Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom: the most numbingly moronic film of 2023

Jason Momoa in Aquaman
Jason Momoa in Aquaman - Pictures/AP

Some films are so stupid you can swear individual brain cells are dying as you watch them. Then there is Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, during which it felt like entire clumps of grey matter were giving up the gig in disgust and abseiling out of my ears. With mere days to go until the turn of the calendar, here arrives the most numbingly moronic film of 2023: a second solo outing for Jason Momoa’s beefy merman, of the now-disbanded 2010s screen incarnation of DC’s Justice League.

The previous Aquaman wasn’t good either, but it was made with the sort of sunny brainlessness that travelled well. Of its $1.1 billion global takings in 2018, almost a third came from China, while it was Romania’s favourite film of the entire 2010s. Presumably in an effort to match this success, the sequel is essentially the CG equivalent of having an air horn blown in your face for two hours.

Its plot ostensibly concerns a magical substance called orichalcum – which, unless you happen to be a classicist, is the latest movie-franchise word you will hear 500 times in the space of 120 minutes and then never again for the rest of your life. But all it really involves is Jason Momoa’s Aquaman hurtling through a string of unreadably messy computer-generated battle scenes, rendered in some of the ugliest colour combinations allowed by the visible spectrum. In the same way that some films leave you with a lingering dislike of a certain actor or director, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom sends you from the cinema with a profound and furious hatred of green.

The film never tries to do anything other than look good, and is hellishly ugly even so. Even in Momoa’s first big heroic yes-folks-I’m-back shot, the actor’s face appears to have been grafted onto a digital body double, and the resultant visual looks less like Aquaman charging towards his foes in battle than squinting at them through the wrong side of a hotel door peephole.

Nicole Kidman, returning as Aquaman’s Aquamum, also appears ghoulishly disembodied in most of her scenes, while Amber Heard is given little to do as Queen Mera apart from hold a baby and get mown down by a laser cannon. And Patrick Wilson returns as Orm, which is handy for those of us who would make exactly that noise if asked to recall what it was he did in the first one.

Most perplexingly of all, no one has worked out how to make the underwater scenes work visually, which is less than ideal when they constitute 95 percent of the film. Every shot is crowded with air bubbles and fishy crumbs floating around, while all of the dialogue has flubbety-blubbety sound effects laid over the top.

Ten minutes of this is funny. Twenty is annoying. Two hours of it is about as boring as cinema gets.

“Keep your eyes open,” Momoa bellows during the climactic showdown, to which John Rhys-Davies’s avuncular crab monster jokes: “That’s easy, my eyes don’t close!” Audiences, however, may often find that they do.

12A cert, 124 min. In cinemas now