Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom review: "The DCEU's last outing should have tried to make more of a splash"

aquaman 2
(Image: © Warner Bros. Pictures)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

After a rocky decade, the DCEU bows out with its most likeable superhero flailing valiantly to recapture its missing mojo.

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"This is worse than I could have possibly imagined!" sighs ousted Atlantean ruler Orm (Patrick Wilson) midway through Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, upon learning what brother Arthur (Jason Momoa), now a doting father to a baby boy, has been up to during his incarcerated absence. But as tempting as it is to apply Orm’s line to the totality of James Wan’s sequel, it wouldn’t be fair on a follow-up that’s far from the reshoot-plagued calamity so many have been predicting.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s a classic either. Indeed, given the radiant course correction its predecessor gave the DCEU back in 2018, Aqua #2 has to be considered a disappointment – one that, in endeavouring to emulate what made Wan’s original the highest-grossing DC film of all time, merely serves up more of the same to increasingly bathetic effect. 

Case in point? Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta, still hungry for revenge and ready to wield the demonic Black Trident if it’ll get him some payback. So what if he has a giant submarine this time around, and a toxic power source that’s accelerating global climate change? It’s the same old beef, tediously reheated.

There are similar vibes about Orm, who is no more interesting for being Arthur’s reluctant ally rather than his bitterly estranged sibling. And though there’s some pleasure to be had watching them fractiously bicker while being chased by mutant bugs around a desert island, it’s hard not to sense a certain desperation in writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s attempts to impose a buddy-movie chemistry on Momoa and Wilson’s relationship. 

That the latter is foregrounded at the expense of Amber Heard’s Mera is also hard to miss, though those expecting a complete erasure will be surprised how prominently she nevertheless features. It’s Nicole Kidman who’s the more sidelined star here, her few and fleeting appearances as Arthur’s mum Atlanna bearing all the hallmarks of a contractually obligated cameo.

The best bits of Kingdom come when Jules Verne-esque technology like Manta’s Octobots collides with Atlantis’ psychedelic bioluminescence, a colourful contrast that gets to the heart of this watery franchise’s trippy appeal. A shame there aren’t more of them in a film that, given it looks set to be Aquaman’s last outing, really should have tried to make more of a splash. 

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is in UK cinemas now and in US cinemas on December 22. 

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.