doesn’t have nearly as much of a role this time around. Which is too bad as he’s always a highlight. He’s mostly just on babysitting duties, looking after Arthur Jr.

Randall Park appeared in the first film as Dr Stephen Shin but he’s mostly relegated to complaining on TV, as well as the post-credit sequence. Thankfully, he has much more to do here, getting some characterization as he helps Black Manta on his mission. Rather than making him a tired lackey, they imbue him with heart and give him some of the most development of any character in the series. Manta’s right-hand woman Stingray, played by Jani Zhao, is an entirely new character but she leaves little impact.

Due to Amber Heard’s lessened role in the film, there wasn’t as much need for Dolph Lundgren‘s King Nereus. At least, that’s what Dolph says, though I’d argue that Nereus plays a more significant role in the events than he did last go around. And his involvement was always more that he was one of the Kings of the 7 Kingdoms versus just being Mera’s dad, so the reasoning is a little suspect.

You’ll notice the cast has mostly just been people returning but thankfully there are some fresh faces. Game of Thrones alum Pilou Asbaek plays Kordax, the creator of the Black Trident and undead king of the lost kingdom of Necrus. He’s rather generic, though the design is pretty cool; even if it feels a little Lord of the Rings. In fact, his whole area looks Minas Morgul. Then we have Martin Short voicing Kingfish, ruler of pirate haven called the Sunken Citadel. It’s a sort of “blink and you’ll miss it” role. We also get John Rhys-Davies returning as the voice of the Brine King.

Where’s Vulko?

And you may have noticed that we didn’t mention Willem Dafoe, who played Arthur’s mentor Vulko prior. Well due to scheduling conflicts, he was unable to return, so the filmmaker’s solution was this: “Have you already forgotten that this plague already killed your beloved mentor.” I’m sorry, what? You killed one of your better characters off-screen, with no hopes of him returning? One of the many flabbergasting decisions made here.

The production of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom began in June of 2021 and was anything but easy, with much of the same challenges they’d faced on the first film plus a whole new swath of new ones. One thing that stayed consistent was the buddy comedy with Momoa and Wilson at the center. Wan has been adamant from the jump that the sequel was always intended to follow these two characters as they learn to be brothers, saying: “The first ‘Aquaman’ was Arthur and Mera’s journey. The second movie was always going to be Arthur and Orm. So, the first was a romance action-adventure movie, the second one is a bromance action-adventure movie. We’ll leave it at that.”

Reshoots Galore

And it honestly makes sense as that’s still in the finished film. But with massive reshoots, there’s an entirely different version of the film out there. And as confirmed by Dolph in an interview, the cut is “really good.” So if quality wasn’t the issue then what was it? This is where Mr. Bruce Wayne comes into the picture.

As we talked about in our Flash video, there were many different iterations of that film’s ending. Some involved Ben Affleck, others had Michael Keaton, and we ended up getting George Clooney. And with both films constantly swapping release dates, it was hard to tell which movie would release first. Aquaman 2 was forced to account for all of these, with both Affleck and Keaton filming cameos for the sequel. But when it was decided that the DCEU would be scrapped versus saved, Batman was cut from the film entirely. While it likely wouldn’t have amounted to much, it would have been nice to see Arthur interacting with Bruce again. And heck, I’ll always take more Keaton as Batman.

aquaman 2 review

Like much of the principal cast, many of the crew returned for the sequel. Bill Brzeski did phenomenal work as the production designer, while Don Burgess served as the cinematographer yet again. Richard Sale would take over Costume Designer duties and brought Aquaman’s blue suit to the screen. All the costumes still have a bit of that Power Rangers aesthetic to them, but I’d argue it’s part of their charm.

Why do the underwater scenes look so bad?

But unlike the first film, which would see the actors in complex rigs to simulate the underwater action, 3D versions of the actors were created and used instead. This results in a much more CGI look to the entire movie. In fact, there are many instances where the action just looks like a video game. And put down your pitchforks, I agree that Video Games look great these days, but I want to suspend my disbelief, and this doesn’t lend to that. So if you’re wondering why everything looks so fake, when it didn’t in the last film, there’s your likely culprit. However, we do get more of a role for TOPO the octopus and the introduction of Storm, Aquaman’s Seahorse.

And sure, some people are upset that the final scene in the DCEU is Orm eating a cockroach burger but hey, this is the kind of dumb humor I would expect from a movie like this. And it’s kind of charming that instead of some grand, elaborate gag for the final bow, it’s simply a side character getting a laugh. Feels appropriate.

The DCEU ends with a shrug

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was released in the United States on December 22nd, 2023 and brought in a paltry $27.7 Million on its opening weekend. The film would end its worldwide run at over $434.1 Million. Given its massive budget of over $200 mil and marketing costs, this was still considered a loss for Warner. And critics were not kind, sticking it with a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus was that: “Jason Momoa remains a capable and committed leading man, but even DC diehards may feel that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom sticks to familiar waters.” Audiences however, were much kinder, giving the film an 81% and saying it features “stunning visual effects and plenty of action, [it’s] is a solid sequel with a positive message.” 

And with that, the Snyderverse was shuttered. But despite this being the final DCEU film, we’ve still got some films to go back and cover. So as we get away from the frigid waters of Atlantis, we’re finally getting into…wait. What that? I hear something in the distance. “Release the Snyder Cut.” Oh boy. Well, that’s a story for next time. Join us! Saaaame movie time, saaaaaame movie channel.

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/aquaman-the-lost-kingdom-dceu/

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