Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Man, it’s too bad. AQUAMAN was the wackadoo James Wan super hero movie that somehow won over skeptical audiences and literally made a billion dollars. It was set up in a couple other DC Comics movies, so it’s technically connected to them, but it takes place off in its own weirdo fantasy world where people ride giant seahorses and can talk underwater. If any modern super hero movie was gonna get a sequel with BATMAN RETURNS or BLADE II type boldness, it should’ve been this one. Didn’t quite turn out that way, I’m afraid.

It took five years, partly because Wan wanted to take his time. He produced more horror movies and directed MALIGNANT, one of his most inspired. But Covid added another year to the schedule and shifting plans for the future of the Detective Comics Extendable Unit invited shenanigans from the stockbroker dipshits running the studio. By the time it was released they had shot cameos with two different Batmen to set up two different future movies and then didn’t use either because they decided to end the whole universe and start over from scratch. So now that there’s a sequel to the highest-grossing DCEU movie and the highest-grossing movie based on a DC character and the third-highest-grossing WB movie behind BARBIE and HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 they were basically dumping it, treating it as leftover stock. All inventory must go.

Even that could’ve been positive. All the more reason to go for broke, wave the underwater freak flag, and make a movie that counts on its own, with no pressure to be disposable junk just setting you up for the next one that’s just setting you up for the next one. They should’ve let James Wan do whatever the fuck he wanted.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM is packed with the sort of imaginative silliness that made the first film so fun, it’s just not as well constructed. Lots of good ideas, and lots of other ones, kinda stirred in there without time for all of them to gel. The first one introduced us to the character and the world, I think they just needed to push all the craziness further (which arguably they did) in a really well structured story, a well told tale. Instead it feels slapdash and random. It opens with Aquaman (Jason Momoa, WOLVES) narrating, later has marine biologist Dr. Shin (Randall Park, LARRY CROWNE) narrating, ends with no one narrating. The two female leads from part 1, Aquaman’s wife Mera (Amber Heard, NEVER BACK DOWN) and mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman, THE PAPERBOY) seem like they never shot their big re-introduction scenes. You just see flashes of them here and there for a while and then suddenly it starts acting like they’ve been there all along. Willem Dafoe couldn’t fit it into his schedule to return as Aquaman’s mentor, so they just mention that he died (admittedly I hadn’t watched the first movie in a while so assumed it happened in that). Also there are a surprising number of pee jokes.

It begins with Arthur “Aquaman” Curry updating us on his current lifestyle. He still lives with his dad (Temuera Morrison, BARB WIRE) in a little house by the water, he’s also King of Atlantis (which he finds boring – mostly meetings), he has a baby son named Arthur Jr. now, who I guess they have to raise on land separately from his aquatic mother. (His birth is shown briefly in a montage, looking like a flashback from a previous movie that doesn’t exist.)

Meanwhile, Arthur’s part one side villain, the ruthless sea-mercenary David “Black Manta” Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen, AMBULANCE), is out for revenge (Aquaman killed his father) which he believes he can only achieve by rebuilding his powersuit with the giant helmet (famous from Super Friends). So obviously he intimidates non-evil civilian Dr. Shin into leading an expedition in Antarctica and uncovering the ancient ruins of the lost kingdom of Necrus, where he finds The Black Trident and becomes possessed by the evil spirit of King Kordax (Pilou Asbæk, BEN-HUR, THE GREAT WALL, GHOST IN THE SHELL, OVERLORD, SAMARITAN), as if he wasn’t enough of an asshole already.

Five months later, Dr. Shin has helped Black Manta repurpose the Necrus technology to rebuild the suit, and also they’re driving ancient “Octobot” vehicles and wearing black leather uniforms definitely inspired by Mario Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (though Shin is still allowed to wear stuff you could buy at Old Navy). Of concern to Aquaman, the machines are powered by a fuel called orichalcum that is speeding up global warming, causing weather disasters around the world and dangerous plagues in the sea.

Aquaman decides, without adequate explanation, that he can only stop Black Manta by busting part I’s main villain, his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, THE COMMUTER), out of prison and doing a whole 48 HOURS type buddy movie thing. It doesn’t make much sense but it’s the reason to make the movie. Wilson has been a reliable actor for 20 years now but it takes James Wan to make him the co-lead in one of the most expensive movies ever made.

And Orm gets an entrance worthy of a former Ocean Master. He serves his sentence for murdering the Fisherman King in a desert prison run by blood-drinking skeletonized fish people (awesome), who allow him only enough water to survive. He’s got a Robinson Crusoe beard and his limbs look like fragile twigs, but during the escape and ensuing chase he drops into the sea and rises suddenly buff and ready to kick ass, like he’s one of those compressed sponges that inflates when it gets wet.

On their adventure, Arthur is raucous and handsy and overly pop-culture-referency, while Orm is uptight and annoyed, before they slowly warm up to each other and bond. It’s not the perfect execution of the formula (I wish Momoa’s riffing was more balanced with a serious side) but it’s a reliable one, especially when you have two actors this lovable and oddly matched. They go to a weird volcano island, they run from giant bugs, Arthur tricks Orm into thinking that humans eat roaches, the baby gets kidnapped, Dr. Shin gets freaked out by this baby business and tries to switch sides, there are monsters, battles, etc.

The script is credited to David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (ORPHAN, WRATH OF THE TITANS), with “story by” credits for Wan & Johnson-McGoldrick and Momoa & Thomas Pa’a Sibbett (BRAVEN). I believe the theory that some of the problems come from Wan and Momoa each having their own very separate idea of what the sequel should be, and having to figure out how to merge them. I think it also kinda lost sight of what is appealing about Momoa’s persona, shifting away from “I look scary, but I’m a big silly boy!” to “I’m a big silly boy!” That may be the kind of thing that gets away from you in the editing or the improvising.

