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Review: ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ struggles with balance, but skews positively

‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ finds the hero in a fight to save the planet as an old enemy seeks revenge

A scene from ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’
A scene from ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures and DC Comics
A scene from ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures and DC Comics

‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ finds the hero in a fight to save the planet as an old enemy seeks revenge at any cost.

Superheroes are so busy doing amazing things, it’s easy to forget many of them also live normal lives in which they have friends, families, and interests that don’t involve interrupting crimes or stopping villains. Of course, there are challenges to keeping these worlds separate and it has the potential to be catastrophic if or when they collide. Watching these heroes evolve can be very engaging and relatable since viewers are less likely to connect with the characters’ more daring antics. In Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the underwater champion is now a devoted father juggling his commitments as king of Atlantis.

After defeating his power-hungry brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) assumed the throne. While he enjoys using his abilities to defend the surface and water worlds alike, he finds many of his other kingly duties boring. On the other hand, caring for his infant son with Mera (Amber Heard) and bonding with his dad (Temuera Morrison) over fatherhood is the highlight of each day. But Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is still seething after his previous defeat, vowing to finally avenge his father by combining ancient and modern technology to create unstoppable weaponry with the aid of a well-meaning scientist (Randall Park). Except Manta’s revenge could come at the cost of the entire planet as he’s convinced he must sacrifice the world to achieve his goals.

Since his first appearance in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Aquaman has been one of the current DCU’s most appealing heroes. He’s self-assured, funny and determined, drawing viewers in with his charming personality. It’s always felt like the character had a lot in common with Momoa, but the partition separating the actor from the superhero seems to be even thinner now. Arthur’s wardrobe looks like it was lifted directly from Momoa’s closet. He also presented writer-director James Wan with a treatment for the film that rested on Aquaman being a father and environmentalist, mimicking his own life. All the rest of the original cast also reprises their roles, maintaining the familiarity of their earlier appearances. Though seeing Park appear on screen is a bit of a surprise, since he’s one of a short list of actors to appear in both the Marvel and DC universes, particularly this close together.

As Arthur must call on Orm for help, there’s opportunity for some amusing banter between the brothers. The teasing continues for much of the narrative, generating a fair amount of laughter throughout. Conversely, Black Manta’s story is very hostile with no room for humour, creating a stark contrast between the two and forcing Aquaman to shift gears when they share the screen. While this picture is still better than many of DC’s other offerings, the studio continues to struggle with balancing light and dark. However, as it’s now under new management with James Gunn and Peter Safran becoming co-CEOs, there’s no telling where the future lies. To that end, where most credit sequences provide a sneak peek for upcoming stories, this one stays grounded in the present.

The film is available in 3D, but don’t expect any gimmicks like exploding debris flying towards the audience. Instead, it’s used to provide depth to many of the scenes — the value of that will be based on individual preferences. That said, the action sequences are expectedly big with giant land and sea creatures, new mechanized enemies and an army of mutated monsters. One of the most intriguing machines is an octopus-shaped vehicle that can travel via land, air and sea, while also quickly overpowering its opponents.

Parts of the two-hour film feel a little bogged down, but it does well to keep a lively pace and wrap everything up the best way possible, even if it’s a tad abrupt.

Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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