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Riding the Final Wave: A Farewell to Arms and Fins in ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’

Review of 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom'—a bittersweet farewell to the DCEU, fusing action, humor, and a genuine environmental message
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom marks the end of the DC Extended Universe era, paving the way for James Gunn’s new cinematic DC vision. Whether this shift heralds a true renaissance remains to be seen, but for now, let’s delve into how the King of Atlantis bids farewell in this sequel.

Arthur Curry has embraced fatherhood, married his beloved Mera, and juggles duties between the marine abysses as King of Atlantis and diaper changes on land, attempting to lull his little one to sleep. However, tranquility is a luxury a superhero can’t afford. Manta, seeking vengeance for his father’s death, finds a formidable and dangerous ally from the past. Together, they threaten the very existence of Atlantis, and only Aquaman can stop them, but not alone—he’ll need his brother Orm’s help.

Reflecting on the fact that the last two films of the DC cinematic universe, as conceived a decade ago, were The Flash and this second Aquaman installment, leaves a bittersweet taste.

Ironically, they are probably the best of the chaotic jumble that was the DCEU, despite the high literary quality of DC Comics’ production. It’s a real shame to have seen Superman fully understood only in the first half of Man of Steel, a missed opportunity in the genre. Ben Affleck’s Batman had the potential to be the best, but was underused and mishandled. As for the two Wonder Woman films, it’s best to draw a merciful veil over them, and the less said about the peripheral additions like Shazam and Blue Beetle, the better.

Yet, both The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom harbor more than a few intriguing ideas. The former is a meditation on the DCEU itself, a formless, masterless entity where everyone tried their hand and voiced their opinion, creating an overcrowded dimension filled mostly with unfulfilled dreams.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, on the other hand, is a farewell imbued with irony and a refreshing liberty in form and substance, thanks largely to James Wan. As a director and producer who has no need to get mired in feuds, given his knack for turning any low-budget horror flick into gold, Wan leveraged the end of an era to create a highly personal, entertaining film. It’s not overblown in length but is perfectly edited, with crisp storytelling and a brisk pace. Wan mixes genres with almost Dadaist flair.

Aquaman, aided by his brother (the ever-excellent Patrick Wilson), stages an unofficial remake of Watch Out, We’re Mad (1974), lacking only the Dune Buggy. Perhaps it could have been titled …And They Kept Calling Him Aquaman, with Jason Momoa even sporting the bored expression of Bud Spencer as a hapless villain tries and fails to best him, only to be met with a flying kick.

All this is wrapped in a typical Bond movie structure, with the diabolical Manta seeking to destroy the world above and below the sea, and a fantasy twist reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. Not content there, Wan also takes a couple of playful jabs at Marvel and even indulges in honoring a beloved Italian hero, Dylan Dog.

Beyond that, Momoa is truly priceless, Amber Heard strikes more poses than her trial outcome might have suggested, and above all, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom effectively promotes an environmental message with far more sincerity and less hypocrisy than many other films, and certainly more than many actors and directors who tend to take themselves too seriously. In short, there’s something for everyone, especially the perfect mix of multiplex entertainment, ready to fill the right number of showtimes.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom premiered at a fan event at the Grove, Los Angeles on December 19, 2023, and was released in the United States on December 22, by Warner Bros. Pictures.

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