In its low points, AND THE LOST KINGDOM starts feeling like a more visually appealing Stephen Sommers film – things that in theory are very fun and cool become tiresome as they’re thrown at us without much rhythm or sense. It would melt into uninvolving NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! for a bit but then I’d be looking at MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE star Dolph Lundgren and Academy Award Winner Nicole Kidman standing underwater examining a hologram and talking about the squid that’s gonna help Aquaman, whose name is an acronym and who she mentions plays several instruments (because he’s the one who played drums in the first movie). And then I would fall in love with this world again.

Maybe a nicer way of describing its jumbled structure is to compare it to SHIN KAMEN RIDER – that feeling of stringing together a bunch of unrelated episodes of a show into the length of one movie. Hectic and jumbled, way too many people explaining way too many things, but sometimes in a good way.

I mean, they go to an underwater equivalent of Jabba’s palace called the Sunken Citadel, where the Jabba character is voiced by Martin Short. There are many glorious shots of Aquaman and other characters swooping into battles on giant seahorses, at least once with octopus sidekick Topo riding shotgun. The bad guys are using computers from an ancient civilization, so the text is blocky kinda like an Atari 2600. There’s a manly handshake that makes a loud metal clang sound for no reason. And a camera flash that makes the sound from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. A few times the movie made me think of Power Rangers – Black Manta making evil proclamations from behind his giant helmet, twirling his trident and doing a flying spin kick as the music speeds up. And the whole cast is great at saying beautifully ridiculous dialogue that we know they know is ridiculous but they still say it like they don’t. I forgot the specific lines I tried to commit to memory, but just know that there are many that are even better than Kidman’s “The Black Trident’s evil is spreading!” from the trailer.

So although it’s true that AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM is a disappointment, it’s also a movie I watched with a big old smile on my face, and it benefits from a solid resolution to the story and character arcs, followed by a shamelessly goofy finale that’s like Super Friends meets ON DEADLY GROUND. It’s certainly not One Of The Great Sequels, and that’s a shame. But maybe some day, in the right mood, it will seem like a miracle. Or at least a good enough laugh.

* * *
So let’s pour one out for the DCEU, the only cinematic universe named by accident (when fans repeated “DC Extended Universe™” from an Entertainment Weekly article, even though what the fuck would the “Extended” part even mean, and Warner Brothers gave up correcting them after a while). It is preceded in death by The Dark Universe and The King Arthurverse and survived by upcoming seasons of Waller and Peacemaker, which somehow count as part of the new thing.

When they decided to make interconnected DC Comics movies, they were stepping into the footprints of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and even this final chapter has two big moments that are weirdly close to ones from BLACK PANTHER). But in retrospect it still turned into a unique collection of movies. We tend to forget this now, but the first one, MAN OF STEEL, was produced by Christopher Nolan (OPPENHEIMER), and the big nerd debate at the time was whether or not it took place in the same world as the DARK KNIGHT movies. Nolan and director Zack Snyder had to keep explaining it was its own universe where Superman was the only super hero. But Warner Brothers wanted to back their way into an AVENGERS by introducing Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg in the sequel, leading to a few solo films and a team-up in JUSTICE LEAGUE. Along the way – as they reacted to which movies fell flat and which ones hit big – the thing branched off into different approaches and tones. It’s very inconsistent, but on most days I’d take inconsistent and weird over dependable and middle of the road.

I saw all of them and reviewed all but one one of them (whoops) so I’ll say a bit about each here and link to my full reviews.

When MAN OF STEEL came out in 2013 I said “I liked not loved” it. After I saw it a second time I said “all my minor quibbles faded away.” Whatever problems I had with it seem insignificant now, and it’s definitely one of my favorites of the DCEU. I think Henry Cavill is great as Superman, I love Snyder’s very serious (but not as humorless as people say) approach, Hans Zimmer’s score is an all-timer that increases its power exponentially, it looks way more beautiful and real than most comic book movies that have been made since (including with these characters), and the action scenes are spectacular. They actually play better now than they did then, since I was disappointed Snyder chose a human’s perspective of events instead of the speed-ramping and shit he was so good at. In retrospect he was giving us something much more precious. Same goes for the self-serious tone – that sort of thing has gone in and out of style but now the winky-winky ones have had the conch for so long that this sort of thing feels novel.

It came out a little before the online culture wars, but it was divisive in an old school nerd way. Many felt its reimagining of Superman betrayed the character’s essence. I felt they were willfully misinterpreting the events of the movie (claiming he killed people off screen and unmentioned) and it annoyed me so much I wrote a third piece on the movie. Jesus. Anyway, I think it’s a movie that holds up, and I imagine some people would appreciate it a little more now that all that discourse has faded.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) opens with Bruce Wayne’s perspective of the events of MAN OF STEEL, and he agrees with the internet that Superman was reckless. I still think this was Snyder going along with the response, but I could be wrong. This movie was frustrating to me because Batman is My Guy when it comes to super heroes, and I was so excited for how Snyder would handle him, but I think it’s a mixed bag, and we never even saw his take on Gotham City (which is as important as the character in every other Batman movie). At the same time Superman never got his proper sequel. But there are plenty of things I like in the movie, as explained in the review.

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) coming out only a handful of months later I think permanently hobbled this series. They had called all these shots in advance and then kept missing them. The premise of a super villain DIRTY DOZEN is so good, I appreciate the obnoxious style and attitude and many of the characters, it’s just a mess as far as storytelling. We may never know if David Ayer’s original cut is as much better as I suspect, but it must have been more coherent. If you’ve forgotten, the trailer was hugely popular, WB panicked that the actual movie had a different tone, and literally hired the trailer editing house to oversee a new cut! At the very least this explains the torturous overuse of only the beginnings of needle drops that cut out before anything happens.

I still respect the movie more than many, but I think almost everyone can agree that the casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was a masterstroke. Also since the movie made money and most people exempted her from their complaints about it, it was a bump to her career that probly helped facilitate the great success she’s had since.

