Aquaman is the sole hero who brings an instinct for fun to every scene, as well as a knowledge of his own silliness, in the DC Expanded Universe of films, which appears to be winding down. Aquaman, alias Arthur Curry, is a brawny, long-haired, beer-chugging, high-fiving, wisecracking dude who shares a striking similarity to an actor named Jason Momoa. Momoa has reached the pinnacle of his career. Momoa in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a neon submarine wreck of a sequel wherein the big guy tries to save the planet from returning bad guy Black Manta, aka David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who wants revenge against Aquaman for killing his dad in the first movie, and has allowed himself to be possessed by the spirit of the Black Trident, which was forged by denizens of the seventh kingdom of Atlantis, a necropolis filled with demonic creatures. Black Manta is a risk to himself and others, and he is not in command of the incredible power he wields as he believes. His approach entails using a blazing green old power source that is like radiation multiplied by a billion.
This is not a good situation. Definitely the type Aquaman should handle.
Momoa is the most compelling reason to see the film. He’s as alpha-cool, even jerkish, as a “maverick” action star can be while yet convincing you that his character is basically decent, understands when he’s gone too far, and really regrets it. And he has range. Momoa will weep bitter tears or scream out in anguish or angry fury over some despicable conduct by a terrible guy one minute and scream out in anguish or vengeful fury the next, as if he’s acting in a silent-movie melodrama with title cards. And everything works. Self-awareness is never self-conscious or off-putting. Rather than giving viewers emotional whiplash, Momoa moves them on to the next scene (or mode) in a way that feels seamless. (By the way, our hero has a baby boy in this one—by his wife Mera, played by Amber Heard—and there are Pixar-style apparent but can’t-miss jokes about the youngster keeping the parents awake all night. Momoa’s movie star credentials are reinforced by the baby’s belly laughs.)
The chemistry between Momoa and his co-star Patrick Wilson, who returns as Arthur’s half-brother Orm Marius, nicknamed the Ocean Master, the deposed would-be ruler of Atlantis and Arthur’s main rival in the first film, is the second best reason to see the picture. Wilson appears to have been distorted into modern Hollywood from a much earlier era. In this one, he has a Van Heflin quality (which Matt typed for the benefit of any oldsters and Wikipedia users who might be reading). In this role, he is as dry as a man playing an ocean-dwelling humanoid could be. He portrays Orm as more than just a person who is never in on the joke.but doesn’t seem to understand what a joke is. That makes him the ideal counterpoint for Momoa’s Arthur Curry, who refers to Orm as “little brother” (despite lil bro’s repeated attempts to harm him in the last film) and plays with his mind in the way that only a big brother can. Orm is never more irritated by Arthur than when he’s barreling through life, crashing and bashing his way through barriers, miraculously escaping unhurt, and smirking at Orm as if he had a plan the whole time.
Director James Wan
Returning director James Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (one of Wan’s go-to collaborators; he wrote the first “Aquaman” and two “Conjuring” sequels) don’t waste time setting up the story or trying to persuade us that the rest of the first film’s cast (including Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman as Arthur’s father and mother, and Dolph Lundgren as Mera’s father Nere Probably two-thirds of the running time of this sequel is devoted to Arthur and Orm doing the bickering buddies-on-a-mission thing, with a touch of estranged-brothers-reconciling thrown in for good measure, plus dashes of redemption tale, lessons learned, and admitting you were wrong so you can grow.
Far from amazing
This is an entertaining film, but it is far from amazing. It misses the original’s go-for-broke bigness, with its blatantly theatrical family dynamics and knowingly absurd spectacle (such the whinnied seahorses and roaring sharks). The production has a cluttered too-muchness about it. You might get the impression that there was a lot of commotion behind the scenes, and that stuff that was produced and shot with the idea of playing out full-length had to be pulverized and reconstructed in the editing to make the whole thing work for viewers and exhibitors.The Aquaman-narrated opening montage feels like an attempt to shave 20 minutes off the running time by getting scene-setting and expository throat-clearing out of the way so the film could jump ahead to the bits with the brothers getting in and out of trouble and working through their relationship issues while toppling statues, punching giant bugs, and zapping people with laser guns.
Wan never pulls off
Yes, Wan never pulls off an action scene as virtuoso as the leaping-across-rooftops battle in the first “Aquaman,” but there are some fine ones in here, choreographed, framed, and edited with Wan’s trademark clarity even when the camera shakes like an astronaut during liftoff. A handful of them are seen from afar, with our speck-sized heroes racing through landscapes teeming with massive animals, machinery, armored soldiers, sharp rocks, fire, and ice. Kidman, Morrison, Lundgren, Abdul-Mateen, and the other supporting actors are so committed to the story that you wonder how much richer the film might have been if they’d been blended beautifully rather than shoehorned in. Nonetheless, this is an entertaining ride. It, like its hero, achieves against itself. And there’s something to be said for a big-budget fantasy that understands when to quit.
Now playing in cinemas.