Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ struggles to stay afloat amidst the challenges of a burdensome sequel soaked in waterlogged storytelling

The turbulent waters of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” echo the sound of a sequel sinking, as it reunites the key characters from DC’s previous blockbuster but immerses them in questionable narrative choices. Director James Wan, lacking the original’s sense of discovery and world-building, opts for a somewhat misguided buddy comedy. Regardless of the intended direction, this installment fails to provide the solution to elevate superhero movies from their slump.

In the realm of disappointing DC sequels, “Aquaman” gives “Wonder Woman 84” a run for its money. While the villains were the downfall of the 2020 film, the absence of a fresh-water adversary in the sequel poses different challenges, lacking distinctive elements to set it apart from its more successful predecessor.

In the absence of the first movie’s two villains, the burden falls on the revenge-driven Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who discovers a dark trident wielding incredible powers, posing an environmental threat to the world.

Arthur Curry, also known as Aquaman (Jason Momoa), finds himself grappling with the aftermath of ascending to the throne of Atlantis. Amidst family obligations and bureaucratic challenges that clash with his origins as a hotheaded fighter, he faces the consequences of his kingly responsibilities.

Driven by the threat posed by Black Manta, Aquaman takes an unconventional approach by seeking assistance from his incarcerated half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to locate and overcome the formidable adversary. The echoes of sibling rivalry in this plotline are not unique, as dysfunctional mythological families have been explored in various narratives, not exclusive to Marvel.

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The dynamic between Momoa’s wisecracking hero and Wilson’s serious and antagonistic one-time foe attempts to inject humor into the film. However, their “48 Hrs.”-inspired relationship lacks the necessary chemistry to anchor this visually intense cinematic endeavor.

Once again, director James Wan fills the screen with dazzling spectacle, although some of the visual effects are uneven. Despite the eye-catching digital elements, they fail to compensate for the frequent lackluster nature of the dialogue and situations. The screenplay is credited solely to David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, a seasoned contributor to “Aquaman” and Wan’s “The Conjuring” sequels. However, the collaborative story effort involving Momoa, Wan, and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett raises the question of whether too many contributors may have hindered the creative process.

The film’s emphasis on the fraternal relationship doesn’t provide significant roles for Nicole Kidman as Aquaman’s Atlantean mother and Amber Heard as his wife, Mera. Despite early speculation suggesting a reduced role for Heard, it appears to have been exaggerated.

In contrast to the first “Aquaman,” which delivered abundant fun, much of it carried by Momoa’s charismatic performance, the sequel falls short in consistency. Abdul-Mateen’s character is burdened with a one-dimensional villain, and the exploration of the strained bond between Arthur and Orm stumbles through numerous awkward moments, with only a few redeeming instances.

Acknowledging that it has been a challenging year for both Marvel and DC, commercial expectations for “Aquaman” should have been adjusted accordingly. However, the film and its creators have not done themselves any favors by returning late in the game with a storyline that lacks inspiration.

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While the movie humorously addresses Aquaman’s ability to communicate with fish early on, the overall uninspired nature of the sequel suggests that perhaps it’s time for the franchise to take a break and let it “sleep with the fishes,” borrowing a phrase from “The Godfather.”

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