Director James Wan (Saw) once again teams up with David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Orphan) to bring DC Comics’ deep-sea king to the big screen. This time, the script also has input from the film’s star, Jason Momoa. Unfortunately, the tale starts out taking itself too seriously, only becoming entertaining when it embraces its camp.
Arthur Curry (Momoa) is splitting his time between being the king of Atlantis underseas and a father to his new baby with Mera (Amber Heard) on land. But when Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) returns for vengeance with newfound armaments and strength given to him via the Black Trident. At the same time, the Trident possesses Manta with the goal of releasing a long-forgotten evil not only on Atlantis but also on the world. For any chance to defeat these forces, Arthur will have to ally with his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), but first, he has to break him out of prison.
Wan’s scripts are usually pretty solid, but his one starts rough. It seems like two films in one - the first a serious drama, and the second a campy send-up of the character. This could be the effect of multiple writers or even just of adding Momoa’s fun-loving personality to the scripting mix. It doesn’t find a footing until almost halfway through. At that point, the authors embrace the camp. In an odd way, it also improves the serious storyline, especially in the final act. Momoa, as before, was born to play this role. Sometimes early in the film he overdoes it, but as things get more serious, so does he. Mateen II was much better on this outing; while his motivation is two-dimensional, his performance is not. Wilson’s portrayal is also loads of fun, especially as a straight man to Momoa.
The special effects are similar to those in the first film, although this one seems more reliant on them than the last. There are moments when it looks like the filmmakers are trying to distract the audience with some gratuitous CGI to pad the running time, which sets the pace off temporarily. Still, the different denizens of Atlantis, past and present, are a wonder to behold. The film has a few songs, each setting the moment well.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a visual feast with an average and often predictable story. This shouldn’t deter viewers just looking for a fun but not particularly deep couple of hours of entertainment. In fact, for that, it might be the ideal popcorn muncher to dive into.