Black Panther Review

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther returns in his first solo outing. It is also 18th feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite being ten years old and that many films under its belt, Black Panther adds new elements. This will be the first black superhero film under this franchise with a primarily black cast and black director. Monumental on many levels that cannot be understated. But how does the film actually fare?

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Black Panther picks up literally a week after the events of Civil War. T’Challa is set to become the king of his country but that does not come easily. Not only dealing with his own uncertainties as a king but from outside forced. Ulysses Klaue and the mysterious Erik “Killmonger” Stevens stand as serious threats. A question posed in the film is that is a tough for a good man for to be a good king.

This is arguably the MCU’s most political film. There is much discussion on race relations, borders, isolationism, how much nations should help others, the good of the few versus the good of the many. It doesn’t get bogged down in any of this but the film never loses this element. Just because the main character dresses as a cat, there is a very important reason as to why. It also doesn’t present any of these issues as having easy answers.

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Chadwick Boseman returns as T’Challa/Black Panther. He’s always a solid actor but unfortunately he gets lost in the shuffle. This is more due to the nature of his character. The audience does get to see many sides of him such as the stoic king, warrior, big brother, lover and even sometimes trickster. He is the anchor that everything revolves around and will be nice to see where he takes the character in further installments.

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The supporting cast is astounding. Danai Gurira as Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje oozes charisma. She does not play the generic badass. We see many sides of her that was somewhat unexpected. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakai, a spy for Wakanda and former lover of T’Challa brings a grounded element. Since she is much more world travelled than many Wakandans, she brings a different element to the film. Letitia Wright plays Shuri, the younger sister to T’Challa. The brightest mind in the MCU who starts out as support and comic relief but shows how she is much more than that.

Winston Duke as M’Baku was the biggest surprise. Based on the Man-Ape (which of course they don’t acknowledge), he could have been a generic antagonist. Instead he brings different layers to his character despite limited screen time. Forest Whitaker is solid as ever. as Zuri, the spiritual advisor in Wakanda. Daniel Kaluuya also has a small but important and poignant role as T’Challa’s best friend, W’Kabi. Kaluuya shows how great of an actor he is with just simple looks. Angela Bassett doesn’t get a ton of screen time as Queen Ramonda, but she makes the most of it with hints to a layered past. Andy Serkis returns as Klaue and you can tell he is having a blast playing the scene chewing character. Martin Freeman reprises his role as Everett Ross from Civil War and we learn a lot more about the character and his growing relationship with T’Challa.

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The standout is certainly Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger. Bringing out a realism not seen before in an MCU film. A man with justifiable anger but who has let that anger consume him. Whenever he is on the screen, you pay attention to what he says and does. The only knock is that he is introduced early on but disappears a good chunk before reappearing. This is Jordan’s third feature film with Coogler and one can’t help but think that this helped both the character and actor.

Ryan Coogler

This is director Ryan Coogler’s third feature film and he also co-wrote it. Though it is in the MCU, he does bring his own voice to the film. That really has been the standard for the MCU in Phase 3 and it has been the better for it. His first film, Fruitvale Station, was a low budget drama. His second film, Creed, had a higher budget but still kept the drama and great boxing scenes. Black Panther is the culmination as it is a high budget filled but never forgets the character moments even intermixed with the action scenes. Able to squeeze out these great moments that help the film not become too fantastical. It would be a crime if Marvel Studios did not sign Coogler up for a sequel to this.

The music within the film is fantastic. Being set in an African nation, there is of course many types of African music played throughout. One of the standout moments is the coronation scene. Then there is the soundtrack which is filled with hip hop. A less polished movie would not know how to integrate this. So instead of coming off like a bad music video, it worked effortlessly with the film.

The visual effects is where the film gets a little wonky. The introduction to Wakanda is one of the most visually breathtaking scenes in the film. But as the film goes on, the effects get less polished. The final action is the most egregious. A battle between two computer created men in cat suits. It doesn’t damn the film in any sort of major way. But it seems like they could have gone through another pass through render.

Overall, Black Panther is a great entry into the MCU. It explores a new avenue that will presumably help carry the franchise forward. The cast and crew brought their A game to the film and it shows. Nothing seemed phoned in and pride oozes through the screen that is infectious. It is a highly recommended film.

