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Movie Review

Those of us who don't live close to the ocean might consider Aquaman's powers to be a little … impractical.

Hey, it's great to swim fast and all, but that's not very helpful in Arizona. Talking with sea creatures can certainly be helpful on the high seas, but it's of dubious benefit on dry land (where, it must be said, most crime takes place). And let's face it: Chatting up the doomed lobsters in your average seafood restaurant would only make you sad.

So go ahead, you landlubbers. Demean Arthur Curry's superpowers. Let Batman and Wonder Woman steal the terrestrial headlines. Just remember that water takes up two-thirds of the planet's surface, which gives Aquaman a nice, big playground. He doesn't need fame or accolades: He likes to keep a low profile—as low a profile as a shirtless, tattooed, towering, bearded Greek sculpture of a man with superhuman powers can reasonably keep, that is.

Arthur can rescue ships, lock down pirates, swim home for supper and still make time for a trip to the pub with his pops. He's making a difference and preserving his quality of life. Now that's superheroing done right.

Frankly, the last thing that Aquaman wants is more responsibility. Like—ugh—being king of Atlantis.

Oh, he could be a pretty big deal in those briny depths if he wanted, maybe. His mom, Atlanna, was queen of the underwater kingdom, which gives him a better claim to the throne than his younger half-brother, Orm. And lately an underwater princess, Mera, has been pestering him to return. He's told her time and again that he doesn't want to go back. I mean, who wants to sit on a waterlogged throne when you can sit on a beer-stained barstool?

Plus, Arthur's not a pure Atlantean: His dad is a surface dweller—a lighthouse keeper named Tom—and Arthur was told that his mother was executed for her terrestrial affair. Given that history, it doesn't seem like Arthur or Atlantis should have much to say to one another.

But Orm isn't that happy with being king of Atlantis, either—or, should we say, just being king. Arthur's baby brother wants to reunite the sea's seven kingdoms, claim the title of Ocean Master and wage war on the surface world.

Would these sea-based civilizations win such a war? They've certainly got some impressive, high-tech firepower at their disposal. But a full-scale invasion of the landlubbers might be impractical given, y'know, the attackers' need for gills and all.

But Arthur knows one thing: If Orm and his supporters declare war on humanity, it'll mean the death of billions, both on land and in water.

Maybe the kingdom of Atlantis could use a new king after all.

Positive Elements

As Arthur struggles through a quest for the fabled trident of Atlan—a weapon that could help him topple Orm—he struggles simultaneously with both his right and his desire to be king. He's a modest chap at heart. But he's reassured that he can be better than a king: He can be a hero.

"A king fights only for his nation," he's told. "You fight for everyone."

It's true. While Aquaman may not be the Boy Scout that, say, Superman is, he still shows that he's a true hero. He doesn't want power: He just wants to do the right thing.

Arthur has a sincere affection for his human father, too: He may be a burly savior of the sea these days, but he always carves out some time to spend with pops, which is nice.

Arthur's parents seem like good folks themselves. Tom first saw Atlanna when she washed ashore, injured, and he nursed her back to health, no questions asked. (He didn't even get mad when she ate one of his goldfish.) When Arthur was still a young shaver, Atlanna decided to go back to Atlantis—not because she was homesick, but in order to protect Tom and her son from the wrath of her native people. "It is the only way to save him," she tells Tom, looking at Arthur. Then she adds, "[And to] save you."

Spiritual Content

Whenever we talk about superheroes, a spiritual subtext never seems far away. And this movie may invoke a spiritual echo when someone sees a revitalized Arthur in fine form and says, "The king is risen." (That phrase could prompt Christians in some traditions to immediately recall the response, "He is risen indeed.")

But despite that potential allusion, and despite the echoes of classical Greek mythology embedded in this story, Aquaman is no deity: All Atlanteans have prodigious powers (though more noble Atlanteans have powers that others don't have, such as the ability to breathe air). The only direct reference we hear to divinity is when Arthur and Orm tangle in ceremonial fights, and they say they will shed blood "'til the gods make known their will."

We do hear a couple of stray allusions to evolution, though: One science teacher, for instance, tells her class at an aquarium that all life originated in the sea. And in flashback, we learn that the intelligent ocean-dwelling races were once based on land, but "evolved" when Atlantis sunk into the sea.

Sexual Content

Aquaman spends most of the movie gallivanting (gillivanting?) around without a shirt. And the movie's two primary female characters, Atlanna and the red-haired Mera, wear garb that hugs their bodies from neck to ankle. Some of those outfits reveal cleavage.

Mera and Arthur grow in their affection for each another, and we see the two kiss. Atlanna and Tom kiss, too. We see a flashback where Tom and Atlanna are comfortably lying in bed together; they're mostly clothed, but Atlanna's clearly pregnant belly is exposed. (We never hear definitively whether Tom and Atlanna are legally married, by the way. But Tom's obviously still committed to her, even in her absence. He never finds another woman after Atlanna goes back to Atlantis, and he walks to the edge of his dock every morning, hoping for her return.)

Violent Content

Ever try to punch someone underwater? Hard, isn't it? So you might be amazed to see the amount of carnage Aquaman dishes out.

Much of it is exactly what you'd expect from a superhero movie: Lots of frenetic fistfights and supercharged humanoids being thrown against walls and rock towers and whatnot. Aquaman bashes people with submarine hatches and runs them into walls, in addition to the usual punching and kicking and slamming. In flashback, his mom takes on a handful of soldiers, twisting and flipping and doing all manner of damage to them until they're all incapacitated.

