Aquaman 2 is a fittingly messy end to the DCEU

jason momoa, patrick wilson, aquaman and the lost kingdom
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom reviewWarner Bros.

And so the day has finally come. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom marks the end of the DC Extended Universe or the Worlds of DC or the SnyderVerse, whatever you want to call it.

The sequel caps a dire 2023 for DC movies as Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash and Blue Beetle all flopped at the box office, but at least the latter was a hit with critics. A lot rests on Aquaman's shoulders this Christmas, although you can't say the signs are promising.

Reviews have been embargoed until the day of its UK release, despite the movie being out in cinemas elsewhere in the world. There has been barely any promotion from the cast, bar select US interviews, and there wasn't even a splashy premiere. It's easy to forget this is the sequel to the highest-grossing DC movie ever.

But now that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has swum into cinemas, you can see why the sequel didn't make more waves ahead of its release. It's a fittingly messy way to end the entire DCEU.

jason momoa, aquaman and the lost kingdom
DC Entertainment - Warner Bros.

It's been a while since we've seen Aquaman (ignoring that weird cameo in The Flash credit scene), so the opening sees Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) catch us up on his life in a silly and fun montage that sees him regale his life to his baby son Arthur Jr.

The opening promises that the sequel will carry on in the same light-hearted tone that made the first movie an entertaining success. Sadly, it's not long before the sequel devolves into the darker comic-book sludge that has blighted much of this universe's efforts.

Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is back and he's still pissed at Aquaman for killing his father. His quest for Atlantean technology to give him the edge he needs leads him to the Black Trident. Only one issue: it's connected to an ancient force that could lead to the world's destruction.

We won't spoil who this ancient evil is, but even if we wanted to, we're not sure we could tell you what they wanted anyway. Their motivations remain unclear and it's indicative of a choppy sequel that is tonally all over the ocean, where 'bro' banter mixes with bleak warnings of real-life climate change.

jason momoa, patrick wilson, aquaman and the lost kingdom
Warner Bros.

Momoa has long been clear that the sequel is based on an idea he had, and you can tell it's a personal story for him. Like the first movie, his culture is embedded into this version of Aquaman and the sequel expands on the environmental aspects of the first movie.

There's talk about rising temperatures on the planet and ice caps melting, organically woven into the plot. However, it's then reduced to being some faceless villain's plan that he's carrying out via Black Manta. It's good to see a blockbuster movie tackle such things, but it has to mean something, otherwise it's just a comic-book The Day After Tomorrow.

Perhaps it was something expanded on in an earlier cut, as you get the sense Aquaman 2 has been chopped up. Some aspects even feel like James Wan tried to squeeze in some ideas from the scrapped, horror-tinged Trench spin-off.

There are frequent cuts to black rather than actual scene transitions, random exposition dumps when we need some backstory or context and repeated dialogue as a reminder of what's happening. For instance, the amount of times a character says "Orichalcum" (the fuel being used by Black Manta) could become a drinking game.

yahya abdulmateen ii, aquaman and the lost kingdom
Warner Bros.

If you're only coming to Aquaman 2 for the action, then you might not mind so much about the plot. Whether it's been cut down or not, the result is a movie that rattles along from one set piece to another as though it's in a rush to get it all over with.

Whenever things slow down, you can appreciate the vibrant production design and visuals, much like in the first movie. The problem is the action set pieces are so rapidly paced that it becomes a digital blur, an eyesore that becomes worse if you happen to watch the movie in 3D.

The most frustrating thing is that it's all such a waste of everybody's talent, even though the cast certainly tries to spark things into life. (Special shout-out too for Topo, who gets an expanded role this time and steals the show.)

Aquaman is still a bit of an annoying dude-bro, but Jason Momoa shows a softer side to him and while his banter with Patrick Wilson's Orm starts as more 'school bully being mean to a straight-A student', it delivers some laughs as it settles. The likes of Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard sell the stilted dialogue as much as they can, too.

patrick wilson, aquaman and the lost kingdom
Warner Bros.

The biggest misfire comes with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's Black Manta. In the first movie, he was a genuinely interesting villain, but here he's reduced to a mindless drone. Again, the talented Abdul-Mateen II tries to elevate it where he can – there's just nothing really to work with.

But perhaps this is all for the best. There won't be a third Aquaman movie, at least not for some time, so it's good that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom doesn't leave you craving another trip to Atlantis.

We would happily see a Topo spin-off though. The drum-playing octopus is entirely innocent.

2 stars
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Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is out now in cinemas.

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