Up until the second week of September 2023, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom felt like something of a lost film. The follow-up to 2018’s smash success, Aquaman, the film waited for director James Wan to finish another horror movie – Malignant – and to commit to directing the sequel himself. Shot in 2021, it seemed to be part of a more stabilized DC film universe as the executives behind the scenes decided to embrace a multimedia multiverse.
Then, as often seems to happen in DC’s cosmos, a crisis occurred. Warner Bros. Pictures’ parent company was sold to Discovery Inc., forming Warner Bros. Discovery. The multiverse plan was ditched, and as things coalesced again, The Suicide Squad director James Gunn emerged as the creative head of the newly christened DC Studios. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom chugged along through a lengthy post-production process even as the universe around it shifted and reformed. And considering the way other DC films performed (The Flash) or disappeared entirely (Batgirl), many were left to wonder if The Lost Kingdom would be postponed, as it had been for the last year, or become as immaterial as the mythical Atlantis that inspired the Aquaman lore.
But with the debut of the film’s first trailer, the Aquaman sequel is back on course and, finally, we have an opportunity to collect everything we know about the film, its place in DC’s ever-changing ambitions, and what comes next in the reign of its title character. Join us as we return to the undersea realms to find the lost kingdom.
(Photo by Christian Black/©DC Comics)
To an extent, The Lost Kingdom has been more interesting for the stories surrounding it than any details of its plot. Besides the unsteady foundation at the corporate level for the last 18 months, the film went into three periods of reshoots and reportedly shaky test screenings; Aquaman co-star Amber Heard was mired in litigation; the post-production bottlekneck brought to light a problem in the visual effects industry which seems to be leading to widespread unionization; and even director James Wan’s health caused a bit of a scare on social media in recent months.
And all of that is before you consider the fact that the film was delayed a year from its originally scheduled December 2022 release because of the VFX difficulties and to accommodate The Flash and its purpose in the greater DC narrative. But even then, that narrative has been discarded as Gunn outlined a new direction for the DC Cinematic Universe – or DCU – earlier this year.
How does an Aquaman movie distinguish itself under that set of circumstances?
Prior to an Entertainment Weekly article published on September 13, details about The Lost Kingdom beyond its title, which was was first revealed in August of 2021, were scarce. At the previous year’s DC Fandome event, Wan suggested it would be more serious-minded than the first film. Oh, and then there were the behind-the-scenes shots in the time since of star Jason Momoa running. Additionally, testimony from the Johnny Depp defamation trial indicated the film was meant to be a buddy comedy highlighting Arthur and his opponent from the first film.
Thankfully, the recent article and the trailer, released on September 14, have brought the sequel’s story into greater clarity: Four years on, Momoa’s Arthur Curry is the king of Atlantis, a husband, and a father. But when all he now holds dear is threatened by former hired gun David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) — aka Black Manta — Arthur must team-up with his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), to face the threat.
(Photo by Warner Bros Pictures & ©DC Comics)
Manta, now looking to destroy Aquaman and everything associated with him, is a full-fledged supervillain thanks to the Black Trident. With that weapon, he commands an old and powerful evil that could destroy the six undersea kingdoms and, eventually, the surface world. The circumstances are dire enough for Arthur and Orm to seek out the lost seventh undersea kingdom to emerge after the oceans drank Atlantis millennia ago. As Orm says in the trailer, if Arthur leads, all seven realms of Atlantis will follow him into battle.
References to the plot in the article equate it to a 1960s adventure film with special effects by legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Wan even claims films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts are the exact vibe he is trying to achieve. The trailer, with its computer-generated monsters and quick cuts, reveals the Harryhausen influence is more in the tone and feel of the finished film than any attempt to give the creatures a stop-motion quality.
Additionally, Wan added that the film is a “bromance” adventure between Arthur and Orm. Consequently, the continuing relationship between Arthur and Mera (Heard) will take a back seat. The trailer supports those intentions, as Mera is almost entirely missing, and several scenes indicate Orm’s continuing animosity toward his half-brother — a starting point for the two leads as their quest begins.
Heard claimed in May 2022 that her part was trimmed back in response the media circus surrounding her and Depp’s defamation lawsuits, but Wan told EW he always intended to switch the focus to Arthur and Orm.
Either way, the film is about adventure and questing, as the two brothers of the sea learn to either get along or truly foster the enmity their comic book counterparts generally hold for one another.
(Photo by Warner Bros Pictures & ©DC Comics)
In terms of locations, The Lost Kingdom‘s key new setting will be that seventh realm of undersea people. Although its name is unknown at the moment, we have some idea of how it will look thanks to a glimpse at one of its vehicles — the so-called Octobot — and a few fleeting shots in the trailer. The vaguely steampunk designs are reportedly informed by Aquaman comics of the Silver Age (1956-1969 in DC Comics reckoning), but we think the Lost Kingdom may have learned a thing or two from BioShock‘s underwater city, Rapture.
