By Kurt Jensen
A menagerie of special effects aimlessly searching for a coherent plot is the most concise way to sum up “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Warner Bros.), the sequel to 2018’s immensely successful “Aquaman.”
Perhaps the appeal of costumed superheroes has played out for the moment. But some folks may enjoy the spectacle of toothy bug-eyed sea villains interspersed with random explosions, mythological analogies, sibling bickering and dialogue about family values, global warming and world peace.
Director James Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick have created an adventure which stumbles along in predictably noisy ways.
The lost kingdom is Necrus, an underwater city like Atlantis, only militaristic and long immobilised in ice. David Kane/Black Manta (Yaahya Abdul-Mateen II) has rejuvenated it with the aid of his newly discovered black trident, which gives him both immense evil authority and more powers than his damaged super suit.
Black Manta is out to avenge the death of his father, and wants to destroy Atlantis and kill Arthur Currey/Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), his wife Queen Mera (Amber Heard) and his infant son Arthur Jr.
They have a placid family life at a lighthouse, four years after the events of the first film. Byzantine politics in Atlantis bore Aquaman, but he’s a temperate ruler.
Manta, to build his arsenal, is stealing vast quantities of orichalcum-a metallic substance, historically, but here, it’s something that burns like coal in furnaces. This creates greenhouse gasses, the Antarctic ice sheet is rapidly collapsing, and Arthur’s mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) decries “a global climate meltdown.”
Manta’s existential threat means Aquaman needs extra help, and for that, he has to break his half-brother, Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson), a deposed king of Atlantis, out of prison. Orm has many talents, including the ability to take a punch and valour in battle, but mostly the two of them argue coarsely like adolescents working out old family issues.
Off-colour dialogue, in fact, pushes this into the adult classification category. Mature adolescents, however, may be able to cope with that as well.
The Atlantean council has never wanted to interact with land-dwellers, believing it would lead to their doom. But Aquaman, sizing up an impending apocalypse, says: “Times are changing, and the old ways aren’t going to protect us anymore.”
The rest leads to a by-rote battle with a few subplots that don’t lead anywhere.
The current view is that the Marvel / DC genre has run its course, with a number of super hero films not taking their expected box office figures in recent months. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom may buck that trend, but it’s going to need better scripts if the genre isn’t going to run out of steam completely.
Picture: Film poster for the film “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” distributed by Warner Brothers. (OSV News photo/courtesy Warner Bros.)