 

SCORE: 9.5/10

 

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Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor: Ragnarok is the third Thor film and the seventeenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, the Thor movies are probably the more divisive films in the MCU. While the first Thor movie is generally well received. The Dark World is considered by many to be the worst entry in the franchise. While part of the Avengers, Thor is something of an afterthought. So now Thor is back with his third film and this time he brought along his fellow Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, with him. How does it fare?

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It is certainly the best Thor film but that is some faint praise. After the events of Age of Ultron, Thor went searching in the cosmos for more information about the Infinity Stones. This film picks up with him captured and casually dismissing what he left for. Quickly shifting things back to Thor events, Thor learns about Loki impersonating Odin and then the two brothers go searching for their father but ran afoul of Hela, the Goddess of Death. Things quickly shift again with Thor and Loki ended up stranded on planet Sakaar where The Hulk now resides but under the thumb of The Grandmaster. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it was. It does feel like two distinct films smashed into one that doesn’t fully come together.

Taika Waititi, known mostly for comedic films, takes control of this Thor movie and it is a distinctly different Thor movie. It has been touted as a comedy and while there are a lot of comedic elements, it rang more as an adventure romp than a comedy. The comedy was better in this film than this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 but it took the wind out of a lot of stakes. Thor and Loki will have a dramatic conversation about their broken relationship and then a joke. This happens a lot in the film that it makes it hard to really care about some of the going ons.

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Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor and probably gives his best performance. They do deliver more of the comedic elements of the actor but he does have dramatic moments to help balance out. It is also better to have Thor take more charge of things instead of being at the whims of others. Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki and the character is the butt monkey of the movie. The studio doesn’t want him to be the villain that he was but know he can’t be forgiven or trusted so he is constantly getting belittled. Cate Blanchett comes in as Hela and is a basic MCU villain. If the actress wasn’t so charismatic, the character would one note. Tessa Thompson enters the franchise as Valkyrie and brings a nice new element as the enforcer for The Grandmaster with a connection to Asgard’s past. Jeff Goldblum is doing his typical Jeff Goldblum thing but in a way that is not obnoxious and still gets across the potential menace of his character. Idris Elba probably gets the most to do as Heimdall in this movie but it is still undeserving of the actor. Karl Urban is another actor deserving of much more as he serves a forgettable role as Skurge. Anthony Hopkins is pretty much a non entity as Odin. Mark Ruffalo gets his most to do since taking over the role of Bruce Banner/Hulk. Hulk is now a talking character and akin to a toddler while Banner shows a different side to him. There are some interesting questions brought up about the Banner/Hulk dynamic that will hopefully carry over to the upcoming Avengers films.

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Ragnarok is probably the most beautiful looking MCU film. There are bright colors and gorgeous looking sets. Even though Sakaar is a trash planet, there are some great looking designs. This is our third time seeing Asgard and it is a still a sight to see. The only questionable looking scene is one set on Earth at Norway. It is obvious that it was a reshoot with the shoddy CGI background that takes away some of the gravitas taking place during the scene.

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Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is a very good film. I will not say that it is great. It works as a soft reboot to the Thor character. It will be interesting to see where they take the character past this film. But as a whole, it’s a solid but heavily flawed film where the cracks become noticeable the more you think about it. The biggest problem coming out is, you still really have no idea who Thor is. Marvel Studios has dropped the ball with this character and franchise.

SCORE: 8/10

The Last Jedi Trailer Takeaway

The final trailer for The Last Jedi is here and all those rumors about Rian Johnson warning people to be wary of the trailer were just that. Rumors. It was a good trailer but it doesn’t give away anything that people couldn’t have already figured out in their head.

