by James Coulter
Recently, I purchased a handheld game console. It came pre-loaded with 5,000 classic video games. One of them was Pokémon FireRed for the Game Boy Advance. I never played that game, but I did play the original Pokémon Red for the Game Boy. Playing a remake of a classic game on a Gameboy-shaped device certainly brought back childhood memories. As of this writing, I’ve already beaten the first two gyms.
Why am I talking about some random video game and not Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom? Well, quite frankly, it was because I was more entertained by that game when I whipped it out in the theater and began playing it halfway through the movie. It was really that boring.
Really? What is there to say about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom? It’s the very last movie in the cinematic disaster that is the DCEU. With this being the very last movie in that now-dead franchise before James Gunn takes the shock pad from Zack Snyder and hopefully revitalizes it, what incentive is there to watch or review this movie?
To be fair, the original Aquaman was a surprise blockbuster hit when it first premiered five years ago. The fact that it received a sequel certainly proves that. And Jason Momoa managed to breathe new life into a superhero character that had recently been dismissed as a joke by comic book fans. Overall, he gave a pretty good performance to a pretty good movie.
But will this film be the saving grace for this sinking ship that is the DCEU? Well, I think you know the answer to that. It’s a definite, “No”!
The movie’s plot is both too simple and complicated. What do I mean by that? Well, simply put, the story is about Aquaman assuming his rightful reign as King of Atlantis, but the kingdom is attacked by Black Manta, so Aquaman needs help from his brother to help thwart the villain.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, but it’s the particulars that make the plot complicated. In fact, the best way I can describe the plot is if the script was written as a Mad Libs with the blanks filled in using a random word generator:
“Aquaman needs to stop the villain, who has AN EVIL TRIDENT that he found in AN ANCIENT CITY FROZEN UNDER ANTARCTICA powered by THE GHOST OF AN EVIL KING. He has to find HIS BROTHER in A DESERT PRISON so they can find A JABBA THE HUT-GANGSTER that will tell them that the villain is hiding at A PREHISTORIC ISLAND before he can take THE BLOOD OF HIS NEWBORN. And the whole story is a metaphor for CLIMATE CHANGE.”
Look! Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the DCEU decided to shift its focus away from the dark, gritty, and “edgelord” vision of Zack Snyder and more towards a colorful campiness akin to Gold and Silver Age comics. That’s the reason why I loved movies like Shazam, Aquaman, and both Wonder Woman films (yes, even Wonder Woman 1984!). I like how these movies manifest pure pulp-fiction stream-of-consciousness writing often emblematic in older comics, all with a
straight-forward approach of “yeah, these are goofy plots and stories, but we’re going to roll with them anyway because they’re cool!” I just wish this movie managed to do all that well.
The action scenes and special effects are decent enough, but at this point, they feel like keys being jingled in front of a baby. If anything, it feels more like the toddler has become self-aware of the trick and now has grown bored of it. Maybe it’s superhero fatigue. Perhaps it’s a lack of interest in the now-dead DCEU. In the end, the dazzling effects and action simply failed to dazzle me.
Otherwise, it feels as though the movie is borrowing elements from more interesting movies. It had grand cinematic settings, especially with the prehistoric island and underwater scenes, but they feel like they’re copying from Avatar. It has the main conflict from Black Panther with the Atlanteans debating whether or not to seek assistance from the surface world or remain secret, but that conflict is treated as a hasty afterthought.
Then there are the attempts by the film to be more “lighthearted” with goofy scenes akin to Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy. Personally, I liked the opening monologue where Aquaman details his new life as King of Atlantis while balancing it with his role as a new father (which is all told by him playing with action figures with his infant son). Unfortunately, every other attempt at comedy falls flat and comes across as tone-deaf and cringe. Dishonorable mention goes to the scene where Aquaman makes his brother eat a cockroach. (No, context does not make that better!)
Overall, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was a movie DOA, a lifeless film in a dying franchise. It’s the last beep on the DCEU’s heart monitor before it inevitably flatlines. The Snyderverse is dead. Long live James Gunn.