WONDER WOMAN (2017) was another perfect casting (courtesy of Snyder) and it may be hard to convey to people in the future what a phenomenon this movie was at the time. Or maybe it’s easy to understand while watching it – I don’t know, it’s been a while. I didn’t turn on Gadot after the sequel like so many people did, but I do feel queasy about her current side gig as Hollywood’s ambassador for Israeli war propaganda, so it’s not a good time for a clear-eyed re-assessment.

JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) was the sign that even Wonder Woman might not be able to regain this series’ footing. At the time I liked it more than most people I talked to. But, you know, MAN OF STEEL was a movie I felt compelled to go back and watch over and over, in the theater and on blu-ray, and I kept thinking and writing about it. Then by the time they’d built up to their epic team-up I was settling for “ha ha, it wasn’t that bad, it was kind of fun.” So that’s a problem.

Maybe the reason AQUAMAN (2018) was such a delight is that it took place in its own world where things are better down where it’s wetter under the sea. It made it clear that the way forward was not team-ups and crossovers, but standalone adventures where each character and their surroundings are their own unique and beautifully ludicrous snowflake. I don’t want to overlook SUICIDE SQUAD’s important role in pushing DC away from Nolan Land into Cartoon World (it has a crocodile man, for example), but I think by grabbing all pretentions of edginess and drowning them in the ocean, AQUAMAN became the official proclamation that DC movies could be shameless candy-colored fun.

SHAZAM! (2019) is the first DC movie I waited to see on video, because I just wasn’t into the idea of a kid who meets a wizard who gives him the power to turn into a flying muscle man. It too does its own thing as a kids movie on the edges of the DC universe. It benefits from likable kid actors, they find funny things to do with this power, and it’s grounded with a pretty effectively sad backstory. Very low in my rankings, but not bad.

BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) (2020) is, as of my last rewatch, my official favorite DCEU movie. It catapults off of SUICIDE SQUAD’s smart alecky vibe, centering on its best character and letting her loopy but lovable personality bleed into the world and the storytelling. It’s very funny, has great action and stunts (Daniel Bernhardt is even in it!), an appealing cartoon look, several cool supporting characters that only appear in this movie, and a heart-warming story of friendship.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020) probly never was gonna be very popular, because it’s a goofy one, but I think being delayed and then released straight to streaming during covid lockdown killed its chances at a good reception. At the time I appreciated its defiantly out of style corniness, and re-reading my review makes me think it might hold up. For me only.

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021), on the other hand, got to exist because of covid lockdown. It feels like by far the biggest DCEU movie, and maybe the most miraculous. The bizarre circumstances of Snyder having a family tragedy while the studio was sort of wanting to get rid of him, Joss Whedon’s recut of his movie being wildly unpopular, then a weird cult gathering around the legend of the non-existent Snyder Cut, converging with the Warner Brothers leadership suicidally dumping all of their money into a streaming service that could not possibly profit the way the actual movie business does, and giving him $70 million more to finish his movie into a much longer and more self-indulgent version than originally planned, could never be re-created. It doesn’t all work, but it takes time to breathe and be weird and huge and full of awe. I have to confess I completely bought into the idea that Whedon had done the best anybody could’ve done to salvage a movie that wasn’t working. I’m glad I was wrong. This movie really is special.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) is also a miracle, and very close to my favorite. Once again, it was made possible by an incredibly unlikely series of events. First, SUICIDE SQUAD being widely hated but successful enough for a sequel, whose makers would have license to put a different spin on it. Second, James Gunn being a snarky Troma guy who made it big by helming the beloved GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series. Third, Gunn offending online nazi goons by criticizing Trump, resulting in a disingenuous campaign pretending to be offended by the type of dumb edgelord jokes a former Troma guy used to post back in the day. Fourth, Disney being stupid enough to take the bait and fire him from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 and not think better of it until literally one day after he was hired by DC to do THE SUICIDE SQUAD.

And I just think he was the perfect guy to do it. I love the GUARDIANS movies, but this one is even more my shit, a joyous and beautiful looking riff on ‘80s action movies, casually satirizing American foreign policy as too amoral for literal comic book super villains to go along with, and showing an absolute love for misfits and fuckups trying to do better. It finds beauty in rats chewing at the veins of a giant eyeball, soul in an alien starfish, heart in a man-eating sharkman who just wants friends. It’s a classic.

The HBO Max spin-off series Peacemaker (2022) is also really good. John Cena’s ultraviolent character is not my favorite in the movie, but Gunn’s longform comedic dissection of his macho bullshit makes him fascinating and bumps Cena’s acting to a new level. Somehow they make Peacemaker sympathetic as we realize what he’s overcompensating for and see him ever so slowly growing as a person. Also he has a pet eagle named Eagly.

For a while BLACK ADAM (2022) had me thinking I was gonna be surprised by it, but that didn’t last, and it’s my least favorite DCEU movie. I felt like people were being a little unfair to Dwayne Johnson, not giving him credit for playing something other than himself for the first time in a while, but I think the movie’s failure will do him good because he seems to have rededicated himself to being an actor more than a brand.

SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS (2023) had some funny stuff including killer unicorns, but I think spending less time with the kid actors and more with the adults trying to act like kids in adult bodies was a huge mistake.

THE FLASH (2023) is a complicated one. You could not find a better illustration of the emptiness of nostalgia than the pleasing but hollow return of Michael Keaton as Batman. But I genuinely like the story and the lead performances, it has some great sequences, some actual emotion, it’s certainly not the godless cinematic atrocity many claimed it was.

And what do you know, I made it almost to the end reviewing every single DCEU movie, and then I skipped writing about BLUE BEETLE. I don’t know man, it was likable enough, good use of Cypress Hill, the fictional city it takes place in is pretty original, some pretty good action. It’s fine but not my favorite.

And that’s it. Gunn has officially taken over the DC Comics movies, is removing the gratuitous “Extended” and starting a fresh new DCU with his 2025 film SUPERMAN: LEGACY, starring David Corenswet (the projectionist from PEARL) as Superman and Rachel Brosnahan (DEAD FOR A DOLAR) as Lois. The one thing I’m in denial about is that Margot Robbie is so perfect as Harley Quinn that (if she wants to) she ought to make more movies. She never even got to meet a Poison Ivy! I think it would make perfect sense for her to be so crazy she walks between universes and doesn’t even notice the difference, but I’m not sure they have that in mind. Maybe she’ll be too busy anyway.

