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‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ review: Watch the MMFF films instead

Ryan Oquiza

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‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ review: Watch the MMFF films instead

Warner Bros. Pictures

Avoid ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom' – there are better uses of your money this holiday season

This review contains minor spoilers.

Listen, James Wan. I understand where you’re coming from. I, too, was once a college student. And at the tail end of my senior year, I felt like drifting to the sound of relaxation and procrastination. Homework suddenly felt meaningless, exams had lesser stakes than they did before. 

As a student, there was a touch of indifference to tasks that just felt pointless because, even if I failed in all the remaining assessments, I was still graduating. It was, admittedly, a terrible mindset to have, and I do have some regrets. But, at the back of my mind, maybe a little bit of half-hearted “generic-ness” wouldn’t hurt. 

Going back to James Wan, so you direct a sequel to one of your most successful films, but with the caveat that it would be the last film to ever hold the laurels of the “DC Extended Universe” (DCEU) suboptimally started by Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and now spearheaded by James Gunn and Peter Safran.

In this moment of low stakes moviemaking, you’re given a final hurrah in a franchise that, if we’re being honest, is merely a means to maintain a lasting relationship with the studio (that was already losing money this year) and create a more fruitful pathway to create more horror films (which is what you’ve always liked). I like you, James. You’ve directed the most iconic horror films of the 21st century (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious), and you managed to make Furious 7 cohesive despite its troubled production.

So what do you do with this improbably messy situation? With the millions of dollars thrown at you by the old guard in Warner Bros., who are no longer here to run the ship, and with fans already shifting their attention to the next Superman and eagerly anticipating the casting of other fan-favorite characters, how do you make use of your DC resources that already seem like they have diminishing returns before the project even started? 

You act like any other college student. You put your head down, tuck in your comfortable sweatpants, oversized hoodie, and slippers to boot, and go full-on cruise control. You make the most generic, lazy, soulless film of the year. And, honestly, I don’t blame you for it.

The DCEU was a dizzying display of dysentery, and this film is not the fault of one director, of one actor, or of even the guy who started it from the beginning. It’s a result of poor executive decisions, a sheer misunderstanding of what makes intellectual property resonate with fans, and a stubborn refusal to stand their ground on considerable creative forces.

After facing defeat from the hands of Aquaman (Jason Momoa) in the last film, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) continues his unwavering desire to avenge his father’s demise. Now, more formidable than ever, Black Manta wields the power of the mythical Black Trident, tapping into an ancient and malevolent force that relates to the eponymous “Lost Kingdom.” 

In a desperate bid to thwart this formidable foe, Aquaman turns to his incarcerated brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), the former King of Atlantis, forging an unlikely alliance. United by a common goal, they must set aside their past differences to rescue Aquaman’s family and prevent climate disaster from destroying the world.

First off, this film has ripped away the already thin line dividing Marvel films and DC films, because if I was an average, casual viewer who isn’t as devoted to comic books and superhero films, I would’ve thought this was Marvel. They share the same music, the same painfully average and generic score, and the same irritating tropes. 

Once again, we must set our eyes on a dysfunctional sibling relationship where one is clearly the trickster and the other is the more responsible one. The pair must then fight a villain who is secretly working for another stronger, more dangerous villain. These superhero movies have all fused into one story, diluting any sense of intrigue or distinctiveness.

There’s no wonder and awe anymore, replaced by a reliance on referencing past films like Star Wars, Avatar, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom just resorts to copying the hand-me-down test sheets of its cinematic predecessors. 

Randall Park joins Black Manta’s arsenal of scientists, but undergoes a moral transformation after the lazy repetitiveness of witnessing Black Manta’s malevolent machinations in his obviously evil room. I love Randall Park, but how come in this film I wanted to gouge my eyes out every time his character showed up? His jokes were uncharacteristically unfunny and just plain derivative.

My theater barely let out a sound of laughter, or any signs of life for that matter – a testament to how thoroughly the film drained every ounce of vitality from the venue. Story-wise, it’s an incessant onslaught of exposition dumps. It came to the point that, even as the film approached the two-thirds mark, new and previously unexplained plot points were unloaded. The film is way too long as a consequence. At least The Marvels had the prudence to have a shorter runtime.

Jason Momoa. Where to even begin? It’s as if he never relinquished his villainous role from Fast X earlier this year, persisting in the goofy, dudebro, beer-chugging, lighthearted doofus energy. It raises the question of whether Hollywood screenwriters’ sole approach to crafting a “personality” is by having characters speak rapidly and resort to lines like “Explain in English, please?” 

It doesn’t help that Patrick Wilson basically gives a better Aquaman performance than Aquaman himself. Wan’s horror muse thrives in the role, showcasing adept physicality and a knack for effortlessly blending comedic flair with serious dramatic turns – a dexterity Wilson has already honed.

The one aspect I had hoped to be creatively stimulating was the action sequences, given Wan’s track record of groundbreaking stunts and adventurous camerawork. Regrettably, none of that inventiveness is apparent here. A true college senior already past his freshman year energy. 

There was also a cephalopod in the film! A freaking cephalopod! And I never knew anything more about it other than Aquaman harbors an unfounded dislike for it. Why? Justice for that cute cephalopod who was never given a personality.

To my fellow Filipinos, I suggest redirecting your attention to the Metro Manila Film Festival this week. It showcases the most impressive lineup of films we’ve seen in quite a while. – Rappler.com

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom opened in cinemas nationwide starting December 20.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.