In the opening scenes, there are glimmers of a resonant theme: the half-human Arthur Curry, played by Jason Momoa, has decided that being the King of Atlantis isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He can’t persuade the Atlantean council that they should reveal their existence to the surface dwellers (a dispute that echoes Marvel’s Black Panther), and he’s busy raising his baby son, who lives on dry land with Arthur’s human dad, played by Temuera Morrison.
Arthur’s wife Mera, played by Amber Heard, isn’t much help, either. For reasons that we can only guess at, most of Heard’s scenes have been edited out, so while she shows up every now and then in a skintight, low-cut bodysuit, she has so little to say and do that she might as well not be there at all. In essence, Heard is seen but not heard.
Still, her absence doesn’t matter too much, because Arthur’s worries about whether he can be a good king and a good father are soon swept away by a tidal wave of unrelated plot. The suitably imposing Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is back as Manta, a perma-scowling pirate with a silly, insectoid diving helmet. He gets hold of an enchanted weapon called the Black Trident that gives him superpowers and a psychic link to an undead monster. The only way for Arthur to track Manta down, he decides, is to team up with his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who was the villain in the previous film.
But hang on a minute. Does Arthur really need Orm’s help? No. And will their shared quest take them from bitter enmity to grudging respect and even love? You bet. Their clichéd relationship is typical of a film that goes efficiently through all of the usual blockbuster motions, but never attempts anything original or honest. At one point, Arthur even nicknames Orm “Loki”, which is both a giveaway that we’ve seen their fraternal dynamic in Marvel’s Thor films, and a reminder that it was done with far more conviction and humour in those.