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The DCEU’s Last Hurrah Is Now Streaming on Max

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is far from perfect, but it did have the perfect bromance.

Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Warner Bros. Pictures
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DC’s Extended Universe was a veritable mess for most of its 10-year run, so perhaps it’s fitting that it came to a close with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The 2023 film is more chaotic than most, haunted by the end of the DCEU and plagued by a slew of behind-the-scenes drama. It’s also not the most masterful superhero film, as it inherits its predecessors’ wild stylistic choices, weak narratives, and rubbery effects.

But none of that really matters, as The Lost Kingdom is still a fun adventure. Jason Momoa returns (possibly for the last time) as Arthur Curry, now years into his tenure as Aquaman. The Lost Kingdom recycles a few beats from his first adventure by bringing its two villains to varying effect, and sacrifices other promising threads for reasons beyond our understanding. But it’s also the most fun the DCEU has had since the first Aquaman hit theaters. It’s hardly perfect, but it delivers on what the grimdark franchise was missing for a long time: a compelling bromance.

“Bromance” probably didn’t rank high on DC’s list of priorities, but maybe it should have. The DCEU leaned a little too hard on operatic angst, especially when it came to building out its Justice League. The supergroup never truly felt like they got along, and they certainly never felt like a family. That’s not a requirement for supergroups, but it would have given its cast the opportunity to show some charm and gone a long way in making their first outing a bit more bearable.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has no shortage of charm. Much of that has to do with its leading man, who’s found his place in the world and largely shed his brooding façade. Arthur is effectively settled when we catch up with him in The Lost Kingdom, juggling his responsibilities on land with his duties under the sea. As the ruler of Atlantis, a title he shares with his now-wife, Mera (Amber Heard), things seem to be going well. At least, as well as they can be with global temperatures rising to unmitigated levels.

The planet is dying at a faster rate than the Atlantean council anticipated. As Arthur later learns, this is the work of David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a ruthless mercenary with a major vendetta against him. His quest for vengeance finds him take hold of a cursed trident, and on the orders of a creepy, Eldritch entity, he’s polluting the oceans with a substance called Orichalcum. It’s up to Arthur to end Kane’s latest scheme, but this time he’ll have to do it with the help of his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson).

Orm and Arthur’s odd-couple dynamic carries The Lost Kingdom.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Aquaman fans remember Orm as the main antagonist of the 2018 film. He returns as Arthur’s extremely reluctant ally, and their odd-couple dynamic never gets old. Until The Lost Kingdom, neither of these characters felt like real people. But director James Wan wisely builds on the foundation of their past appearances, turning brotherly angst into begrudging respect, and creating one of the franchise’s most compelling dynamics in the process. Their relationship supplies the film with the propulsive narrative it really needs.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for The Lost Kingdom’s supporting cast. Kane feels even flatter than he did in the first film, fueled less by a personal loss than by the whims of yet another hazily-defined villain. Arthur’s other allies aren’t much better off: while Nicole Kidman returns as his long-lost mom, Queen Atlanna, she’s still not given much to do. Nor is Heard as Mera, a choice that feels like a direct response to her tumultuous personal life. It’s a shame, as both shine in the film’s handful of action scenes.

Like the first Aquaman, the underwater sequences always look at least a little weird, but Wan and his creative team lean into that weirdness wherever they can, making for a sequel that feels a bit more consistent. Flaws aside, The Lost Kingdom marks a surprising high point for the DCEU. We may never know what this team could have accomplished with a third film, but at least the franchise got to have a bit of fun before bowing out.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is streaming on Max.

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