The DCEU (2013-2023) is a mixed bag of a movie series, but let’s take a look at the totals. Including both JUSTICE LEAGUEs we got 16 films. I would say I love MAN OF STEEL, BIRDS OF PREY and THE SUICIDE SQUAD, and I would consider throwing AQUAMAN and ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE in that basket too. WONDER WOMAN I would say I like quite a bit. The rest I would qualify as either flawed but interesting or at least okay. Only the SHAZAMs, BLACK ADAM and BLUE BEETLE lean bland to me, and they have their moments, so it’s really not a bad record.

I love that they’re so all over the map tonally and stylistically. It’s so stupid and wonderful that this so-called cinematic universe started with a Nolan-produced, desaturated Superman that consciously evokes Terence Malick, and ends with bright orange Aquaman standing at a podium between Dolph Lundgren and an animated lobster man making a speech to the world about unity between sea and surface dwellers. It wasn’t by design, but they ended up encompassing a broad spectrum of super hero stories, a nice tribute to the versatility of the genre and the medium that originated it. Rest in peace Detective Comics Extended Universe, you big ugly bastard. You’re in a better place now, reunited with Martha.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 11th, 2024 at 1:08 pm and is filed under Reviews, Comic strips/Super heroes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”

  1. “I love that they’re so all over the map tonally and stylistically. It’s so stupid and wonderful that this so-called cinematic universe started with a Nolan-produced, desaturated Superman that consciously evokes Terence Malick, and ends with bright orange Aquaman standing at a podium between Dolph Lundgren and an animated lobster man making a speech to the world about unity between sea and surface dwellers.”

    Thank you, Vern, for my first laugh out loud moment of 2024.

  2. Birds of Prey really is the best of the bunch, and it’s a bummer it underperformed because Cathy Yan deserves better. And although I don’t particularly like Snyder as a filmmaker, I think his Man of Steel is one of his best movies (even if it’s no Owls of Ga’hoole).

    And it will never not amuse me that a bunch of nerds and shut ins bullied Warner Bros. into giving Snyder $70 million to make an extended edition of his movie that already bombed in theaters. And then, from everything I’ve read, it basically bombed on HBO Max as well. That might be the funniest thing to come out of this whole DCEU nonsense.

  3. What a great read. Vern, you are at the peak of your craft here. Excellence. I have watched very few of these movies, but this reminds me I need to check out BIRDS OF PREY first and then go from there. Thanks for the great read.

  4. As it stands, the DCEU really gave us the full experience of superhero cinema, particularly if we’re allowed to count “Joker” (which I guess we’re not, but who cares?) Almost all of these movies mentioned here had the reason we might love this genre, and reasons we might hate it.

    I’m mixed on Zack Snyder’s approach. I think he’s kind of an idiot, but the framework from Chris Terrio (and Ben Affleck, reportedly), was that Batman V. Superman was setting the stage for the entire universe to be about flawed contemporary gods first, superheroes a distant second. For all its faults, that movie is a table setter. Snyder’s four hour Justice League is pretty much the five course meal of that approach and the superhero genre in full – I saw it late and honestly, it has colored the five or six superhero movies I’ve seen since. You don’t need superhero movies after Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and that’s like 62% compliment.

    I am mildly curious that James Gunn is the architect of this new DC world. Kinda felt, while it was fun, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies ran out of steam halfway through the third movie while he was trying to squeeze laughs out of Adam Warlock. Peacemaker was less a story and more like a goofy character interacting with tropes. Once Robert Patrick’s Grand Wizard turned out not only to be a racist but to have a KKK Iron Man suit, I was a little bored by it all.

    Seems he’s priding himself on a straight take. What that means from a guy with Troma roots remains to be seen. Are we going to get a Birds Of Prey or a Shazam out of this arrangement? I was hoping he wouldnt be the guy to do Superman. His Brightburn, which I think he wrote, played like the prequel tie in comic for a non-existent shitty movie.

  5. Glaive- Brightburn was written by two of James Gunn’s brothers, not James (he produced it). If nothing else, I am excited to see Gunn take on Superman because he is an actual comic book guy, so he can hopefully get us beyond Luthor and Zod on rinse/repeat. I’m guessing he will still set up Luthor as important, but I actually have some hope he might bust out Metallo, Parasite, Livewire, Brainiac, or Bizarro Superman, SOMETHING different. The fact that he chose Starro for his monster in The Suicide Squad and all his GotG choices show he can lean into the weirder side of superhero funnybooks.

    Vern- its quite possible they bring Margot Robbie back if she is willing. After all, she was part of Gunn’s Suicide Squad movie, and Peacemaker, Waller, and some supporting characters are carrying over from that. Gunn also said he would consider bringing back Blue Beetle with the same actor, so he’s not averse to mixing and matching from the previous movies. I think the bigger question is if Robbie is available/affordable after the massive success of Barbie.

