Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Aquaman 2

Momoa's Aquaman 2 in 4K a mesmerizing but meandering mishmash

By Jim Bray
March 15, 2024

What is it with the DC comics universe? What should arguably be a comic franchise that's at least as compelling and fun as Marvel's seems to have a real problem making compelling and fun movies based on their comics.

Meanwhile, Marvel has had a, well, Marvelous track record, at least until Avengers End Game (to be honest, I haven't seen a Marvel film since then).

I was always a DC comics guy when I was growing up and only gave Marvel a passing nod occasionally, so it continues to disappoint me that DC seems unable to shine Marvel's shoes – mostly – when it comes to making great movies from their vast universe.

It's a question that has always bothered me, at least as much as such a trivial thing could. I mean, if it weren't for Richard Donner's Superman, released in 1978, and the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, there have only been a smattering of DC titles I've seen that are really worth it.

Exceptions included the first Wonder Woman – though not the second – and the first Aquaman. Now we have the second Aquaman film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and unfortunately it has to be considered with the majority of the DC films as a failure. And it didn't have to be.

There's sure a lot to like here, especially if you're a nerd and/or a fan of the type of movie Ray Harryhausen used to make (not that "nerd" and "Harryhausen fan" are mutually exclusive!).

AquaPerson and the Lost Kingdom is definitely a visual feast, mostly, especially on this new 4K disc release from Warners, which is full of wondrous shots and locations (some of which are even real!) and it sounds great to boot. Performances are also fine, and the production values are a joy to behold.

According to IMDB, the internet movie database, Aquaman 2 cost something like $205,000,000 and its worldwide box office came in at $434,368,164, so I guess it made its money back and then some. But it could have been so much more.

The problem, in my never humble opinion, is that (according to what I saw in the special materials that accompany the disc), the powers that be behind the production wanted to do so much, to put so much "fun" into the production, that somewhere along the way it appears that the services of a screen writer seemed a tad superfluous. As has been said "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage." And it ain't.

It's too bad.

I like Jason Momoa as Aquaman. He's a big presence on the screen and I love the merry glint that comes from his eyes. That glint is one of the reasons I think he was miscast in Denis Villeneuve's Dune movies: he's Duncan Idaho, the tough and no-nonsense warrior/mentor, when he should have been cast as Gurney Halleck, the tough but musical warrior/mentor. Alas, it appears I don't have the pull when it comes to casting decisions that I should have!

Anyway, with Lost Kingdom, Aquaman is a domestic God, getting urinated on by his infant son one moment while saving the earth in the next (or, it could be the other way around…). After a bit of a recap of the first movie, we find out that the bad guy this time was the/a bad guy from the first film: David Kane/Black (you can call me Ray!) Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Manta has started working with a marine biologist who also showed up in the first movie, Stephen Shin (Randall Park). They're trying to track down Atlantean artifacts, but instead they find (in Antarctica of all places) a mysterious black trident that gives Manta fantastic powers he decides to use for vengeance on Aquaman and his family, who he blames for his father's death.

Nothing really new here. Nothing really new coming…

Well, we do have a new focus (fairly minor, fortunately) on "Climate Change" as a plot point, which isn't really surprising given the state of Hollywood today. We also have big CG battles that mostly look fantastic – but sometimes you can really tell it's CG and that kind of defeats the purpose of CG.

In the end, I'm glad I watched it and it didn't suck nearly as bad as I'd feared it would (high praise, eh?). But it could have been so much better if the producers and the team of five writers (including director James Wan and star Momoa) had decided to just give us one coherent Aquaman story instead of throwing everything at the screen and hoping it would all stick.

Still, it looks great! Warners' 4K disc doesn't come with a Blu-ray in the package (though there is a digital code for a digital copy), which I think is a mistake because they should be encouraging people to embrace 4K instead of making them upgrade their hardware before they can take advantage of the software. Giving both 4k and 1080p versions in a single box would have let customers who have yet to purchase a 4K player see the movie now and hopefully the presence of the 4K disc in the box will get them thinking about going who hog into 4K – which is generally worth it if you can find decent titles.

But I digress.

The 4K picture, with HDR of course, is quite lovely! One might even call it stunning. Textures, in costumes, sets, and the like, are gorgeous. Black levels are inky deep while brights are, well, very bright. This is usually great, but the fantastic detail works against the more "pedestrian" CG shots, making them stick out like a sore, well, fin.

The audio is also exquisite. The disc comes encoded with Dolby Atmos, which is backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD and it's just fine. One thing I noticed is that the bass, which was overwhelming on the first movie's Blu-ray (I never saw the 4K version), is much more restrained here. Oh, you won't miss it by any means, but it didn't rattle the pictures my wife insists on hanging on my home theatre's walls nearly as much as the first movie did.

And in the meantime, you'll get all of your 5.1 channels (and, I assume, all the Atmos stuff if you have it) a fine workout.

Extras include some pretty darn interesting behind the scenes stuff. Finding the Lost Kingdom is the longest of the features (just over 20 minutes) and sees star Momoa, James Wan, and other cast/crew members guiding us through what's a pretty good "making of" featurette. Aquaman: Worlds Above and Below is kind of similar, though it focuses more on the "locations" (real and virtual) in the air-breathing and water-breathing worlds of the story.

Atlantean Blood is Thicker than Water is darn short, but it's a pretty neat look at the history of Arthur Curry (who of course is Aquaman) and his semi-sibling Orm (including interviews with the actors who played them, Momoa and Patrick Wilson). It's a Manta World obviously focuses on Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's character and accoutrements. Necrus, the Lost Black City is about the lost kingdom of the title, how they created it, and where it sits in the Aquaman universe.

There are a couple more, too, including a silly Oh, Topo!, which looks at the octopus who the producers claim is a fan favourite.

So, there you have it. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a very flawed superhero movie that could have been a lot better than it was. And yet, it's still worth watching for the visuals and hearing for the sound. You just need to shut your brain off to enjoy it.

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

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