Arthur Curry [Momoa] continues his duties as both protector of the oceans (as Aquaman), as well as the ruler of the secretive underground kingdom of Atlantis. And if his life wasn’t complicated enough, he’s also a new father, raising his son Arthur Jr on land, with the help of his own father. However, when old adversary David Kane/Black Manta [Abdul-Mateen II] uncovers an ancient, cursed trident, he becomes possessed by the spirit of the ruler of cursed kingdom, Necrus. So, armed with ancient technology shielded against Atlantean weapons and a seemingly unbeatable sonic canon, Kane enacts his plan of revenge – to destroy the Earth. Realising he can’t beat this overpowered foe alone, Arthur reluctantly turns to his half-brother Orm [Wilson].
The first Aquaman film was a surprise hit upon release. A welcome break from the grim-dark desaturated stories, adopting a bombastic and lush world of sights that had to be seen on the big screen. And this gamble ultimately paid off, netting over one billion dollars. Five years later, this follow-up is just as colourful and cartoony as the first, and the strong leitmotifs and powerful score make a welcome return. What’s more, on paper, this movie’s heart is in the right place – albeit with the simplicity of a late 80s Saturday morning cartoon. Opening with the frustrating bureaucracy of leadership and the shortsightedness of traditional grudges and prejudices standing in the way of progress, and ending with a peaceful gesture and the message that we need to set aside our differences and work together to save the planet. It’s earnest but it somehow lacks impact.
In fact, that word – simple – is probably the most fitting for this movie. What could have been a mess of a train-wreck, is in fact, an incredibly formulaic slog. Which can’t be counted as much of a victory. That said, there are a handful of smart elements. Sidelining Amber Heard as Arthur’s wife Mera, in favour of a redemption arc with his brother Orm is much more pleasing. Especially as the chemistry between the brothers is solid. Giving us silly little interactions like Orm not knowing how to run and his prejudice meaning he hasn’t sampled ‘surface food.’ That said, for every positive moment, the film feels the need to take it one step too far and outstay its welcome with quips, pithy dialogue, fish puns and random pop culture references. Thankfully Momoa and Wilson manage to sell the majority of these making their time together more rewarding than frustrating.
On the other hand, we have Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Many argued that his inclusion in the first film was a mistake. Primarily because it meant throwing too many villains at the screen at once, leaving him visually impressive and menacing, but underdeveloped. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change here. Once again, he is given very little growth or presence. And that’s not due to a poor performance, but largely down to the central antagonist being a puppet, possessed and controlled by the king of Necrus. The identity of whom, by the way, should hold greater weight than the mild parallel the film awards it.
One thing that was undeniable about 2018’s Aquaman was its bold vision. It had a commendable visual style that was expansive, brave and vibrant. And I don’t mean simply colourful for the sake of it, but, at times, surprisingly beautiful. Regrettably, there isn’t a single shot or scene in this movie that comes close to standing out as much or as impressively as something like the trench flare dive in the first film. Instead, what we have to wade through is a sea of floating bobble heads on flailing CGI bodies with wafty hair, and live-action characters popping off CGI backgrounds, which detracts from the overall proceedings.
Despite all the flair and spectacle, it’s a very nothing film. A pretty forgettable closing chapter in this iteration of cinematic DC adaptations. And, much like Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, it’s another huge climbdown that feels more like a contractual obligation than a source of passion and pride.
22 December 2023
The Scene To Look Out For:
While I’ve said this film is very straightforward, there seemed to be a handful of plot points that were either abandoned, ignored or orphaned. Case in point, Willem Dafoe played the role of Vulko, Atlantis’ vizier, but his absence here is explained away with him dying of a disease. This disease is one which has spread to multiple kingdoms and is due to the surface polluting the waters. This disease is never really brought up again. It’s just another in that “we need to do better and stop the effects of global warming” without acknowledging what they’ve actually written.
Martin Short plays a criminal underworld boss called kingfish. It’s very silly. And I honestly can’t decide if that was the best or worst thing to include in this film.
“You just keep going. Celebrate the wins, mourn the losses. Sometimes not giving up is the most heroic thing you can do.”
In A Few Words:
“A monumental drop in what was achieved five years ago and a disappointing end to a bumpy decade of DCEU films.”
Total Score: 2/5