“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” was a surprising delight

By Farah Bassyouni Jan 29, 2024

2023 was a year of great contradictions in the world of cinema. Films like “The Super Mario Bros”, “Movie” and “Across the Spider-Verse” absolutely dominated the box office, at home and abroad. That’s without even mentioning ‘Barbenhiemer’, the internet-famous word play on the movies “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” being released on the same day. On the other hand, you had multi-million dollar franchise films with die-hard fan bases utterly bombing and setting historic franchise lows, both in terms of financial and critical performance. “The Marvels,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” are but three examples of the term “franchise fatigue” come to all too terrible life. 

As a devoted DC Comics fan, it was a bit disheartening to see what the first half of 2023 had to offer. “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” was okay, but so forgettable, my brother has to remind me that it not only exists, but that we actually watched it. And “The Flash” was just incredibly disappointing in every way imaginable. But then on September 14, something happened;the day the trailer for “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” dropped and fans were treated to two minutes and 46 seconds of utter glory. Something about the breadth of the visuals and the not-too-generic voiceover got my heart pumping with a new vigor. I was actually excited for a movie again, and a superhero movie at that. But would this film live up to my expectations? Or would we once again be subjected to aggressively bad CGI and a bland, unimaginative villain? 

Honestly, kind of both. 

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” was never going to prosper, in my mind. Everyone is tired of generic, stock superhero films and, as much as the trailer excited me, that’s what this looked like. No exciting new characters (unless you’re a massive Aquababy fan) or big developments were teased in the trailer. And on top of all that, the movie had to contend with the fact that it was the final entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). . 

There was a lot of weight resting on Jason Momoa’s perfect, muscular shoulders. And while many were disappointed by the lack of franchise closure delivered by the self-contained film, I absolutely loved it. I had an idea of what to expect going in, and for that reason, I didn’t expect too much. I just went to have a good time, and a good time I had. Momoa is absolutely electric in his performance, bringing back the life he had injected into the King of the Seven Seas back in 2017. He was able to be his aggressively macho self, while allowing for a deeper investigation of Aquaman’s humanity and desire to protect his family. 

His chemistry with co-star Patrick Wilson came as a wonderful surprise and was probably the best part of the film for me. The banter between the two and the maturation of their relationship was something I didn’t know I needed. For the most part, the film’s humor felt natural and not too contrived. The expanded roles of side characters like King Nereus, Queen Atlanna, Tom Curry were also nice to see, as my brother and I are huge Temuera Morrison fans and moderate Dolph Lundgren and Nicole Kidman fans. 

Randall Park’s role as Doctor Steven Shin was massively enlarged from just a few scenes in the first film to being a central character in “The Lost Kingdom.” In a universe full of plot threads and incomplete stories, I felt it refreshing to see a teased character step into a larger role in a satisfying way that served the plot. Similarly, the way Amber Heard’s character was handled was a masterclass in sidelining a controversial character in a way that works for plot. 

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II had an incredibly powerful, commanding screen presence as Black Manta, and the fights between him and Aquaman were even better than they were in the first film, as was the set design. The variation from dense jungle, to vast desert, to bleak tundra, in addition to some beautiful sequences in Atlantis made the film a visual spectacle that surpassed most of the other DCEU films. Finally, Martin Short was in the movie. From Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” and “The Santa Clause 3”; in a word, brilliant. 

However, I do have one gripe. While it may not be an issue with the film itself, I must say that my love for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom can only be rivaled by my utter hatred of the majority of other reviews of the film. This can be attributed to the simple reason that they almost all use the same bland, unimaginative water puns to describe the film’s performance. “’Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ Sinks Beneath the Waves at Global Box Office”, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Swims Past Infamous DCEU Bomb at Global Box Office”, and so on. I love puns. But this trend of trying to make little jokes in the title of your article is just done to death. Please, for the love of God, stop.

Despite not quite reaching the heights of its predecessor financially, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” was a fun, fitting sequel to one of the DCEU’s gems, and one of the better superhero movies of 2023.

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