Another day, another batch of nominees! This time we turn to movies for teens. It’s a perennially tricky category to pick for, and this year yields a truly eclectic mix of movies, pitting some of the year’s top-grossing flicks against a couple of little-seen gems.
As always, read our full reviews before you or anyone in your family decide to watch any of these films. And as always, we’d love to get your input. Vote for your favorites either here or on our Facebook page. We’ll close voting on Feb. 20. A week later, we’ll announce the winners—both those chosen by Plugged In and those you vote for.
Captain America: Civil War: It’s tough to be a hero. Sure, it’s great that the Avengers have saved the world time and again. But should that world just trust the good guys to make good decisions all the time? Aren’t superheroes human, too? Isn’t it about time that the planet put some sort of a muzzle—or at least a leash—on the planet’s superhuman do-gooders? Such is the premise of this closet Avengers movie, one that pits Cap against old pal Iron Man and stuffs more superheroes into it than the average 8-year-old boy puts in his toy box. Civil War is a darker, more morally complex story than we’re used to from Marvel. Instead of evildoers from outer space, our heroes must battle each other, and we moviegoers are asked to take sides. Sure, Civil War still offers plenty of high-flying action and not a small amount of fun. It has a few pain points, too, from its expected violence to it sometimes salty language. But this movie makes you think a little, too, and that’s a good thing.
A Monster Calls: The monster that comes calling here really isn’t the foreboding, tree-like entity you might have seen in this film’s trailers. Oh, that thing’s monstrous, to be sure. So much so that sensitive young viewers might be overwhelmed by images of it. But the real monster in this story is the one 12-year-old Conor’s mom bravely faces: cancer. Conor struggles mightily to come to grips with the monstrous emotions of fear and grief and guilt swirling in his heart. Despite its pseudo horror-movie trappings, A Monster Calls is a remarkably tender, psychologically insightful tale, one that could be especially resonant for tweens and teens who’ve gone through significant losses of their own.
Queen of Katwe: Phiona Mutesi had no reason to hope for much. Indeed, born and raised in one of Uganda’s poorest slums, she had little reason for hope at all. But when a mission-minded soccer coach named Robert Katende opens a chess club in the heart of the slum, Phiona displays a rare grasp of the game. Soon this uneducated girl is beating well-heeled opponents who’d been honing their chess skills since childhood, and she begins taking on the country’s best. Disney’s Queen of Katwe, based on the true story of the world’s most unlikely chess master, is a quietly beautiful tale undergirded by a subtle, unshakeable sense of faith. Admittedly, in a year in which the Mouse House released a bevy of box-office blockbusters, Queen barely made a squeak. Turns out, one of Disney’s quietest 2017 releases just might be one of its best, too.
Race: Jesse Owens is fast—so fast, in fact, that he could be one of the star performers at the 1936 Olympics. The catch: Those Olympics are being held in Berlin, and Germany’s Nazi government isn’t exactly known for its racial tolerance. Should the United States even go to the Olympics, given the host country’s horrific policies? And if it does, should Owens—whose own country still suffers from plenty of racial injustice of its own—agree to participate? Race, released last February, probably slipped off a lot of moviegoers’ radars, and that’s a shame. Despite a peppering of profanity, Jesse Owens’ story is inspiring. He knows he can’t please everyone no matter what choice he makes. But Owens’ decision to use his gift—and the classy manner in which he uses it—reminds us that we’ve all been given gifts from God. And it reminds us to use them in the right way, emphasizing what a shame it would be to squander them.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: So just how did the Rebel Alliance pilfer plans for the Death Star anyway? Rogue One: A Star Wars Story answers that question. Set prior to the events in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Rogue One tells the tale of Jyn Erso. She’s a fierce young woman the Rebels recruit to find her father, whom they suspect has designed the Death Star. But he’s also baked in a weakness that he hopes his daughter can discover. Rogue One delivers a satisfying story, especially for longtime fans. It’s full of sanitized Star Wars-style combat as well as some depictions of gritty guerilla warfare. Those are issues families will want to consider, as is the film’s slightly more personal characterization of The Force. That said, heroism, bravery and sacrifice are all once again on display in the latest story from a galaxy far, far away.
Movie synopses by Paul Asay and Adam Holz.