8 Jan 2024

Review: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

From Widescreen, 1:27 pm on 8 January 2024

The crime committed by Aquaman is how much it cost to make, not anything on the actual screen, says Dan Slevin.

Still image from the 2023 superhero film Aquaman and the Lost kingdom featuring Jason Momoa

Photo: Warner Bros.

The movie once known as Aquaman II is reportedly one of the most expensive films ever made. I doubt that there is a single frame that hasn’t required some form of digital VFX intervention and the extended credits sequence lists the companies around the world that contributed to not only to the finished product but also received the benefits of various local screen industry subsidies. Wētā are not among them for a change.

Critics and commentators have decided that the relative failure of this Aquaman (and Marvel’s The Marvels) must mean that the age of superheroes is dead – a wish fulfilment prophecy from film reviewers if ever I’ve heard one.

But the latest stats show that Aquaman cost US$250m to make but has grossed US$338m theatrically to date – not a profit yet as roughly 50% of that gross goes to theatres. Imagine how much more money the film – all films – might have made if the recent actors strike hadn’t been prevented from doing promotion because of the four-month SAG-AFTRA strike. It’s too early to say whether audiences are definitively over superhero films because this year was just too weird to make judgements about.

Still image from the 2023 superhero film Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom featuring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Manta.

Photo: Warner Bros.

That doesn’t mean that those judgements aren’t going to be made. They already are. Warner Bros. & DC – thanks to new head honcho James Gunn – have already decided that the Jason Momoa era of Aquaman is over along with all of the other Justice League characters. Maybe audiences were responding rationally to that news – i.e. why invest in a fantasy world that is already doomed when these films arrive on streamers earlier in the cycle each year?

Anyway, what of the actual Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom: a story about sibling rivalry; not really feeling it when your destiny is to be King of Atlantis; being more motivated to save the world when you have a child who is going to live in it; that Atlanteans aren’t better humans for living under the sea, just different; that Game of Thrones is still an influential text all these years later; and that the villain you spent the first movie building up will be sidelined despite being more interesting in this film than the last.

Ah, it was alright, I suppose.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is rated M for violence and horror and is playing in multiplexes all over New Zealand.

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