    The DCEU would make for an interesting behind the scenes book if we could ever get an honest accounting of who changed what, who overrode who, etc. What a mess.
    Man of Steel I enjoyed on a lizard brain level, I still think its wrong-headed portrayal of Superman. There were definitely hyperbolic nerd arguments and exaggerations, but I think even without those exaggerations a strong argument can be made against the movie. It was a great live action Dragonball Z movie, though.
    Batman v Superman is a huge mess in its theatrical version. The extended version does clear up a lot of specific complaints/confusion people about the theatrical version, but explaining individual parts of Luthor’s plot better still doesn’t make the whole thing make sense at all. I’m one of the few who liked Eisenberg as Luthor, but Doomsday sucked, the forced intros for other characters sucked, if Batman is going to be a dour murder machine I would like some more set up than just a dead Robin’s costume on display, and once again I am the weirdo that liked the Knightmare sequence but that ended up being a huge waste of screen time since it set up a 2nd or 3rd Justice League movie we never got to. WB was foolish trying to hastily set up their Avengers mega movie, but I also think it was hobbled by Snyder deciding he wanted to START his story in Dark Knight Returns mode.
    Suicide Squad- I knew the post-production backstory, but watching this I was still shocked by how poorly edited and constructed this movie was. One of the shoddiest mega-budget movies I can remember seeing. The little bit of action is boring as hell. It misses the point and appeal of the Suicide Squad and makes Waller an idiot. The highlight of the movie for me was Jai freakin’ Courtney of all people, his Captain Boomerang was the only character that actually felt scummy at all. I figured Davis would make a good Waller once she had a good script, I was right. I actually wasn’t sure about Robbie as Harley at the time.
    Wonder Woman was really good until a weak third act brought it down to just good.
    Aquaman was a raucous good time when I was drunk, but I remembered basically none of it and haven’t feel the need to re-watch yet.
    Birds of Prey was pretty dang good, but I still wish the none-Harley characters got more screen time. I would have preferred a Birds of Prey movie guest starring Harley, instead of a Harley movie that introduces the BoP as side characters. I started to get onboard with Robbie’s harley here, although I still think she was overwritten and frequently bordered on irritating more than endearing (once again, reducing her screen time for the other characters would have helped).
    The Suicide Squad is the only DCEU movie I have loved. Gunn and Robbie nail what I love about Harley as a character. The Squad is finally a bunch of dirtbags doing shady politically questionable shit like they should be. Outside of Harley, there is actually the sense that anyone could die. The setting and style of action are different from other comic movies. I love the cast and characters. No notes.
    Peacemaker is a fantastic continuation of that world, my biggest issue with Gunn taking over DCU is I was looking forward to Peacemaker season 2 more than any movies and now its delayed.
    I haven’t watched any of the others. Maybe one day out of morbid curiosity I will check out the Snyder Cut of JL.

  6. I’ve never been a DCU hater, but it always seemed to me less appealing. The fact that I’m the original Snyder hater (His 2nd movie kicked him already onto my shitlist!) surely wasn’t helping. It is kinda amusing that they failed over and over with their “These are motherfucking modern day gods, yet they are deeply flawed, can’t you see them mope, dammit!” approach, while Marvel was just over there, easily making even the propaganda Übermensch Captain America relatable by giving him a dorky side.

    All in all I don’t think I have the right to judge the DCU, since my personal Snyderban prevented me from watching the bigger cornerstones. But I think its much loser approach to connection compared to the MCU, was both admirable and its downfall. Especially after Whedon’s JUSTICE LEAGUE it seemed like every single movie was a new reboot of that universe. Marvel never had that problem.

    That said: I did enjoy SUICIDE SQUAD as mindless popcorn entertainment. The movie was a mess, but honestly, the whole cast had such a good chemistry that it didn’t matter to me. I never revisited it though. Part THE was of course much better, although it was too bad that even James Gunn wasn’t immune to the believe that randomly killing off a few characters from part 1 would establish some exciting sense of “Oh no, now all bets are off and anybody can die at every time!” Still: Good one!

    WONDER WOMAN was sadly mediocre and even a bit tasteless with its “One of the biggest tragedies in history was caused by the comic book version of a Greek god and won by an amazonian warrior” plot. That’s maybe the main reason why I never bothered to watch the sequel, but I won’t rule out that one day I will get to it.

    I admired AQUAMAN for being a Cannon picture from a parallel universe where Golan-Globus had huge budgets and believed in their directors, but I also haven’t revisited it since. Maybe once the sequel hits streaming.

    BIRDS OF PREY tried too hard to establish itself as female driven DEADPOOL variant, but was quite fun and I do hope that Margot Robbie stays on board. We need at least five more movies with her as Harley Quinn, no matter if they are solo adventures or she is part of a suicidal squadrone.

    Huh. While writing this, I realized that I can sum up my DCU experience with “I kinda liked most of them, but never bothered with a rewatch”. Even SHAZAM falls into that category. I like SHA2AM more than the rest of the world did, while BLACK ADAM was just inexcusably bad. Don’t think I will ever bother to check out THE FLASH, but BLUE BEETLE may be in my near future.

    Future movie historians will have a blast, looking back at this era of comic book movies and trying to analyze why Marvel needed over 25 movies in 13 years before “The MCU is lowest common denominator trash and a prime example for everything that is wrong with Hollywood” went from being a contrarian view to more or less the generally accepted opinion, while DC had trouble to take off in the first place, despite trying a dozen different approaches, from shameless MCU copycat to hard R-rated action flick, colourful “We know it’s silly, but it’s also awesome!” fantasy and even pseudo-artsy mega epic. As a man who appreciates the existence of interesting failures, I bid farewell to the DCU 1.0, but hope it will be reborn as something better.

  7. The overall failure of the DCEU can be traced to one thing: characters. They barely had any. They had icons, sure. They had people who looked the part. But what made Marvel work, at least for the first ten years, was that they cast actors who could inhabit their characters to the point where they felt inseparable. Their unique movie star qualities informed their performances, which in turn informed the writing, which made us all care way too much about talking raccoons and Norse mischief gods. They had personality, and that personality carried us through the weaker films. DC had Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and that’s it. Nobody else was able to fully inhabit their character because the universe kept zigging and zagging on them based on whatever craven financial strategy the business dipshits in charge were obsessed with on any particular day. These characters strut and pose, but I don’t know them. And if I don’t know them, how am I supposed to love them?

