Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a follow-up to the improbable 2018 hit, Aquaman, and much like that film, Lost Kingdom is not as bad as expected. Now, to be clear, the bar was on the floor. But Lost Kingdom swims easily on a current of good times and excellent production design, coming in at a relatively lean two hours—20 minutes shorter than its predecessor—that is, generally, well-paced. Is the story based on total nonsense? Yes, of course, this is a superhero movie, and an Aquaman movie, it is VERY silly. But it’s mostly fun silly, though it does see-saw through some tonal dissonance early on, until it decides to give in and just be dumb fun.
Jason Momoa returns as Arthur Curry, now the King of Atlantis and hating every minute of it. He’s not cut out for politics or boring meetings with “high councils”, so he spends most of his time kinging by way of kicking ass, and then going home to his family. Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) are married and have a baby, Arthur Junior, and they’re living in a lighthouse with Arthur’s dad, Tom (Temuera Morrison). As much as Arthur hates kinging, he loves being a dad, he is often the one seen putting “Junior” to bed. Where Mera is, nobody knows. She is almost pulling a “Sir Not Appearing In This Film”. Mera’s reduced role wouldn’t stand out so much if she wasn’t so conspicuously absent in the domestic scenes.
Lost Kingdom gets off to a rocky start, using voiceover to remind the audience of the last film’s basic plot, and then rocketing between Arthur fighting pirates, kinging, dadding, and bad guy David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) searching for some Atlantean relics to fix his Black Manta power suit, damaged in the previous film. Randall Park also returns as Dr. Stephen Shin, a scientist obsessed with finding Atlantis. Park is doing some interesting stuff, balancing humor and an actual moral crisis as Shin compromises with Kane’s increasingly evil plan in the name of finding Atlantis. The film does not do anything with this effort, but Park is very likeable despite playing, objectively, a cockroach of a character.
The film snaps into focus, though, once Arthur springs his evil younger brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson) from prison in order to team up and stop Kane. Lost Kingdom is clearly cribbing from Thor’s notes—they even make a Loki joke at one point—but damn if Wilson doesn’t justify this whole endeavor. At times, Lost Kingdom feels like everyone is in a different film, and Jason Momoa’s dude-bro good-time vibes clash with director James Wan’s obviously bigger ambitions to do something darker, weirder, and wilder than what’s on the screen. But if anyone knows exactly what film they are in every second they’re on screen, it’s Patrick Wilson.
He can riff with Momoa, working up a solid if competitive brother vibe, he can lean into Wan’s deeper, darker material—he always answers the energy he’s receiving in every scene. He is the glue holding Lost Kingdom together. Without him, this film would sink into the abyss, but Wilson almost makes it memorable. He certainly makes me wish there would be another opportunity to see Orm’s progress through his redemption arc. Is it similar to Loki’s arc in the MCU? Yeah, probably, but Wilson puts enough of his own shine on it I’d like to see where else he can take this character, though we won’t get to see that as the DC films are about to be rebooted.
Still, for this one very silly adventure, Patrick Wilson makes it a good time. Orm is a far more interesting character than Arthur, and Wilson a better actor than Momoa, and as long as Wilson is on screen, Lost Kingdom sails on fresh winds. Also, shoutout to John Rhys-Davies who voices the giant talking crab monster with abandoned glee, and Martin Short who clearly had a lot of fun voicing an underwater pirate king. These are the weirder side characters that clash with the darker story involving David Kane’s revenge plot, but they make Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom unique and fun amongst the superhero glut. Silly, for sure, but for the most part, fun.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is exclusively in theaters from December 22, 2023.
Attached: Jason Momoa at DC's "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" Fan Screening at The Grove on December 18, 2023 in LA.