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REVIEW: 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom' quietly closes the pre-Gunn DCEU

By Jerald Uy Published Dec 20, 2023 2:05 pm

There is a sense of sadness in watching Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom as things that happened off-camera were so real that it affected the suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy the superhero movie. The atmosphere was far opposite from the events of 2018, when the lead stars Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Amber Heard (Mera), and director James Wan landed in Manila to hold a premiere and meet Filipino fans.

One, the second Aquaman movie could be Momoa’s last outing as the titular hero as DC Studios reboots under the new leadership of James Gunn and Peter Safran. The Atlantean hero becomes a remnant of the past superhero franchise trying to catch up with the successes of rival Marvel Studios.

Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) carries the mystic Black Trident in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. 

And while Heard only had a few lines as the hydrokinetic Mera, I could not help but notice how the audience reacted whenever she appeared on screen, which I can safely say, triggered a feeling of uneasiness. In 2022, Heard lost in the defamation case that involved his former partner of four years, Johnny Depp. Their divorce and defamation cases rocked Hollywood and polarized fandom, especially those who felt Depp was wronged when Warner Bros. had asked him to “resign” from playing the antagonist Grindelwald in the third Fantastic Beasts film.

The on-screen chemistry of Momoa and Heard from the first Aquaman movie visibly waned. I surmise this can be attributed to the court documents that included Heard’s claims to a therapist that Momoa arrived “drunk” and “late on set,” which DC Studios denied. Even the scene where the couple had to scream in anguish appeared inauthentic.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom shifts its focus to Arthur and Orm, formerly known as Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson), who had to set aside their sibling rivalry to protect the world from ancient evil. Wilson is the MVP of the movie, showing his acting chops from a vengeful young brother to a fan of surface dwellers’ exotic dishes. Funny guy Randall Park is also a scene-stealer, reprising his role as scientist Stephen Shin, who is mixed into Black Manta’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) minions out of convenience.

Arthur (Jason Momoa) teams up with his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to fight an ancient evil in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

As far as swan songs go, Wan’s second superhero film falls in comparison to Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, helmed by his new boss, the current co-CEO of DC Studios, Gunn. There is no question about Wan’s storytelling genius. But learning that they had former Batman actors' film cameos and then cut them shows the final version of the movie was greatly affected by the recent corporate structuring in the studio.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom also borrows a plot from The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor—just turn the Chinese zombie soldiers into ancient monstrous Atlanteans trapped in ice and it’s mostly the same story.

The fun simmers down in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. If you’ve already dived deep into the closing DC Extended Universe, then watch it on the big screen to complete your journey as a DC Comics fan.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom opens in Philippine cinemas on Dec. 20. Stay for one mid-credits scene. Watch the trailer below.