Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom First Reviews: Final DCEU Film Offers Few Surprises

Critics say Aquaman's second solo outing is overstuffed and underwhelming, though there are flashes of brilliance and the chemistry between Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson is a highlight.

by | December 21, 2023 | Comments

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The DC Extended Universe goes out with a whimper, at least according to the initial reviews of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The follow-up to 2018’s Aquaman, again directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa as the titular superhero, closes out the DC Comics-based film franchise as we’ve known it for the last decade. While most reviews of the movie are negative, even its harshest critics highlight something favorable, like the chemistry between Momoa and co-star Patrick Wilson during their scenes together. Other critics note that it’s at least a fun bit of fluff to finish out the franchise, though it’s clear that this long-delayed follow-up isn’t as good as the original.

Here’s what critics are saying about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom:

Is this a fitting end to the DCEU?

“For a doomed production that’s sat on the shelf forever and is part of a continuity that’s about to be washed away, it basically makes it safely into port. The water’s fine.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

“There is some poetry in this franchise ending on the most chaotic note possible that even I can appreciate.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“The worst DC movie yet… It’s a franchise farewell so underwhelming, nary a tear will be shed over its passing.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“Unfocused, messy, and with no cohesive vision, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a microcosm of the DCEU as a whole… Simply put, everyone has moved on, and it shows.” – Sheraz Farooqi, CinemaDebate

Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

How does it compare to the first Aquaman?

“While Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom hasn’t lost its predecessor’s shine, nor its main ingredient of bananas, there’s a noticeable cutting of corners in the aesthetics and narrative that dull its former brilliance.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“The faults that plagued Aquaman, such as the dull dialogue and overstated exposition, are still present.” – John Lui, The Straits Times

“It lacks the epic thrills and sense of cinematic fun that made the first Aquaman (remember the Sicily scene?) such a blast watching it on the big screen.” – Casey Chong, Casey’s Movie Mania

“It lacks the go-for-broke ‘bigness’ of the original.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

“The second film is more of a whimper of half-baked themes, unpolished writing, and gutted character arcs. Much like how Wonder Woman 1984 was to the first Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a caricature, playing like a bad SNL skit of what was once a billion-dollar franchise.” – Sheraz Farooqi, CinemaDebate

Does James Wan do a good job directing?

“When Wan is clicking on all cylinders for the sequel, like during the final fight sequence or vast underwater sea battles, the film is brilliant.” – Sheraz Farooqi, CinemaDebate

“There are some moments where director James Wan’s horror sensibilities truly shine, and offer a glimpse at what could’ve been if he’d taken on a more horror-leaning superhero.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

How is the script?

“There are few surprises in this story…even fewer inspired moments in the screenplay, which moves between clunky exposition laying out more Atlantis lore and a string of punchlines in search of a joke.” – Lovia Gyarkye, Hollywood Reporter

“The film is not helped by returning writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s script, which fails to strike the right balance between serious and silly.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

What about Jason Momoa’s return as Aquaman?

“Momoa achieves peak Momoa in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom… [and is] the best reason to see the movie. He’s as alpha-cool, even jerk-ish, as a ‘maverick’ action star can be while also making you believe his character is fundamentally decent and knows when he’s gone too far and sincerely feels bad about it. And he’s got range.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

“Jason Momoa is, for better or for worse, essentially playing himself in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

Does the movie work best when it’s just Aquaman and Orm?

“These two on-screen are some of my favorite parts of the movie and some of my favorite duo scenes all year.” – Julian Lytle, Geek Girl Riot

“It was easily the best part of the sequel… Seeing them bicker, banter and get themselves into trouble in a series of misadventures sure reminds me of the good old days of the buddy-comedy genre craze in the ’80s and ’90s era.” – Casey Chong, Casey’s Movie Mania

“The second-best reason to see the film is Momoa’s chemistry with his co-star Patrick Wilson.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

“This sequence has some extra juice because tough guy Orm has no idea how to act on land.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

“All told, it’s Momoa and Wilson’s movie, but Wilson steals the show.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“The chiding between the two plays like a half-hearted version of Taika Waititi snark.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“It channels arguably the worst Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, Thor: The Dark World, by having Aquaman combat this eco-threat by reluctantly teaming up with his villainous brother.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“Most of the antics and their accompanying jokes are forgettable.” – Lovia Gyarkye, Hollywood Reporter

Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa as Orm and Aquaman in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Does anyone else stand out?

“Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is brilliant as the baddie, and so is Randall Park as Dr Shin.” – John Lui, The Straits Times

“A wacky ‘Tactical Observation and Pursuit Operative’ cephalopod named Topo for short. Topo, who is blue and cute and rides a seahorse when he has to, makes blobby Minions-esque noises and helps big, brawny Momoa get out of jams. This is why we go to the movies.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

How are the action and special effects?

“The visuals are mostly strong and the action sequences are solid.” – Sheraz Farooqi, CinemaDebate

“The sequel does have some notable fight choreography and the CGI is visually striking in certain parts.” – Casey Chong, Casey’s Movie Mania

“Wan never pulls off an action scene as virtuosic as the leaping-across-rooftops fight in the first Aquaman, but there are some good ones in here, choreographed, framed and edited with Wan’s characteristic clarity and precision even when the camera is shaking like an astronaut during liftoff.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom decorates its every frame with five hundred CGI details, each one uglier than the last… excessively elaborate and off-putting.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

A scene from Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Does it look good in 3D?

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom benefits from 3D significantly less than the first Aquaman would have.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“While some of the underwater visuals look cool on the big screen, and in 3D, they aren’t the stunning technological wonder of Avatar: The Way of Water.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

What is the main issue with the movie?

“The problem is that the film wants to be too many things.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“The sequel wants to be everything at once.” – Casey Chong, Casey’s Movie Mania

“There’s a cluttered too-muchness to the production. You may get the sense that there was chaos behind the scenes.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

In the end, is it at least a worthwhile bit of mindless entertainment?

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is an enjoyable enough superhero movie… Inoffensive fun. If that’s enough reason for audiences to see a movie in theaters, then it won’t disappoint.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“Once it hits its current, it’s a genuinely fun B-movie.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

“This is a fun movie, but not anywhere near a great one.” – Matt Zoller Seitz,

“If you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably dig this too.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

33% Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023) opens in theaters on December 22, 2023.

Thumbnail image by Warner Bros. Pictures

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