  • The trailer opens up on a shot of an unmasked Kylo Ren overlooking manufacturing of some sort. We hear Supreme Leader Snoke’s narration talking about how when he saw, presumably Kylo, there was nothing but raw and untamed power. This is all intercut with looks to be the start of The Battle of Crait and Kylo leading First Order troopers. There is a final shot of Kylo picking up his lightsaber in a kneeling position, as he is probably talking to Snoke as we can see Snoke’s guards in the background.
  • Finally a shot of Rey lighting up Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber. Unless something changes, it will presumably be hers from now on.
  • A voiceover from Rey comes on talking about her unfamiliarity with the Force and how it has always been there but is now awake and now she needs help. This is all intercut with scenes of her training and with a hesitant Luke Skywalker who does not seem to be pleased to see his father’s lightsaber.
  • A scene of Rey just touching the ground gently and making rock crack with her powers and a shocked expression on Luke’s face. This is a great scene just to show how powerful Rey is to Luke who once had great potential.
  • Luke finally speaks and how Rey’s raw strength terrifies him as he had seen it before in his nephew and it didn’t scare him then. This is cut with scenes of Luke escaping from rubble and looking upon the burning of his Jedi temple. Something that was briefly glimpsed in The Force Awakens. tumblr_oxn3iwyRKh1v734zlo4_540.gif
  • Another narration by Kylo Ren comes in and we see scenes of him flying his personal TIE fighter. I’m not too familiar or really care about the ships of Star Wars but it looks cool and reminiscent of his grandfather’s own Jedi/Empire ships. The narration makes it once again known that he is trying to “cleanse” himself of the past as he is attacking a Resistance ship. It might be a misdirect but the trailer makes it out to look like his mother, Leia, is his target. The conflicted look on Kylo’s face leads credence to that but it could be a misdirect. But the narration hints that Kylo is still conflicted and has not taken to the Dark Side like he would have wanted. The scenes are all cut with scene of Leia and Kylo seemingly sensing one another through the Force with a heartbroken look on Leia’s face as her son has become her father.
  • tumblr_oxn1poZ1Jf1v1sb4jo1_1280.jpgA scene plays of Chewbacca in the passenger side of the Millenium Falcon growling while a Porg tries to imitate him. Note that they do not show who is piloting the Falcon.
  • Finally we hear from Poe Dameron and probably gets the line of the trailer. “We are the spark that will light the fire that will burn The First Order down”
  • A confrontation between Finn and Captain Phasma is shown with the two dueling. Finn was the one who got away and embarrassed Phasma in the previous movie. There is no way that she is pleased about her former student and if you read either her book or comic, she is not one to leave grudges standing. tumblr_oxllbvCvLf1ue779no2_400
  • More scenery shots which are really highlighting the war between The Resistance and The First Order.
  • “This is not going to go the way you think” is spoken to Luke to Rey after what looks like a bad training session.
  • “Fulfill your destiny” is spoken by Snoke and we see the Supreme Leader in the (CG) flesh for the first time. Holding his hand out and he looks to be torturing Rey with the Force.
  • tumblr_oxnyfjjvdU1sjrad6o5_540.gif“I need someone to show me my place in all this” is spoken by Rey as she is looking towards someone. That someone is Kylo Ren who extends his hand. Now this is the only clear misdirect I can definitively say. The lighting between the two is totally different as they are not in the same shot. Rey’s face is lit by either a sunrise or sunset due to the angle. The lighting on Kylo’s is due to the fire going on around him. But it is a nice misdirect that might play out in the movie but not in that way. It also is a callback to the previous film where Kylo did offer to teach her. That closes out the trailer with John Williams’ great score playing behind it.

All in all it was a great trailer. I’m not someone who fears spoilers as I think if a story relies too much on spoilers, then it’s a bad story. I didn’t feel like I saw too much and in fact I’m more intrigued. There looks to be a lot going on. The main plot is obviously going to be about Rey/Kylo with Luke and Snoke as their mentors. But what exactly is The First Order planning on doing in this movie? We know that Finn is going undercover to put a halt to their plans. There are still actors we have yet to see like Benecio del Toro and Laura Dern. As much as we claim to know, there is a lot more than we actually do.

Is J.J. Abrams The Right Choice for Episode IX?

So after another director shakeup for Star Wars directors, J.J. Abrams is directing Episode IX. He previously directed The Force Awakens and was heavily involved in The Last Jedi as a producer. So it was an easy choice to make when came to him jumping back on board. It was also the safe choice.

I do slightly agree that The Force Awakens played as something of the greatest hits of Star Wars. Some people would have you believe that the movie was a complete rehash of A New Hope. I do not fall into that camp as there was enough new to help smooth out the treading of old ground. Also all the blame cannot be put on Abrams for that as that huge was multiple hands playing a factor.

I do think fresh blood would have been best for the project. New ways of thinking always brings out something new in projects. Of course the director would still have to answer to Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm. It’s like any job where you can bring your ideas to the table but you’ll still have to do it within the confines of whoever’s in charge. With all the director shake ups lately, it is easy to blame Kennedy for being the problem but who really knows?

A benefit of Abrams finishing what he started is that things are very much different from when he started. The Force Awakens was a rushed product with numerous script changes. Episode IX is not supposed to start filming until mid 2018 and Disney pushed the release date back to December 2019. That gives Abrams enough time to work and develop the script with Chris Terrio and hopefully not deliver a rehash of Return of the Jedi like everyone fears. I am someone who does not have these fears as I think Abrams is very much aware of the criticisms that faced him with his first Star Wars outing.

