Sunday, March 17, 2024

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Movie Name:
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Year of Release: 2023
Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Mamoa, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Amber Heard, Randall Park, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Lundgren, Martin Short, Jani Zhao, Pilou Asbek, Indya Moore, Vincent Regan, John Rhys-Davies 
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
James Wan's first major stumble comes in the shape of this sequel to "Aquaman". The original film was a surprise monster hit for the studio and the creative team, and of course a sequel was set in motion to capitalize on that, even if the creative team handling the DC characters has since changed. The sequel finds Arthur/Aquaman as the ruler of Atlantis, continuing to face challenges when it comes to the relationship with the surface dwellers. His challenges have also increased, since he divides his time between Atlantis and the surface, living with his father and taking care of his newborn baby since his union with Mera. To make matters worse, Black Manta is intent on getting his revenge for the death of his father, and manages to locate an ancient artifact, a dark trident which in reality is tied with Atlantean history. Turns out that trident belonged to King Atlan's brother Kordax, who led the kingdom of Necrus, and was defeated by Atlan as he tried to do an uprise. The Black Manta, influenced by the dark trident, starts putting a plan in motion which includes further disrupting climate patterns and create a massive planetary extinction in the process. In order to locate the Black Manta, Arthur has to resort to his imprisoned brother Orm, and leverage his assistance to tackle these challenges. 
I've always counted myself as a fan of James Wan, particularly his partnership with Leigh Whannell, and the stories they've been able to tell with very few resources (the "Insidious" franchise for example). "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" is somewhat perplexing, in the sense that for a film with this type of budget, it looks surprisingly cheap and even amateurish in certain details of the production design, something that also becomes particularly noticeable in the transitions between the outside shots and in studio shots (which are meant to be seamless). It's as if though the creative team couldn't wait to get through this experience, and the attention to detail was all but gone. The presence of Mera and actress Amber Heard (whose performance is indeed wooden and unmemorable) is minimized, but never explained (at some point it gives the impression Arthur is a single father, but all of a sudden Mera pops into the frame). All these aspects are surprising for someone with the talent and vision of James Wan, who typically primes for being able to create a universe that is coherent, believable and populate it with characters that even at their worst definition, still have something to say. That seems to have been eradicated in this film, where the narrative/plot is barely intelligible, and where the references to other films, both visually and narratively are also a mixed bag with various results. There are references to George Lucas' "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones", Andrew Stanton's "John Carter", Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and even Richard Fleischer's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", but these disparate sources, don't congeal into something coherent, or for that matter, interesting. All the clich├ęs of the comic book formula are there, including the villain who is intent on revenge (and that's it, there's nothing else to him), the bumbling scientist with a conscience, the villainous brother who turns out not to be so bad, and the list goes on. All these characters barely make a dent, and even with Jason Mamoa's cool vibe and Nicole Kidman's attempts at bringing some emotional depth, it still fails to give the film any actual sense of drama, fun or adventure. It's quite possibly one of the most poorly written comic book films yet, with a mediocre production team, where even some of the visual effects look rushed and lack polish. Avoid.