Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom - Movie Reviews


Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom - Movie Reviews

This is an extensive review of the movie "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom." It explores various aspects of the film, including character portrayals, the director's approach, action scenes, influences, and the overall cinematic experience. The review emphasizes Jason Momoa's charismatic performance, the chemistry between the lead characters, and the film's blend of CGI and real-world locations. Additionally, it comments on the movie's use of influences from different genres and its entertaining yet cluttered production. The reviewer notes the strategic focus on the central relationship between Arthur and Orm, discussing how the film navigates themes of family, redemption, and personal growth. The critique acknowledges the film's enjoyable aspects but also mentions its shortcomings compared to its predecessor.

Within the realm of DC Extended Universe films, currently in what seems to be a concluding phase, there exists a singular hero who injects every scene with a natural sense of enjoyment, coupled with a keen awareness of the inherent absurdity – and that hero is Aquaman. To be more precise, this incarnation of Aquaman is portrayed by Jason Momoa, who has redefined the character of the half-human Prince (and subsequent King) of Atlantis, also known as Arthur Curry. Momoa's portrayal transforms the iconic figure into a robust, long-haired, beer-loving, high-fiving, and witty individual who bears a striking resemblance to the actor himself.

In "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," Jason Momoa fully embodies the essence of Momoa-esque charisma. This neon-lit sequel plunges into a submarine wreck of a narrative, where our formidable hero endeavors to thwart the return of the formidable antagonist, Black Manta, also known as David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Black Manta harbors a vendetta against Aquaman for the demise of his father in the inaugural film, and his perilous journey involves being influenced by the malevolent spirit within the Black Trident. Crafted by denizens of the seventh kingdom of Atlantis, a haunting necropolis inhabited by demonic entities, the Black Trident becomes a focal point of this dark and enthralling tale.

Black Manta, portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, grapples with the perilous consequences of wielding the formidable weapon. His plan revolves around harnessing a radiant green ancient power source, a force akin to radiation but amplified to an extraordinary degree. This mystical force not only endangers Black Manta himself but also accelerates the ominous progression of climate change, vividly depicted as the film's title is etched onto the face of a crumbling glacier.

The precarious situation portrayed in the film is exactly the type that warrants the intervention of Aquaman.

Undoubtedly, the standout reason to watch this movie is Jason Momoa. He exudes an alpha-cool demeanor, occasionally bordering on the jerk-ish qualities inherent to a maverick action star. However, Momoa skillfully convinces the audience that his character is fundamentally decent, capable of recognizing when he's crossed a line, and genuinely remorseful about it. What sets Momoa apart is his remarkable range as an actor. In one moment, he effortlessly provides a smart-alecky running commentary on the film, breaking the fourth wall, and in the next, he delves into the depth of his character's emotions—shedding bitter tears, screaming out in anguish, or expressing vengeful fury in response to the dastardly actions of the antagonists. This versatility allows Momoa to navigate seamlessly between moments of levity and profound emotional intensity, akin to a performer in a silent-movie melodrama complete with impactful title cards.

The seamless execution of the film is a testament to its self-awareness, which never veers into self-consciousness or becomes off-putting. Jason Momoa's adept navigation ensures that the shifts in tone and emotion don't induce whiplash but rather flow together cohesively, creating a holistic viewing experience. Adding a familial touch to the narrative, our hero now contends with the challenges of parenthood, with an infant son—borne of his union with wife Mera, portrayed by Amber Heard. The film cleverly inserts Pixar-style, unmistakable jokes about the trials of parenting, eliciting genuine belly laughs, thus affirming Momoa's prowess as a charismatic movie star.

Following closely as the second-best reason to watch the film is the compelling chemistry between Momoa and his co-star Patrick Wilson, reprising his role as Arthur's half-brother, Orm Marius, aka the Ocean Master. Wilson brings a timeless quality to his character, reminiscent of an era long past, with a Van Heflin-esque demeanor. His portrayal of Orm is incredibly dry, capturing the essence of a man dwelling in the depths of the ocean. Orm is not just a character who is never in on the joke; he appears oblivious to the very concept of humor. This lack of comedic awareness makes him the ideal foil for Momoa's Arthur Curry, who cheekily refers to Orm as "little brother," despite the latter's previous attempts to vanquish him. The dynamic between the two characters is marked by Arthur's infuriatingly carefree approach to life, bulldozing through obstacles, emerging unscathed, and grinning at Orm as if every chaotic moment was part of a master plan.

