Per Matt
This weekend, temperatures will drop throughout the country, as some cities face the possibility of a White Christmas, but movie theaters will be heating up, as Jason Momoa returns to rule his underwater lair in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Premiering five years after the franchise’s first installment hit the big screen, Arthur Curry’s reign alongside Mera has been anything but smooth sailing, as a new menace presents itself, threatening the safety of Atlantis in general and Arthur’s family in particular.

Kordax, the last ruler of Necrus (the lost kingdom), might have finally discovered an escape plan from his underwater tomb. Imprisoned by “blood magic,” the discovery of his cursed Black Trident has led Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) on a mission of vengeance, going scorched earth to everything Arthur holds dear and ultimately freedom for Kordax, who also looks to make up for lost time by his captors.

The only way Aquaman can conceivably save the world is by breaking out his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), from a hidden prison, where Arthur assisted in his incarceration. Together, there’s a chance… but only if they can trust one another.

This revenge fantasy with a supernatural spin using eco-terrorism as a McGuffin to move things along feels like it should be right up James Wan’s wheelhouse. I was incredibly hyped for the multi-hyphenate when Aquaman was released in 2018, but the storyline for this one is molded even more around Black Manta as a character.

As a standalone story with no true connection to other Justice League-era superheroes, it provides depth and more background to an underused hero. Unfortunately, his antagonist is too much of a one-note character. While I enjoyed David Kane’s turn from a high-tech nautical mercenary to a full-blown comic book character, Manta is just not strong enough to carry not one, but two feature films as the main antagonist. I was somewhat surprised a new supervillain wasn’t introduced in this story.

I was more interested in the background characters and the secondary creatures, as opposed to the familiar faces who were previously introduced. And with all the news surrounding Amber Heard the last couple of years and threats of totally removing her character floating about the information superhighway that were spread just as long, Mera’s presence here was supposedly reduced, according to the filmmakers involved. At certain points in the movie, you could almost tell her character’s side missions were abandoned, as if the evidence was lost to the cutting-room floor. But I’m sure they’ll re-appear as a deleted-scene featurettes on the upcoming Blu-ray.

With the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the DCEU-connected films come to a close. The big-screen franchise officially gets wiped out, as James Gunn and Peter Safran start anew with the DC Universe (DCU). That would explain, in part, the cancellation of the reported spinoff, The Trench, which would have truly injected horror into the superhero universe. That’s a shame, as I was really looking forward to the concept and was hoping Wan would headline the project, letting loose all sorts of new terrors.

Filmmaker James Wan examines a scene in his latest project, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

So, with the inevitable reboot looming, where does that leave the writer-director-producer? Since Wan cut his teeth within the horror genre and made lots of money for the distributor with the creation of multiple entries in the Conjuring Universe, as well as the underappreciated Malignant, does he simply focus more of his time working alongside business partner Jason Blum and hang up his aspirations for telling more tales of spandex-wearing superheroes?

I really don’t know, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Wan within the DCU. Until then, I look forward to his other endeavors, as Momoa may or may not return as Arthur. The future for both filmmakers is up in the air and may not be definitively decided for quite a while.

There are many factors working against Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Tickets at movie theaters have never been more expensive and inflation is a killer around Christmastime. Much like The Flash, moviegoers may be conflicted about supporting a misbehaving actor. Shuffled release dates and the worldwide pandemic sure didn’t help out matters. And then there’s the creation of Warner Bros. Discovery.

When the media merger became official, CEO David Zaslav prematurely revealed the reimagining of the comic-based universe, ultimately ruining any chance at box-office success for the remaining five releases, including the Lost Kingdom. Why should audiences support a handful of movies if they already know their favorite characters’ stories will simply be ignored from the ongoing continuity?

Knowing all of that in advance, I still enjoyed the Lost Kingdom, as I was already big fan of Wan’s and Momoa’s. It’s got a smaller storyline than expected and if you like past releases of the filmmaker and the main actor, there’s a good chance you’ll like this one, too.