Other points of interest include Atlantis, naturally enough, at least one of the other six kingdoms, and the Amnesty Bay lighthouse where Arthur’s father, Thomas (Temuera Morrison), resides – although that location seems doomed if the trailer is to be taken at face value.
There is one place the film will not be going to, though: The DC Multiverse. Although reports persist that, at different times, both Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck were set to make appearances as Batman — Affleck even made an accidental photo-op alongside Momoa on Warner’s Burbank lot as a tour bus drove by in August 2022 — Wan maintains the film was always meant to exist in its own separate corner of spacetime, freeing it from the changes featured in The Flash, the whims of executives in the C-Suites, or the ramifications of any DC film released since 2018.
“It is not connected in any way to any of those films,” the director told EW, but he was less definitive about a Batman dropping by, saying viewers will learn for themselves in December if the cameo exists.
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)
Momoa, of course, returns as Arthur Curry/Orin. Last time around he was a drunken wanderer, and while his Flash cameo suggests he still likes to drink, Wan claims the character has matured to some extent in the interim between the two Aquaman films. He has a kingdom to defend, after all. As mentioned above, Wilson, Heard, and Abdul-Mateen II also reprise their roles from the first film, although in different positions of importance. Also returning are Nicole Kidman as Arthur and Orm’s mother Atlanna, Dolph Lundgren as Mera’s father King Nereus, and Morrison as Thomas Curry. Additionally, Randall Park will be back as Dr. Stephen Shin, the Atlantis truther who saved Black Manta’s life in Aquaman‘s stinger scene.
New cast members include Jani Zhao, Vincent Regan, Indya Moore, and Pilou Asbæk. While the latter’s role is unknown, Zhao reportedly plays a character called Stingray. That name would suggest a deep pull from the DC Comics library, but in a weird quirk, Stingray is best known in the annals of comic book history as Marvel Comics superhero. The name has also been applied to an alternate universe Bruce Wayne — although that appearance was more of a sight gag than anything else. Zhao’s Stingray is, instead, an entirely new character.
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)
Moore, meanwhile, takes on the role of Karshon. In DC Comics lore, the character is a tiger shark who became super-evolved and humanoid after surviving a radioactive explosion; it remains to be seen how much of that origin will make its way to The Lost Kingdom. Perhaps they come from the same group of fish-people glimpsed in the trailer holding Arthur and Orm prisoner. Subjects of the Lost Kingdom, perhaps?
Finally, Regan will appear as Atlan, the ancient Atlantean ruler played by Graham McTavish in the first film. He briefly appears in the trailer fighting someone who previously held the Black Trident.
Additionally, Aquaman’s seahorse companion from the comics, Storm, will appear in the film, as will Topo, the rhythmically inclined octopus who kept the beat during Arthur and Orm’s first fight in Aquaman — both characters appear in the trailer and the extremely brief teaser released days earlier. Also, a character called the Brine King will be realized by CGI, but it is unclear if anyone will provide it with an English-speaking voice.
(Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images)
As mentioned above, Wan returns to director’s chair — although this wasn’t always a forgone conclusion. The sequel was fast-tracked in the wake of Aquaman‘s box office success. But in that moment, Wan was unsure if he wanted to direct another installment and was already at work on 2021’s Malignant. All these years later, in answering EW’s question about his recent health scare, Wan claimed a filmmaker isn’t making a movie correctly if it doesn’t try to kill him.
The script comes courtesy of David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who was credited with Aquaman‘s screenplay alongside Will Beall. Beall, Wan, and Geoff Johns also received story credit on the first film, but for Lost Kingdom, Johnson-McGoldrick and Wan, along with Momoa and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, get that credit. Johnson-McGoldrick’s also wrote The Conjuring 2 and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the latter of which Wan produced but didn’t direct.
DC Studios co-CEO Peter Safran returns to produce the sequel, with Wan and Aquaman executive producer Rob Cowan joining him in that capacity. Executive producers for The Lost Kingdom include Michael Clear, former DC Films boss Walter Hamada, and Galen Vaisman.
Additional returning crew include director of photography Don Burgess, editor Kirk Morri, production designer Bill Brzeski and composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. Costume designer Richard Sale takes over from Aquaman‘s Kym Barrett.
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)
Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom comes to theaters on December 20. Future stories are currently out among the tides, with Wan claiming he would like to continue to grow the characters, but not really having any idea how to frame that continued development. We also expect Arthur’s place in Gunn’s DCU will have to be established as well. The character made a brief appearance in the studio boss’s Peacemaker TV series, but box office returns will likely be the final arbiter.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom opens in theaters on December 20, 2023.
Thumbnail image by ©Warner Bros. Pictures