The latest DC Extended Universe film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, arrives in theaters this weekend to disappointing critical reviews and lower-than-expected box office projections. As the final chapter of the interconnected DC franchise, Aquaman 2 was meant to go out with a splash, but is instead sinking quietly beneath the waves.
Reviews praise the visual spectacle delivered by director James Wan, but criticize the convoluted storytelling, underdeveloped characters, and overall lack of stakes or originality. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 31% and first weekend box office tracking around $55 million domestically, the DCEU appears to be ending not with a bang but a whimper.
Opening Weekend Projections Disappoint
Early box office tracking predicted a domestic opening weekend around $65-70 million for Aquaman 2. However, those projections have now lowered to just $55 million. That’s a significant drop from the first Aquaman film, which opened to over $67 million in 2018 on its way to an eventual $1.15 billion global total.
It seems unlikely Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will come close to reaching those totals. With poor reviews and little buzz heading into release, this sequel is shaping up to be one of the biggest box office disappointments of 2023 so far.
Reviews: Visual Spectacle Can’t Save Messy Story
The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads, “Occasionally thrilling but narratively inert, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom fails to effectively build on the groundwork laid by its predecessor.”
Reviewers widely praise James Wan’s ambitious underwater visuals and action sequences. But most feel the messy, convoluted plot fails to give emotional weight to the spectacle on display.
Criticisms of the screenplay range from “absurdly overcomplicated” (AV Club) to a “relative incoherence of narrative” (BBC Culture). The sequel tries to juggle too many new characters and plot threads without properly developing any of them.
Performances Feel Lifeless
Jason Momoa and Amber Heard reprise their roles as Aquaman/Arthur Curry and Mera. But their performances feel oddly detached and joyless compared to the first film.
As The Daily Beast puts it, “Momoa spends the entire movie looking confused, exhausted, and ready to find the exit.” Meanwhile none of the new characters make much of an impression, leaving the cast feeling “like a collection of action figures bumping lifelessly into each other” (IndieWire).
Patrick Wilson draws some praise as Ocean Master Orm, bringing maximum camp to all his scenes. But he alone can’t salvage the lifeless chemistry among the main cast.
No Stakes in the DCEU Swan Song
As the last vestige of the original interconnected DC Extended Universe, Aquaman 2 was expected to provide a sense of finality after recent DC films largely abandoned continuity. Instead, the sequel fails to deliver any emotional payoff or conclusion for the DCEU’s decade-long story.
There are cursory references to Justice League and nods to the wider universe. But ultimately the self-contained adventure feels inconsequential to any larger DC mythology.
Without any real stakes or world-building for the broader franchise, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom makes for an anti-climatic conclusion to the DCEU era. As The Hollywood Reporter puts it, the film “seems to encapsulate the last days of the DC Extended Universe…not so much going out with a bang but a shrug.”
What Comes Next?
The future direction of DC Films remains unclear following recent leadership shakeups at parent company Warner Bros Discovery. It seems plans for an interconnected film universe have been abandoned for standalone storytelling.
But Aquaman is at least guaranteed another solo outing, as Jason Momoa is contractually obligated for a three-picture deal. Though given the disappointing reception to this sequel, it may be quite some time before a third installment surfaces.
James Wan recently hinted his time with Aquaman may be finished, saying: “I have so much world-building that I’ve done for Aquaman that I’d love to see realized onscreen.” Perhaps a fresh directorial vision can revitalize interest in a third film and deliver the emotional payoff lacking in this franchise finale.
For now the King of Atlantis ends his reign over DC’s troubled cinematic waters with more of splash than expected, but far less than hoped for. Much like the DCEU itself, big ambitions sank beneath the weight of messy execution. DC likely won’t retreat fully from theaters, but it may be quite some time before audiences see such grand interconnected world-building attempts again.
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