Aquaman's enemies throw practically everything they can at the hero to stop him (minus the classic kitchen sink). Human adversaries try to gun him down and stab him in the chest, but Arthur's super-tough skin is apparently impervious to most attacks. Even a rocket blast to the midsection only incapacitates him momentarily (though it does trigger a sincere "ouch" from the guy). Atlantean weapons prove more successful: Plasma ray guns blast a variety of things out of the water (and in it, too), while knives, swords and tridents all penetrate Arthur's tattooed flesh coating at times (though the inflicted wounds are never gory or terribly bloody).

We should note a handful of particularly critical moments of violence, though. First, a couple of people get run through with blades of various makes. Second—and this may count as a minor spoiler warning, even though it takes place in the movie's first 15 minutes—Aquaman leaves an adversary (who was admittedly trying to kill him) to die. "You killed innocent people," he says as he leaves the trapped man to his fate in a sinking submarine. "You ask the sea for mercy." (Aquaman later regrets that choice, however, which earns him undying enmity from a soon-to-be supervillain.)

The film also includes a massive, Lord of the Rings-style underwater battle, in which sharks and crablike things and giant seahorses join the fight with their humanoid masters. We see tons of frenetic action and lots of presumed casualties, though nothing is particularly gory or graphic.

Really frightening monsters attack Aquaman and Mera on a boat. The two of them kill several of those beasties, sometimes impaling them and at least once by shoving a flaming flare down one monster's throat. A massive creature attacks Aquaman and later joins the underwater war.

People are skewered with frozen liquid javelins. Some Atlanteans, who wear water-filled suits while on dry land, get killed or incapacitated when an adversary cracks their masks or pulls their water hoses. A doomed man pills a pin on a grenade to speed up the process (though we don't directly witness his explosive end). A shark nearly breaks a giant aquarium tank. Massive ships are deposited on dry land after an oceanic surge. Things explode. Frequently.

Crude or Profane Language

Three s-words dip their toes in Aquaman's linguistic pool. We also hear "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard," "d--n," "d--k" and "h---." God's name is misused twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mera, who can manipulate water, uses a fully stocked wine cellar to kill her adversaries: She causes the wine bottles to break and creates, essentially, Sangiovese spears that skewer her enemies.

More troubling, perhaps, is one of Arthur's pub visits with his father. The two quaff massive mugs of beer, and Arthur congratulates Tom on his continued ability to drink him under the table. (Oddly, when the two leave a pub another time, Arthur seems completely sober, and he buckles his clearly inebriated and half-unconscious father into the passenger seat—looking as though he's had lots of practice.) Another scene refers to Arthur as a "drunk."

Other Negative Elements

An Atlantean whose water suit is draining dry sinks his face into a toilet bowl and sighs with relief. Several people cough up water.

Conclusion

For the last several years, DC Comics has played little brother to big boy Marvel. Even though DC boasts the genre's beloved founding triumvirate—Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman—its recent Warner Bros. movies have been critical (if not commercial) underperformers.

Many of them have felt dark and a little desperate, punting good storytelling for CGI bombast and showing little understanding of the characters themselves. With the exception of 2017's excellent Wonder Woman, the DC Extended Universe seems to embrace bleak storytelling and shuns the fun, making its movies more problematic for families on multiple levels.

Well, DC and Warner Bros. must've heard the crit and read the tweets, because Aquaman feels lighter than some of its predecessors (thanks in large part to its winking protagonist, played by Jason Momoa). It even attempts to lob in a little silliness at times. But while it doesn't sink under its own grim weight, Aquaman doesn't exactly swim forward, either.

The film is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and I felt every bit of it. While really fun in places, it still tries to stuff way too much story on screen, necessitating a bevy of expositional flashbacks. It aspires to be a classic quest movie—one with nods to Greek mythology, Arthurian legend, Star Wars and Indiana Jones as it rumbles forward. But because it (I think) purposefully asks us to remember these durable stories, we can't help but compare Aquaman to them, too.

By that comparison, this latest superhero tale feels a bit waterlogged. And this flick still values visual fireworks over solid storytelling.

Case in point: One of the movie's best scenes takes place aboard a boat, where Aquaman and Mera are attacked by terrifying undersea creatures. The fight is thrilling (if jarringly violent) and ends when the two dive into the water, their path downward illuminated by a red flare as countless toothy critters surround them. (Again, it feels almost an echo of a similar scene from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, when the fellowship is pursued by goblins in the Mines of Moria.)

But while the scene looked great, it also forced me to ask … Why are these two in a boat? Both can swim way faster than any terrestrial fishing vessel. It'd be like giving Superman a Segway.

Aquaman doesn't stray far from the kind of content we've come to expect from superhero movies these days, but the flick feels a bit more violent than many, containing not just your typical punches and kicks, but actual deaths. And let's not forget about the massive battle scene that the film dwells on. Parents should press pause and thoughtfully consider this film's negatives before packing up the kids to see this flick.

Is Aquaman all wet? I'd not go that far. But this superhero movie still feels a little clammy at times.

Watching Aquaman struggle to determine the right thing to do may prompt discussions in your own family. For ideas on how landlubbers can also make right decisions, check out these suggestions:

Why Do Right?

How to Encourage Your Kids to Do What’s Right

Do the Right Thing

Raising Kingdom Kids Devotional

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry; Amber Heard as Mera; Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko; Patrick Wilson as King Orm; Nicole Kidman as Atlanna; Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Manta; Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry

Director

James Wan ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 21, 2018

On Video

March 26, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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