“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” the 2023 sequel to the 2018 hit “Aquaman,” marks a significant chapter in American superhero cinema, being the 15th and concluding entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Crafted under the combined efforts of DC Studios, Atomic Monster, the Safran Company, and Domain Entertainment, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, this film brings back director James Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick to the helm. Jason Momoa reprises his role as Arthur Curry, or Aquaman, with a stellar cast that includes Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard, and Nicole Kidman, among others. The narrative thrusts Arthur into an uneasy alliance with his half-brother Orm, portrayed by Wilson, to thwart the villainous Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, from executing his deadly plan with the cursed Black Trident and unravel the mystery of the seas’ lost seventh kingdom.
The sequel, which originated from Momoa’s pitch during the making of the first film, saw Wan deliberate over its direction before committing in 2019 to a project that promised to delve deeper into Aquaman’s universe. Wan’s vision for the sequel was to craft a narrative with a more serious undertone, touching on themes like climate change while maintaining the essence of a buddy comedy between Aquaman and Orm. He drew inspiration from the Silver Age of Comic Books and aimed for a retro science fiction feel reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s animations and 1960s horror, particularly “Planet of the Vampires.” The film’s title was announced in June 2021, with production kicking off later that month and wrapping up by January 2022 after shooting across the United Kingdom, Hawaii, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and New Zealand.
Premiering at a fan event in Los Angeles on December 19, 2023, and released in the US three days later, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” has faced a mixed reception, leaning towards negative critiques from reviewers, yet it has managed to amass $423 million globally. This installment stands not only as a continuation of Aquaman’s saga but also as a pivotal moment in the DCEU, concluding its expansive narrative journey.
Four years into his reign as the king of Atlantis, Arthur Curry, now married to Mera and father to Arthur Jr., balances his duties between the terrestrial and aquatic realms. Meanwhile, his nemesis, David Kane, also known as Black Manta, fueled by vengeance for his father’s death, collaborates with marine biologist Stephen Shin in a relentless search for Atlantean relics. Their quest leads them to an Antarctic cavern where Manta discovers a sinister Black Trident that takes control over him, promising the power to vanquish Arthur.
As the narrative unfolds, Manta launches a brazen assault on Atlantis, targeting its Orichalcum reserves to energize ancient Atlantean machinery of mysterious origins. The theft triggers a confrontation that leaves Mera wounded and unveils the catastrophic environmental impact of Orichalcum use, threatening a global calamity reminiscent of a bygone Atlantean disaster.
In a desperate bid to locate Manta, Arthur enlists his imprisoned half-brother Orm’s aid, leading them to the clandestine Sunken Citadel. There, they glean crucial insights into Manta’s location from the enigmatic Kingfish. Their journey takes them to a volcanic island in the South Pacific, where encounters with mutated flora and fauna precede a dramatic revelation about the Black Trident’s origins linked to Kordax, the ancient ruler of the lost kingdom of Necrus and King Atlan’s brother.
The climax escalates in Necrus, with Arthur and Manta locked in a fierce duel. Mera’s timely intervention saves Arthur, but the conflict intensifies when Orm wields the Black Trident, inadvertently freeing Kordax. Arthur’s heartfelt plea to Orm leads to a pivotal moment, allowing them to vanquish Kordax and destroy the Trident, though it results in Necrus’s downfall. Manta, choosing his fate, perishes in the chaos, while the survivors, recognizing Orm’s transformation, concoct a plan to fake his death, allowing him a new beginning on land.
Arthur, recognizing the essential unity between the oceanic kingdoms and the surface, takes a groundbreaking step by disclosing Atlantis’s existence at the United Nations. He advocates for Atlantis’s integration as a global state, aiming to forge a harmonious future for both worlds. This chapter in the Aquaman saga not only highlights the hero’s relentless pursuit of peace but also delves into themes of redemption, environmental consciousness, and the enduring bond of family, setting a new course for the kingdom under the sea.