erik lundegaard


Thursday January 04, 2024

Movie Review: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)


I might not have been in the right mood for this. I saw “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” alone on Christmas Day at the Southdale Theater, about one month and half a mile removed from the murder of my brother at a bus stop on 66th and York Ave. in Edina, Minn. We were two days from his memorial and half the family was dealing with COVID. My step-mom got it, then my 91-year-old father, and several of us had been exposed, including my wife and I, so the two of us moved to a hotel in downtown Minneapolis to keep from exposing others. That was on a Wednesday. Saturday my wife tested positive, and we went to urgent care for paxlovid—which she couldn’t get because she was on antibiotics—and for a PCR test for me. Turns out I was negative. So I switched locations yet again to my deceased brother’s place in Richfield. The next day was Christmas. What do you do when it’s Christmas, your brother’s been murdered, and everyone in the family is social distancing? A movie sounded like a not-bad idea. I actually wanted to see other movies: “Boys in the Boat” maybe (but it was sold out at the Edina Theater), or “Wonka” maybe (but it was playing at the wrong time at Southdale), so I opted for this thing. Last choice on one of the worst days in the worst year of my life.

So I might not have been in the right mood for it.

That said, I only wanted what Hollywood was built on delivering: “Please make me forget for two hours, please.” Instead, I was almost happy to remember the horrors of my world because at least I could leave the stupidity of this one.

Pee in the face
“Lost Kingdom” is the last film in the DCEU, the interconnected superhero world Warner Bros. commissioned in the wake of Marvel’s triumphs and then handed off to Zack Snyder, a writer-director with neo-fascistic and douchebag tendencies. I thought hiring Snyder was a bad move when they announced it in 2010 and history hasn’t proven me wrong. At the same time, he did aspire to some kind of visual artistry. There’s no sense of aspiration from this thing other than to make money before the world ends.

Aquaman (Jason Momoa), forever called Arthur Curry by Snyder & Co., is now King of Atlantis (I’d forgotten), and father, with Mera (Amber Heard), to a new baby boy, Arthur Jr. Much of the opening is cutesy stuff for idiots. The baby is forever peeing on him during diaper changes, for example. One time, he dodges the stream but Mera redirects it—cause it’s water?—so it gets him in the face again. She laughs, the baby gurgles, and our hero gets a wuh-wuh look on his face. If that’s not bad enough, it felt like Momoa and Heard weren’t filming together. We'd see him and the baby, then her, then him and the baby. Apparently CGI can make underwater kingdoms but can't put two actors in the same shot.

Arthur doesn’t like being king—it’s a lot of blah blah, and he’s hampered from doing good work by the council—and meanwhile an enemy gathers: David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). I guess he was around in the first movie? I’d forgotten. He’s the son of a pirate that Aquaman killed in the first film so he’s bent on revenge in the second one. He and comic-relief Asian dude Stephen Shin (Randall Park) are excavating Atlantean artifacts when a black trident possesses David’s soul, giving him super powers. And hey, guess what? The entity possessing him also wants to destroy Atlantis! Win win. 

(Wouldn’t it have been dramatically interesting if the entity possessed someone who liked Atlantis? Like Stephen Shin? But onward.)

The possessed creature, now known as Black Mantis, is bent on stealing and releasing a mineral known as orichalcum, which, in ancient times, apparently overheated the planet. That’s what Mantis wants to do now. And it’s working! While the world dicks around, the oceans heat up. Mantis also steals the orichalcum reserves from Atlantis. That, more than an overheated ocean, is what alerts Arthur Curry to the problem. And it’s decided—by who, exactly?—that to find Kane/Mantis he needs to ally with his brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is stuck in a desert prison after being defeated by Arthur in the last movie. Right. I’d forgotten.

This thing is so stupid, I’ll let Wikipedia describe the next steps:

The two meet with the crime lord Kingfish, who provides information leading to a volcanic island in the South Pacific. While on the island, Arthur and Orm stumble across the black trident, which Orm learns was created by Kordax, the brother of King Atlan and ruler of the lost kingdom of Necrus who was imprisoned with blood magic following a failed attempt to usurp the throne. Realizing the blood of any of Atlan's descendants could release Kordax, the two make their way to Amnesty Bay, where they learn Kane has kidnapped Arthur Jr.

Oh, the exposition. Oh, the undersea travel. What’s important is that Mantis/Kordax needs the blood of an Atlantean, and he/they steal the baby. The baby.

At this point, I was hoping for a 1970s-era “Fantastic Four”/Franklin thing, where the child is more powerful than anyone realizes and takes care of the bad guy on its own. Doesn’t happen. Instead, underwater fights. Mantis does this, Aquaman does the other, Mera shows up to show women are powerful, too. The spirit of the Kordax winds up in the body of Orm but Arthur convinces Orm, through brotherly love or whatevs, to lay down his arms. Then he reveals Atlantis’ existence at a UN conference. I think they were hoping for a Black Panther/Wakanda vibe, but it just comes off as … seriously, nobody cares.

Door, ass, out
You know who I was wondering about throughout? So the villains who are superheating the earth include Mantis (who’s possessed), Shin (who’s torn), and Stingray (Jani Zhao), who’s … gungho? What’s her deal? Doesn’t she realize she’s making the world uninhabitable for her and hers? But she’s gungho to the end. She’s a true believer. She truly believes in the son of a pirate who is possessed by an ancient underwater king. Who wouldn’t be?

Momoa gets a screenwriting credit here because apparently some of this was his idea. That made me flash on  “Superman IV: The Quest of Peace.” Star Christopher Reeve wanted his character to handle the existential issue of the day, nuclear weapons, but, partnered with the cheap bastards at Golan & Globus, he just made a mess. For Momoa, it’s global warming and ditto. “Superman IV” also ended that series. 

Ultimately, this is the end the DCEU deserves. Now bang, whimper. Ours.

Posted at 07:00 AM on Thursday January 04, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023