Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom already had a plethora of significant headwinds it was venturing into. Despite the 2018 first installment being the highest-grossing DCEU film, an underwhelming sense of finality is attached to the sequel. The DCEU, as we have known it, with its varying spaces of quality, is effective no more. James Gunn and Peter Saffron are ahead in crafting their vision of the next iteration. James Wan’s sequel made it to the finish line through many delays and reshoots. For all that it went through, for the film to be released is something to celebrate. With that being said, The Lost Kingdom seems to encompass some of the highs and many of the lows chronicled in the projects inside its universe. It’s a superhero film, a quest for revenge, a brother/buddy cop-esque duo adventure, and somehow hits on the perils of fatherhood. Also, an ancient evil uses an antagonist to do his evil bidding, while the real problem is climate change.

It is primarily a water-based film; melting the polar ice caps and ocean heating would be problematic for the Atlantians. This film is jam-packed with ideas to the point where it feels Wan and writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick wanted to get every idea possible in. Some work better than others simply because they have the time to allow the actors and action set pieces to catch. Years after the first film, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) have a son named Arthur Jr. In the beginning, there’s a quick montage to catch audiences up on what previously happened and look at Arthur’s unorthodox style of being a rad dad. It feels like The Lost Kingdom will lean more into that aspect until it moves into the conflict. David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is still seeking revenge on Arthur for his father’s death. There’s one issue: his power suit is destroyed. Thus, he has been going on expeditions to look for Atlantian artifacts along with scientist Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park). Kane stumbles across a black trident upon their travels, infusing him with an ancient power with the evil Kordax (Pilou Asbæk) orchestrating it all.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

That sounds very straightforward, but gets more complicated once another element is introduced. Kane and his military ensemble steal a metal named Orichalcum. Using it begins to quicken the damage of climate change worldwide (mirroring things we are going through now). Not only does Aquaman have to stop Black Manta, but there’s the matter of getting to the heart of a hidden kingdom and stopping the world from boiling. It feels convoluted, and the pace at which the film races through scenarios doesn’t help. Where The Lost Kingdom does find its footing is the paring of Momoa and Patrick Wilson as the returning Orm. Arthur can’t face these threats alone — he has to seek help from the half-brother he helped overthrow in the first film. Momoa and Wilson have a goofy and serious dynamic that plays well into the phase the middle part of the film goes into.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

There’s a good space of time where it feels like all the other supporting characters fall away, and Arthur and Orm take center stage. Randall Park’s Stephen Shin is more of the reluctant helper of Black Manta. All he wants to see is the world of Atlantis and tags along this mission to do so. The guilty conscience sets in once he sees what Kane is up to. It’s a common trope with these characters through action films that stick to the script here.

Regarding the contract between real locations and the CGI-generated aspects of the film, there is a sense of real attention to detail. Given Wan’s background in horror, much of the more malevolent, fantastical elements of the villains shine with some attention to detail. The fights and chases have a spectacle quality and infer a steady beat of motion. Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom will not be considered the worst film in the DCEU. There are moments where you can see its promise had it fully got the time to figure out a story arch that works. Instead, it’s bogged down by the film feeling like it knows this is the last hurrah — especially concerning some performances. You would want this universe to go out on a high note, but Aquaman’s sequel is a puzzle with some pieces taken out of the box and others forced to fit to make a picture.