  8. AQUAMAN 1 is one of my favorite movies– not superhero movies, but movie-movies– of the last ten years. I went in expecting mediocrity and had a big dumb grin on my face for basically the whole runtime. I accidentally rewatched it twice in the last week of the year– once for fun/prep for the sequel, and again because my friends hadn’t seen it. (This put Willem Dafoe in the lead as my most-watched actor of 2023.) It really holds up, a ridiculous spectacle that takes its verisimilitude seriously but focuses on being as awesome as possible in every frame. Everyone announces their superhero/villain name as dramatically as possible, and every time the pace slows down, something explodes. It really is a comic book on the big screen, and CJ is onto something with the Cannon comparison– some bits reminded me of Dolph’s MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

    Then the next day we caught a matinee of AQUAMAN 2. I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I assume a lot of production and post-production woes are what caused the pacing issues (though I like that they call out the explosive scene punctuation of the first film), because this one doesn’t flow as smoothly or organically as the original, and each scene is a little soggier than it needs to be. Momoa, like Arthur, seems happier to goof around and ride his motorcycle (?) than take the plot seriously, even though it keeps telling us it’s a dramatic, world-shattering, family-threatening, need-to-team-up-with-your-nemesis-to-fight-a-bigger-threat barn-burner. But for all that, it feels too low-stakes. Somebody needed to get killed or lose a hand and replace it with a harpoon or something. And as much as some folks would hate it, I think we needed more Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman. I was surprised to find out that Mera was my favorite character in these movies by the dopamine shot I got every time she popped up.

    So, yeah. It was okay, but I was hoping for a lot more. I did love the cool octopod bathyspheres, Topo, the bit where the ocean instantly makes Patrick Wilson buff, etc. But it could’ve been better. Something feels missing.

    As far as the DCEU goes (sorry, this is shaping up to be a long comment): my favorites are AQUAMAN, WONDER WOMAN, and THE SUICIDE SQUAD.

    I was excited for MAN OF STEEL (it had a great trailer) but underwhelmed by it in the end, mostly because I don’t think Zack Snyder really “gets” Superman. He *really* doesn’t get Batman, so I loathed BATMAN V. SUPERMAN and have not revisited that one (like in AQUAMAN 2, a character in BVS also drinks pee). I thought the Whedon cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE was decent, but I was really surprised by how much I liked ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE. It finally got the right balance of Snyderiness and DC superhero bombast. Also helps that Superman is mostly offscreen and the plot involves course-correcting Batman’s character. Just turn it off before that awful flash-forward epilogue.

    WONDER WOMAN is really marvelous– that No Man’s Land scene is electric– though I agree it loses a step in the third act. Still, I thought Gal Gadot was great in the part, though it’s Chris Pine who does the heavy lifting of selling that movie. It was a bold move to turn WW84 into a $200 million episode of the Lynda Carter show, but I admire it, even if I thought it was just okay.

    I remember SUICIDE SQUAD being a mess and not much else, but THE SUICIDE SQUAD was great– the right clash of tones, and a great hodge-podge of DC characters, in the spirit of the original comics. I only wish Starro was kept out of the trailers because it would’ve blown my mind when he showed up. (I also caught Peacemaker and it was pretty good!) I don’t think I liked BIRDS OF PREY as much as everyone else here, but it’s solid enough. The roller-skate fight scene was pretty good. I agree that Margot Robbie is great as Harley. Based on her recent comments, I’m not sure she’s that open to a return, but I’d be happy to see her again.

    SHAZAM 1 put me off– too many Geoff Johnsian tonal issues. But I like it better than SHAZAM 2. Conversely to everyone here, I actually did like BLACK ADAM. Reminded me of silly underrated 90s superhero fight comics, and I dug what The Rock was cooking in this one.

    I also did not hate THE FLASH. Maybe my opinions will change on rewatch, but I had steeled myself for something awful, and yet found myself pleasantly surprised as it went on.

    BLUE BEETLE was pretty good. Luckily I saw it with a heavily Latino crowd, who adored it. They laughed at everything George Lopez or the grandma said, lost their minds at a couple specific cultural references, and applauded when the credits rolled. So it was great to watch it vicariously through them. Plus I think it does a good job of building plot momentum, raising the stakes, but having fun with the overall premise. Aside from the costume it’s not very comics-accurate, but reminded of early-00s superhero movies that I’m now somehow nostalgic for. So if you’re up for ANT-MAN meets JANE THE VIRGIN with a cool score, it’s a fun time.

    I’m a big superhero/comic book nerd, and gun to my head I would choose DC over Marvel. Not all of these movies were to my taste, but I appreciate that they differ in tone and style, much like the comics themselves. The DC Universe in the comics wasn’t created as organically as Marvel– it’s been stitched together and pulled apart and rebooted and rebooted again, but somehow the parts make up a fun whole, one that is highly adaptable to different tones and approaches. I don’t know if the “new” DCU will be successful at all, but I am cautiously optimistic that it will produce some good movies.

  9. @AdamC, thanks for the correction, and it can’t be said enough: “Suicide Squad” was barely a movie. Incomprehensible junk, the very bottom of the superhero barrel.

    @Bill Reed, thanks for reminding me of that wicked Blue Beetle synthwave score!

  10. @AdamC, thanks for the correction. And yes, “Suicide Squad” is barely a movie. Really it’s the bottom of the superhero barrel, just incomprehensible horseshit.

    @Bill Reed, thanks for reminding me of Blue Beetle’s neato synthwave score!

  11. Yeah, this one was OK. A shrug of a sequel to a great movie, not to mention a disappointing end to the DCEU (didn’t know the name was a mistake, love that!). Enjoyed it for what it is, but what it is is completely disposable entertainment.

    @CJ, that’s a great take on AQUAMAN the first; I’ve always described it as a mix n’ match of 80’s globe trotting adventures (complete with a toboggan scene and a way-too-dark horror bit) but yours is so much better. Not to mention funnier.

    As for the other movies… yeah, it’s weird. I’ve never really like superheroes but I liked superhero movies until they got too superhero-ish, if that makes sense: I like most of the Marvel movies right up to Civil War, plus a couple of the non-avengers subsequent ones. The DCEU movies, I started liking them only after Justice League.
    I loathe Zach Snyder’s superhero stuff. Nothing against the guy personally, I’ve just never liked his movies, and found SUPERMAN vs BATMAN to be a painful experience. It made me completely give up on him.