Though I am a little apprehensive about Abrams returning as like I previously stated, it is far from the worst choice. Lately I have been trying to approach things with a more open mind and be more positive. All the previously released Star Wars films, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, both had issues but turned out to be solid films. I believe Abrams will deliver a solid final outing for the trilogy that he started.

Should Rian Johnson Return for Episode IX?

First and foremost, I love Rian Johnson’s films. Brick and Looper are some of my favorite movies I have ever seen. He directed some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad. So when he was announced as the director of The Last Jedi, I was ecstatic. I don’t have this bias against J.J. Abrams like some people do but I was glad he was not going to direct any other films post The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson has a certain grit to his films that could bring something new and needed to the Star Wars franchise. So when Colin Trevorrow was announced as not directing Episode IX, many people hope Rian Johnson steps in to direct. I do not.

One of the best things that I liked about the original trilogy and something that was lacking from the prequels was the lack of different directors. Sure George Lucas ultimately had final say over the sequels to A New Hope but there were still other people there so it’s not like he had total control. Of course with the prequels, Lucas had no one to answer to or even go to for checks and balances and those films ultimately suffered. So when Disney bought the rights and they announced different directors for each film, people were happy as variety does keep things fresh.

As of this writing, The Last Jedi is 99 days away from being released. No one outside of Disney and Lucasfilm knows how the film actually is. As far we know, it could be the greatest thing ever or a huge dumpster fire of a film. Since I do have faith in Johnson to make a competent film, I am not worried about the quality of the film. It was filmed early last year and has been worked on for over a year and by the time it comes out, it will have been worked on for about a year and half. It is not a rushed film like The Force Awakens was.

But I still think Johnson should stay away from Episode IX. I think he would be able to deliver a quality film and work with some of the issues going into the film especially since he worked on the previous entry in the franchise. But I like directors to be fresh and in the right state of mind. On Twitter, Johnson has been candid about being open to returning to the directing helm and of course he would. He wouldn’t bad mouth the franchise especially before his film comes out. If he skipped a film and came on to the next one, I think that would be a better move as he would be refreshed. I can’t imagine working on a Star Wars film under the Disney banner.

It is an interesting time in the Star Wars franchise. Since this new incarnation of Lucasfilm under Disney is still relatively in its infancy, there are going to be some stumbles. This whole director stuff seems to be things trying to figure itself out. If Johnson returns for Episode IX, I’ll be disappointed but I won’t be upset. If he chooses not to and another person steps in, I hope they do a good job on finishing the trilogy. Now who in Hollywood is willing to step in to direct this film.

 

Colin Trevorrow Leaves Episode IX

MV5BMTQ4Nzk5MjI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTM5Mjk3OA@@._V1_UY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_.jpgColin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World and Book of Henry, has officially left Star Wars Episode IX. I can’t say that I’m bummed out about the news since I’m not a fan of any of the director’s works. Not saying that this could not have been a great film with him at the helm but it was the one I was least anticipating. This news comes at a time where directors cannot seem to stay on a Star Wars film. Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired three weeks before the untitled Han Solo movie was supposed to finish principal photography. Gareth Edwards, though credited as director of Rogue One, was not involved in the heavy reshoots that the film underwent.

I can’t say that I’m really going to blame Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, for this. Being hired to direct a Star Wars film is not something you should go in expecting to direct an auteur type of film. This is a billion dollar franchise and so there are going to be a lot of eyes on it and that means it is ultimately at the heed of its owners. They fund the project and so what they want is what goes. I know it’s “cool” to be against big studios and all that but that’s just the base about it.

The news came out that it was “creative differences” and I tend to believe that. Since there isn’t much to go off and the film is so far off, I tend to believe it. The film has a lot going on for it and maybe Trevorrow just wasn’t up for the task. Episode IX is wrapping up the current Star Wars trilogy, they have to deal with the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher, and who knows what repercussions from The Last Jedi the film will have to deal with. If a director who is also serving as a writer isn’t handling it up to the studio’s expectations, then maybe they should go. The film wasn’t supposed to start filming for a few months anyways. If it was in the middle of filming or close to ending filming, then I’d be worried. But this is just business as usual but since it’s a Star Wars movie, it’s under extra scrutiny.

Now the big question is…who will director Episode IX?