By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published February 22, 2018
NEW YORK (CNS)—Step aside, Huey Newton, there’s a new “Black Panther” (Disney) in town.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler’s adaptation of a series of Marvel Comics—Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first launched the character of the title in 1966—is sprawling, energetic, lightened by some clever humor but, ultimately, overlong.
Though the mayhem on screen, which ranges from hand-to-hand combat to a high-flying, high-tech dogfight, is treated with restraint, touches of vulgarity may give some parents of older teens pause. Weighing on the other side of the scale, however, is the racial empowerment that drives the narrative and the significant themes the film tackles in a thoughtful way.
The primary setting of “Black Panther” is the imaginary—and secret—African kingdom of Wakanda. As straightforward exposition at the start of the movie explains, Wakanda’s inhabitants have, over the centuries, made use of a super-powerful mineral, vibranium, to achieve both prosperity and a range of technological wonders unknown to the outside world.
When Wakanda’s young prince, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the throne, and thereby becomes the Black Panther, he intends to continue the policy of his late father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), by keeping Wakanda concealed from foreigners. But he faces two principal challenges.
One involves South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Klaue has managed to infiltrate Wakanda and steal a stock of vibranium, which he aims to sell to the highest bidder.
The other concerns the ongoing consequences of a long-ago family conflict (involving Michael B. Jordan) that has the potential to dethrone T’Challa and destabilize Wakanda.
In tackling these problems, T’Challa is aided by his tech-savvy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the woman he would like to make his queen, Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his army’s band of fierce female warriors, and, eventually, by Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent out to foil Klaue.
Real-world preoccupations are incorporated into this sci-fi-tinged action adventure. The Wakandans, for instance, debate whether they should put their own security at risk in order to assist downtrodden people of color in other nations.
Plot developments also present characters with moral choices. Faced with the kind of evil embodied by Klaue—an unreconstructed apartheid-era Afrikaans of the nastiest stripe—should one pursue vengeance or accept justice? The divergent paths of violent revolution and peaceful reform are also contrasted.
Ceremonies and customs drawn, however indirectly, from indigenous African religions are showcased. But they are contained within the picture’s framework of fantasy, and will probably not cause mature adolescents any spiritual confusion.
The film contains non-scriptural religious ideas and practices, much stylized violence with minimal gore, several crude and at least one crass term and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Early Man” (Lionsgate)
This enjoyably silly, generally family-friendly animated comedy pits a teenage caveman (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) and his tribe against a tyrant (voice of Tom Hiddleston) who wants to turn their home valley into a mine. Accidentally finding himself in the Bronze Age city the despot rules, the young troglodyte gets him to agree that a soccer match should determine the outcome. In preparing for the game, the good guys are helped by a talented female player (voice of Maise Williams) who’s been barred from taking the field because of her gender. Directed by Nick Park and written by Mark Burton and James Higginson, the film celebrates kindness, family and teamwork. It also sends the message that greed will get you nowhere. Brief animated rear nudity, one crass term, some suggestive humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
“Samson” (Pure Flix)
Spirited biblically based drama in which the super-strong champion (Taylor James) of the oppressed Israelites skylarks with his younger brother (Greg Kriek), romances a Philistine gal (Frances Sholto-Douglas) but also tangles with the wicked prince (Jackson Rathbone) who embodies that people’s tyrannical and exploitative rule over the occupied Promised Land. As Samson mows down his foes, with femme fatale Delilah (Caitlin Leahy) waiting in the wings, director Bruce Macdonald follows the formula of golden-age Hollywood adaptations of the Good Book with large-scale battles, a love angle and an effete villain. Though some of the necessary expansion on the Old Testament account fails to convince, this is generally an enjoyable riff on the Hebrew he-man’s story. While not suitable for the youngest viewers, it can provide a fine introduction to the subject for teens. Much combat violence with little gore, a scene of torture, references to prostitution and womanizing. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The 15:17 to Paris” (Warner Bros.)
Uneven drama recounting the circumstances that led up to the thwarting, in August 2015, of a terrorist attack and potential massacre on the train of the title. Traveling from Amsterdam to the French capital as tourists, a trio of Americans (Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, all portraying themselves), two of them with military backgrounds, courageously stop a heavily armed jihadist bent on a shooting spree among the captive passengers. The portion of director Clint Eastwood’s film devoted to this headline-grabbing incident is taut and compelling. But, in adapting the three friends’ book about their exploit and their lives before it, written with Jeffrey E. Stern, screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal fails to evoke much interest in the lads’ humdrum childhoods and fitful careers. More honorable than entertaining, their faith-friendly story does emphasize self-sacrificing heroism and the potential of ordinary people to achieve great things. Gunplay and nonlethal violence, a sequence involving gory wounds, a bit of sexual humor, a couple of uses of profanity and a pair of milder oaths, numerous crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.