    Of the ones I liked, SUICIDE SQUAD, AQUAMAN and BIRDS OF PREY I adore; no criticisms, except BIRDS OF PREY is a bit messy (I suspect because of studio meddling). I like the first SHAZAM a lot, enjoyed FLASH despite some issues, and found the rest to be a bit meh.
    I’ll go to bat for WW1984 not because it’s a good movie (it’s a mess) but because I thought it tried to engage with the 80s honestly through its themes rather than just going LOL shoulderpads and big hair. It had some neat ideas.

    Overall, even though Marvel has a higher batting average I think I prefer the DC ones for many of the reasons @BILL stated above. They’re weirder, felt more personal, and each one seemed to be completely allowed to be its own thing. I hope against hope that’s still a thing in their new incarnation.

  12. “But what made Marvel work, at least for the first ten years, was that they cast actors who could inhabit their characters to the point where they felt inseparable”

    Yeah, the “first 10 years point” needs to be underlined thrice. Post ENDGAME, Marvel, for me personally, has been a shit show where characters I love have either been killed off (Widow, Iron Man, Black Panther), retired (Cap) or reduced to near unrecognizable buffoons (Thor, Hulk) and replaced with those I can’t muster to give 2 shits about. Plus, the carpet bombing of increasingly mediocre TV shows which bleed into the movies and vice versa hasn’t helped. I lost interest in THE MARVELS when informed it requires a pre-tutorial watch of not just the 1st movie but 3 TV shows (Wanda Vision, MS MARVEL & SECRET INVASION), and I’m like fuck that.

    At least PEACEMAKER aside, DC has kept it’s TV shows as separate entities.

    I loved the Snyderverse, but kneejerk decisions by those in power has resulted in whiplash-inducing tonal shifts. Not the biggest fan of the world of BIRDS OF PREY, but it’s still several notches more tolerable than the idiotic SUICIDE SQUAD and the dreadful WW1984. I loved AQUAMAN, THE SUICIDE SQUAD & THE PEACEMAKER. The fact that it was announced Gunn was going to reboot the whole thing is what put people off in droves from otherwise decent and not really as bad as they’ve made it out to be entries like THE FLASH, SHAZAM 2, BLUE BEETLE, BLACK ADAM & now AQUAMAN 2 which I think also suffers from a lot of studio-mandated reshoots, some of which I presume involves one rather problematic co-star who I believe would have had a far more substantial role in the original cut.

    And not to forget, I’ll still give them props for giving us stand-alone Batman and Joker movies that run separately from the DCEU. Ballsy move that, not to mention we’re getting a Joker sequel that’s a musical! That’s a swing for the fences play the rigid, by-the-numbers, let’s crank out endless content mindsets permeating Disney wouldn’t dream of.

    So agree with Bill and Glaive Robber that the DCEU, in spite of having a much higher miss-to-hit ration, is the more interesting animal.

  13. Right now Marvel feels like you went to a party with all your friends, and you’re having a great time, but somewhere along the line you suddenly realize that the people you came with all went home and now you’re here with a bunch of friends of friends. They’re fine for added color but you don’t actually have any attachment to them and you’re struggling to come up with things to talk about so you should probably call it a night.

    I kept up with Marvel TV for a while, despite my aversion to the medium. It was generally painless: the seasons were short and they usually had enough cool shit to balance out the filler. But then you kept putting off SECRET WARS and now I’m like three shows behind and I might never catch up. I did see THE MARVELS (it was fine, despite having the lamest, vaguest villain in recent history) and wasn’t confused, so I think Marvel is fine with memory-holing the shows that don’t really catch on. There’s a lot of material but I don’t think it’s all on the test.

  14. I meant *I* kept putting off SECRET WARS.

  15. I recently realized that I haven’t watched one single MCU TV show. Yet so far I never had any trouble following what’s going on. DR 2TRANGE apparently heavily relied on WANDAVISION, but the movie did a pretty good job on letting the non-hardcore fans know what was up with Wanda’s heel turn IMO. In general this was always one of Marvel’s strength. Having everything connected, yet pretty standalone. You didn’t even have to watch all the movies. Okay, if someone probably just randomly picks ENDGAME as their first movie, this might indeed be a bit complicated, but even though Cinemasins and co might make us think otherwise, audiences are generally able to fill in the blanks really well.

  16. BTW, one thing shouldn’t be forgotten: DC got into the multiverse business WAY before Marvel and used it to explain why the Arrowverse TV shows had nothing to do with the movies. That was a nice idea, if you ask me.

  17. I’m sure we could be here all day arguing about the DCEU and the MCU, but what would that leave for the other 99% of the Internet to do? So I’ll limit my comments to this particular movie, which I mostly agree with Vern with. Fun, a bit lacking, too much Momoa playing himself–it’s a bad sign when the Rock, of all people, did more character work in Black Adam than Stargate Atlantis did here.

    A. It felt like they tried to edit Amber Heard out without spending any money on reshoots. Does she have any lines in the second half of the movie beyond roaring?

    B. There’s gotta be a more effective way to defrost one particular frozen city than causing literal GLOBAL WARMING. Bro couldn’t order some napalm from the same place he gets all his henchmen and Planet of the Vampires cosplay?

    C. The Black Pantherification of the Atlanteans felt a little odd, given that I’m pretty sure the first movie opened with Ocean Master declaring war on the surface world and Aquaman himself taking selfies. I guess since these are the same yokels who haven’t noticed Wonder Woman Wonder Womaning since the 1920s, it makes sense…

    D. I know power-scaling arguments are the realm of true pocket-protector nerds, but: isn’t Aquaman about as powerful as Superman? Does he really need to block and parry with a trident to fight a bunch of human thugs when he could flick his little finger and send them all into orbit? Or run away from a bunch of giant insects–isn’t that like Wonder Woman being afraid of a pack of wild dogs? I don’t say this to nitpick, but to point out that maybe everyone involved would be happier making a non-superhero movie, where the heroes are normal people who have to worry about being hit with tire irons or falling off a cliff (and not just because it hurts). So maybe it’s a good thing for the genre to die down a little and us to shift over to movies where Jason Momoa is simply a really buff dude and not an outright demigod.

