Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

02/21/2018

 

Black Panther

By John Mulderig

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 humour 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.

Black Panther

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 colour 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.

The film contains nonscriptual 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.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Early Man

By Sister Hosea Rupprecht

NEW YORK (CNS) — Nick Park, the creative genius behind so many Aardman Animations claymation comedies spanning more than two decades, finally makes his feature-length directing debut with “Early Man” (Lionsgate).

With its all-British cast, and despite a plot that will probably appeal more to soccer-loving Europeans, especially in anticipation of the 2018 World Cup this summer, the film manages to bring its fun, generally family-friendly story vividly to life. It also delivers a healthy dose of slapstick comedy, as well as gags and allusions that will keep the adults in the audience laughing. Early Man

Teenage caveman Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) lives a contended life. But, as he tells his best buddy, Hognob (voiced by Park), it might be fun to try catching a woolly mammoth, instead of just rabbits, for food.

When he brings his idea to his tribe’s Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), he’s told that the group have always been rabbit hunters — and that should be good enough. It’s only after the tribe’s valley is threatened by Lord Nooth (a French-accented Tom Hiddleston), who wants to turn it into a mine, that they are forced to show some initiative and work together to save their home.

This fish-out-of-water story finds Dug, accidentally stuck in the back of a cart, travelling to the Bronze Age city Lord Nooth rules where he’s surrounded by, well, bronze things, the likes of which he’s never seen before.

Brought before Lord Nooth, he strikes a deal with the tyrant: a soccer match will determine the outcome. If the cavemen win, they get to go back to their valley. If Real Bronzio (as the Bronze team is called) wins, the cavemen will work in the mines.

Dug heads home with the gargantuan task of teaching a tribe that can barely catch a rabbit to play soccer.

Luckily, he’s aided by Goona (voiced by Maisie Williams), a Bronze Age woman who loves and excels at the “beautiful game” but is not allowed on the “sacred turf” because of her gender. With Goona’s help and the conviction that he is following in the footsteps of his ancestors, Dug improvises a potentially winning team.

As written by Mark Burton and James Higginson, “Early Man” will have the kids in the audience cheering for Dug and the grownups rolling their eyes at the antics of the characters. Still, the movie celebrates kindness, family and the merits of working together. It also sends the message that greed will get you nowhere.

The film contains brief animated rear nudity, one crass term and some suggestive humour. 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.

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Sister Rupprecht, a Daughter of St. Paul, is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops