We’ve grown accustomed to superheroes misbehaving in the Marvel and DC universes — whether that’s Iron Man acting like a playboy, Wonder Woman spending the night with a companion or the Avengers constantly making snide remarks about one another.
Then there’s Black Panther. He’s not a womanizer, and he doesn’t ridicule his friends on a whim. He’s also altruistic and wants his country to share its knowledge and riches with the world. In other words, he’s the kind of superhero you’d want to speak to your child’s class.
The movie “Black Panther” (PG-13) rightly received rave reviews when it was released in theaters earlier this year as the first Marvel movie with a largely African-American cast.
But the film — which makes its Netflix debut Sept. 4 — stood out for other reasons, too. For example, the film’s primary character — T’Challa/Black Panther — is more mature and serious than the average superhero. As the leader of the fictional African country of Wakanda, he doesn’t have time for juvenile jokes. The movie itself differentiated itself by having less language (about eight words and no profane uses of God’s names) and less sexual content (unless you count belly-revealing costumes) than most Marvel films. It’s one of my favorite superhero movies of all time.
This doesn’t mean that the film is for small children. The violence is excessive, with more gun fights, close-up punches, and deaths by spearing than seen in many superhero movies. “Black Panther” also includes ancestral worship. Families who watch it can discuss what God requires: He alone is to be worshipped (Ex. 34:14). Jesus is our lone intercessor (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
The film offers tons of positive messages, including ones on self-sacrifice, mercy and helping the poor.
Another popular franchise film also made its streaming debut recently.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” the film based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, is the first film in a trilogy so elaborate that it took one out of every 160 New Zealanders to make it. It was followed by “The Two Towers” (2002) and “The Return of the King” (2003), movies that were even more financially successful. Roughly 17 years after it grossed more than $300 million in the U.S. to become the No. 2 film at the box office for 2001, “The Fellowship of the Ring” is streaming on Netflix.
Netflix hasn’t announced if those other movies are coming to the service in the coming months, although if this film series follows the pattern of previous ones on Netflix, they just might. For now, “The Fellowship of the Ring” (PG-13) will have to do.
The film series and novels are popular worldwide among Christians, who point to the battle of good versus evil and the story’s spiritual undertones, including its teaching on the lure of evil. Many books have been written about the symbolism and worldview within the story. Tolkien himself was Catholic and a good friend of C.S. Lewis, the author of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”
The story takes place in Middle Earth and follows a young man named Frodo, who comes into possession of a ring that has the power to enslave the world. Frodo’s mission is to destroy it — which must be done by tossing it in the fire on a mountain — although the evil Lord Sauron is trying to get it first. A band of companions known as the “fellowship” protects Frodo on his quest.
It took filmmakers about eight years to make the three movies across New Zealand. Not only did locals help out, the New Zealand Army assisted by helping build Hobbiton months before filming began so the plants could really grow.
“The Fellowship of the Ring” contains no coarse language or sexuality but is rated PG-13 for “epic battle sequences and some scary images.”
Take the rating seriously if you have young children. “The Fellowship of the Ring” has more than its share of creepy-looking creatures. My 6-year-olds won’t be watching it. Still, I might check it out with my tween-aged son. Pass the popcorn.
Also streaming this month:
- “Spider-Man 3” (PG-13, Sept. 1) — This 2007 film depicts our masked hero affected by an other-worldly black goo that makes him aggressive and mean. Eventually, he junks his “good guy” reputation and seeks revenge on an enemy. It’s darker than other Spider-Man films. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence. It has mild language, too.
- “Call the Midwife: Season 7” (TV-14, Sept. 10) — The BBC/PBS series spotlights a group of midwives serving the public during the 1950s and 60s and has been applauded by some pro-lifers for its storylines. But a few of the episodes — including one in Season 7 — involve illegal abortions. Caution is advised.
- Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” (PG, Sept. 25) — This fantasy film was based on the Madeleine L’Engle book that featured several Christian themes. Sadly, though, the movie removed all the Christian elements. The film tells the story of a girl who crosses the universe looking for her long-lost father. Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril.
- “Batman Begins” (PG-13) — This 2005 movie rebooted the Batman films series and tells the story of the origins of the caped crusader. Contains some language (including a GD). Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.
- “Secretariat” (PG) — The winner of the 1973 Triple Crown remains the most well-known racing horse of all time. This is the story of Secretariat, its owner, Penny Chenery, and her struggle to spend time with both her family and her horse. Rated PG for brief mild language (two instances of “h-ll,” two misuses of “God”).
- “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” (G) — The story of Mia Thermopolis, the quirky girl turned princess, continues in this comical Disney film, which is a favorite among girls. Don’t miss the first film in the series, “The Princess Diaries,” which released on Netflix in July.
- “Nut Job” (PG) — A purple squirrel named Surly and his friends must fight to survive after their source of winter food is destroyed. Animated. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.
Also notable: “Nacho Libre” (PG, Sept. 1), “The Ant Bully” (PG, Sept. 1), Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch” (PG, Sept. 2), Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove” (G, Sept. 2).
- “Hoosiers” (PG) — A small-town Indiana basketball team makes it to the state championship. This classic 1986 film is marred a bit by some language (among it: s—t and misuse of “Jesus”). If this version isn’t for you, then find a cleaner version (using VidAngel or ClearPlay, for example) and show your children. It’s incredibly inspirational. Rated PG.
- “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams” (PG) — Our favorite children espionage agents go on another journey, this time to a mysterious island. Rated PG for action sequences and brief rude humor.
- “Grace Unplugged” (PG, Sept. 12) — An 18-year-old Christian singer drifts from her parents and her Christian background to try and become a Hollywood star. It’s a faith-based modern retelling of the parable of the prodigal son. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief teen drinking.
- “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures” (unrated, Sept. 1), “A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise” (unrated, Sept. 1) — In the first film, a sea turtle hatchling is abandoned by his companions and must learn to survive. In the sequel, he gets stuck in an aquarium. Both movies received the Dove Seal of Approval for all ages.
- “Babe” (G) — A timid young farm pig tries to find his place in the world. Live-action.
- “Hoosiers” (PG) — See above.
- “Field of Dreams” (PG, Sept. 1) — This baseball fantasy classic follows a farmer who builds a field to attract baseball stars from the past (that is, ghosts). Starring Kevin Costner, it includes several good lessons but is marred by some strong language.
- “Grace Unplugged” (PG, Sept. 12) — See above.
Meet the reviewer
Michael Foust covers the intersection of faith and entertainment as a media reviewer for The Alabama Baptist. He also is the husband of an amazing wife and the father of four young children.