  18. Yeah, I think success has finally wounded MCU, and I’m kind of glad, because even though most of it is good or better (controversial take?), it’s just too much already in terms of the psychich chokehold that two comic imprints and STAR WARS have had on our collective film/cultural lives and discourse for 15 years — at least “normie” / midbrow/ multiplex / watercooler cultural lives and discourse, and I am at metaphysical hardcore an unapologetic midbrow normie movie watcher of the “c. late-1990s regular ‘Entertainment Weekly’ reader” vintage.

    Hopefully, MCU’s footprint will shrink (something something absence and fondness), and we will see other non-memberberry franchises flower. Or failing that we can all just watch AI bots post cringey tik toks and YouTube reaction videos and video gameplay livestreams.

  19. I can’t fairly rate the DCEU films. My opinion on Snyder went from “He’s like a less interesting Tarsem Singh” to “Oh! He’s one of those people” after finding out his dream project is a remake of The Fountainhead.

    Suddenly the reasons for Pa Kent’s view of humanity or the substitution of Ronald Reagan’s name for another RR in Watchmen made more sense. Now I can’t see one of his films without noticing (whether it’s actually there or not) “subtle” elements of that so called philosophy…

  20. “DR 2TRANGE apparently heavily relied on WANDAVISION, but the movie did a pretty good job on letting the non-hardcore fans know what was up with Wanda’s heel turn IMO”

    Hmmm…I’d only partially agree with this to the extent that yeah..you would have no trouble following the plot, but with regards to Wanda now being the baddie, the movie continues her arc from the end of WANDAVISION, so IMHO, doesn’t adequately set it up for those who didn’t watch the show. Watched Stange2 with my wife (whose tolerance for Marvel movies extends to accompanying her Nerd Hubby to the movies but stops far far short in ever wanting to watch a TV show about them) and her last acquaintance with Wanda was ENDGAME, and at one point she turns to me and says..”Oh..she’s kinda twisted now?” and didn’t quite get the flashbacks to her “children” which prompted the question “She has/had kids?”.

    Which makes MARVELS AGENTS OF SHIELD the best example of how to keep a TV show healthily in parallel with the movies with only the most tenuous of threads linking them. I haven’t watched a single episode of AGENTS and friends of mine say you don’t need to as the movies don’t reference them although the show drops a couple of mentions here and there about events in the movies (apparently the Avengers raid on Strucker’s compound at the start of AGE OF ULTRON is mentioned in one of the episodes).

  21. I ended up watching this, and I didn’t think it was very good, and my feeling while watching it was that probably the stuff I didn’t like about it was Jason Momoa’s fault. I liked the first one, but I think he probably took the wrong lessons from it — it was funny, but funny because it was such an absurd world taken so seriously, but the actor-y, egoistic lesson Momoa probably took from it was that “it was funny because *I’m* funny.” My guess was that a lot of the terrible comedy in The Lost Kingdom was probably included at his insistence. After, I looked up some interviews and I think I was on the right track. For example, here’s James Wan talking to Germain Lussier of i09:


    io9: It’s not every day that the lead of a movie gets a “story by” credit. So can you talk a little about Jason’s contributions to the story to earn him that?

    Wan: Yeah. Jason, he’s such a such a big filmmaking fan. When you get to know him, you actually realize that he has aspirations to do more stuff behind the camera. He really wants to direct, he wants to write, he wants to produce and so it was great in that respect. And what Jason ultimately brings to it is he knows how he wants to play his character. He knows how he wants his character to grow as well. He came in with a bunch of different ideas that we felt were really cool ideas. And it became our job to collectively go, “Okay, we want to tell this story and how does Jason’s story fit into that?” And luckily we were able to make it work pretty seamlessly.

    To give you an example of what Jason brought to the table, Jason thought it would be fun to kind of see him… you know, he’s a single guy in the first movie. But in this one, it would be fun to kind of see him as a father. He’s a first-time dad. He’s dealing with the politics and the pressure of running an entire kingdom, right? He’s the king of Atlantis. Meanwhile, we intercut with him changing diapers at home. Doing the more domestic stuff. And that’s the kind of stuff that was really fun that he brought to the table. And we’re like, “That’s great. We totally get it. And we definitely want to go in that direction.”

    io9: Oh, that’s awesome. Another thing I think he brings to the table is he’s got this incredible enthusiasm. One of my favorite things that he does is he gives a big old “Yeeeaahh” from time to time. We get one in the new trailer. Is that something you script or is that something he just belts out on set and makes the movie?

    Wan: [Laughs] He pretty much does. You put Jason in whatever situation and he’ll give you a lot of great stuff. He loves to improvise. People don’t know that, but he loves to just come up with stuff and we just let him do it. And from out of that, you know, like, if you find one or two nuggets, then it’s gold. [Still laughing]


    So I agree with Kaplan, this movie has a lot of “Jason Momoa playing himself” and it’s to the movie’s detriment. James Wan needed to learn to tell him ‘no.’ I think it’s for the best that there will be no more Momoa Aquaman, all indications are the returns were only going to get exponentially diminishing from here.

  22. It’s the same life cycle of every mainstream modern movie tough guy

    Phase 1: Just punching and glowering. When he makes the occasional joke, it lands because it’s so unexpected.

    Phase 2: Hey, this muscly manly man is actually pretty funny! He should do more comedy!

    Phase 3: Ha ha, it’s funny the way he undercuts his intimidating physicality with humor! I’ll never get sick of this!

    Phase 4: God, I’m so sick of this. Remember when he just punched people?

    Pretty much everybody goes through this Rockification Process. Only Statham recognizes that a tough guy’s comedy needs to be a garnish, not the whole meal. And Vin but only because nobody ever thought he was funny.

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