Patrick Wilson, left, and Jason Momoa star in "Aquaman and the...

Patrick Wilson, left, and Jason Momoa star in "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”  Credit: DC Comics

PLOT The King of Atlantis must stop a plot to unleash an army of demons.

CAST Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

RATED PG-13 (action violence and mild language)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A notch down from the original, about par for the Warner-DC universe.

“They say everybody’s good at something. Me? I talk to fish.”

That’s the opening joke of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” which — depending on your level of loyalty to Jason Momoa’s title character — will either tickle your funny bone or fall flat as a flounder. Somewhere between the earnestly entertaining first film (2018) and this winking-and-mugging sequel, director James Wan seems to have decided that an amphibious superhero with Soundgarden-length hair wasn’t funny enough on his own; he has to crack wise, too.

The film begins with a quick catch-up: Aquaman has become King of Atlantis,  married Queen Mera (a barely seen Amber Heard) and had a baby (named Arthur Jr.). Cue the superhero-in-suburbia jokes: Aquaman padding around in a bathrobe, changing diapers at midnight and falling asleep on the throne. It’s a proud moment for papa when the infant Arthur communicates telepathically with a tankful of goldfish.

Meanwhile, melting ice caps have revealed a hidden trove of orichalcum — here envisioned as an ancient energy-source with environmentally destructive possibilities — which falls into the hands of David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). “Thank God for global warming,” says Kane, who blames Aquaman for his father’s death and plans to exact revenge on all of humanity. He has another weapon, too: a Black Trident that can awaken the zombie warriors of the Kingdom of Necrus.

What follows is a meandering story that reunites Aquaman with the half brother he once imprisoned, Orm (Patrick Wilson). There’s a jailbreak sequence in a desert, a trek through a perilous jungle and a meeting with the corpulent crime boss Kingfish (the voice of Martin Short), all of which feel pretty lifeless thanks to the stiff computer animation. At least we get some passable buddy-comedy moments between the brothers. While Momoa’s Aquaman swaggers and joshes, Wilson’s Orm plays the uptight straight man — the Charles Grodin of the sea — and winds up providing the film’s few funny moments.

The sidelining of Heard — following, if not directly related to, a sordid court battle with ex-husband Johnny Depp and a cruel fan petition against her — robs this film of romance and turns it into a bromance. Wan has said that was always the intention. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” might have worked better, though, if it didn’t work so hard to win us over.

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