In their return to the director's chair and screenwriting duties, James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (a trusted collaborator of Wan, responsible for the first "Aquaman" and two "Conjuring" sequels) eschew prolonged setups and elaborate justifications for the absence of the original cast members (such as Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman, and Dolph Lundgren) from much of the narrative. Instead, they swiftly propel the story forward, allowing Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson to take center stage without unnecessary detours.

A significant portion of the sequel's runtime is dedicated to the dynamic between Arthur and Orm, adopting the engaging premise of argumentative buddies on a mission. Amidst the banter, the film delves into themes of estranged brothers reconciling, punctuated by elements of redemption, lessons learned, and the humility to admit one's mistakes—all contributing to the characters' growth. This strategic focus on the central relationship ensures that the narrative remains tightly woven around the core dynamics of the protagonists, emphasizing their evolving camaraderie and personal development.

While undeniably entertaining, this movie falls short of achieving greatness, lacking the audacious grandiosity of its predecessor. The original film thrived on flagrantly melodramatic family dynamics and knowingly ludicrous spectacle, epitomized by seahorses that whinnied and sharks that roared. Unfortunately, the sequel succumbs to a certain cluttered "too-muchness" in its production. A discerning viewer might detect a hint of chaos behind the scenes, as though elements originally intended for full-length play had to be reshaped in editing to cater to both audiences and exhibitors.

The opening montage, narrated by Aquaman, appears to be a tactical move to trim the running time by 20 minutes, streamlining scene-setting and expository details. This adjustment allows the movie to swiftly delve into the core narrative of the brothers navigating trouble, working through their relationship dynamics, and engaging in action sequences involving toppling statues, battling giant bugs, and wielding laser guns. The overall result, while enjoyable, suggests a production that underwent significant adjustments to find its rhythm.

Post-viewing, my companion turned to me and asked, "How many influences do you think they referenced in this?" While hesitant to provide an exact number, the film unabashedly wears its influences on its sleeve. Notably, it pays homage to "Star Wars," Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the "Matrix" films (with a nod to the sentinel bots), and the literary works of H.G. Wells. A remarkable extended action scene, reminiscent of H.G. Wells's "War of the Worlds," unfolds as Arthur and Orm confront a tripod machine.

The journey with this duo traverses a captivating array of settings, including a necropolis inspired by Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires," a clandestine underwater lair crafted from the remnants of pirate ships, and a volcanic island teeming with green-goo-mutated flora and fauna—reminiscent of something Ray Harryhausen might have stop-motion animated in the '60s. (On a side note, the Harryhausen showcase "Mysterious Island," based on H.G. Wells's novella, stands as a delightful fantasy adventure, particularly suitable for young audiences.) The film's rich tapestry of influences adds a layer of depth and nostalgia, creating a visual feast for those keen on recognizing and appreciating these cinematic and literary references.

The combination of CGI and real-world locations may present a less cartoonish appearance in 2-D compared to the 3-D screening I attended. Nonetheless, the attention to detail is commendable, particularly in the creation of SpongeBob-esque non-human characters. Among them, a talking crawfish king and a diligent octopus accompany the brothers on their quest, periodically returning to Atlantis to provide updates on their progress.

While director James Wan doesn't quite replicate the virtuosity of the rooftop fight scene from the first "Aquaman," there are still engaging action sequences here. Wan's trademark clarity in choreography, framing, and editing shines through, even when the camera shakes with the intensity of liftoff. Some of the scenes unfold from a distance, showcasing our speck-sized heroes racing through expansive vistas filled with colossal creatures, machines, armored warriors, jagged rocks, fire, and ice.

The supporting cast, including Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, and others, displays unwavering commitment to the story, maintaining a poker-faced sincerity throughout. One might ponder how much richer the film could have been if their roles had been seamlessly integrated rather than feeling shoehorned. Nevertheless, "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" is an enjoyable ride that, like its titular hero, manages to succeed despite itself. The film stands as a testament to the merits of a big-budget fantasy that understands what to avoid and when to bring the spectacle to a halt.

Currently playing in theaters.

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