Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

Get Out (2017): A Brilliant Horror Film That Tackles Racism and Privilege

    “Get Out” is one of my favorite horror movies at this point. This is a film that explores deeper ideas while still giving great moments of tension and horror in turn making it so much more. Whether it is racism, power and privilege, this film has a larger point but also does the tension and horror so well. Non-spoiler thoughts, you really should see this film. If you like horror films are even just smart films, check this one out.

  The film was written, directed and produced by Jordan Peele with the other producers being Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Sean McKittrick.

     The story involves Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) going up to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents in the suburbs. All is not as it appears to be though as the overly nice of the town underlays a dark secret as the only other African-Americans in the town give him hints of the mystery in their odd behavior.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Idea – The idea reminds me a lot of “The Stepford Wives” and as that film tacked feminism in critiquing the 1950’s housewife and showing the literal patriarchy in how the wives were constructed to be servants. This is done similar with how objectification of African-Americans. I’ll get into how with the reveal and the characters.

The Writing – The writing is smart and shows the dimension to our characters as well as the humor (which is mostly through Jeremy and Chris’s sarcasm). I always enjoyed Jordan Peele’s shorts which did a great job satirizing some segment of society or culture. This time he does it on a cinematic movie scale. Not many writers can tackle racism and privilege in a subtle way, but it is done here beautifully.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is fantastic and does a great job and raising the tension throughout the film. Michael Abels did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part as they are characters and not ideas, they would have become ideas to carry the message in a lesser writer’s hands.

Chris – Chris drives the story and is photographer trying to get into college. He’s clearly happy in the relationship with Rose but is smart as he notices when things are off and even tries to go (when he doesn’t know what is fully going on just that he is under threat). It is rewarding when he gets back at the family who was going to use his body for one of the older people in the town (which is why the town exists). Kaluuya does an amazing job.

Jeremy – Jeremy is the genre savvy friend who knows something is up the moment Chris goes to town as for him the warning was Rose not telling her family she had a black boyfriend and when Chris describes the town’s odd behavior, especially those of the African-Americans, he thinks they are being used as sex slaves. He’s wrong about the reasons they are acting weird but was right about how off the town was, and in the end he saves Chris. Jones is hilarious in this role as Jeremy is the character who provides the most comedy with his genre savvyness.

Rose – Rose is a great villain! Through most of the film she is the caring girlfriend who doesn’t justify her parents racist statements but things come to a head at the end where we learn she’s the lure who finds the people for the townspeople to use. She is a great threat and almost kills Chris. Williams has quite the acting range as we see her kindness as well as when she is the cold hunter, finding more targets.

The Family – The family is brilliantly creepy as they act like they are trying to help Chris while having a sick undercurrent. Whether it is her angry brother who says Chris could get strong like an animal thanks to his racial genes and the mother hypnotizes him and uses his own smoking addiction against him, and the father who is the collector and intellectual who clearly sees Chris as a thing the entire time.

The Reveal – The reveal is that the town is using people who come to the town (who Rose collects) for their bodies so the older members can live forever. The original host is nearly dead except for their brain stem (which the movie presents as them watching their body being controlled from a distance).

Objectification in Racism – The objectification starts with the family in how Chris is never really talked to, he is talked at (which plays into the privilege part) and extends to how the family and town talk about his body or people like him. It is brought to it’s fullest degree in the fact that Chris is only wanted for what he can give (his body) not the person he is. That is part of what makes racism, racism. Whether it is excoticizing his form or seeing him as something to be exploited. In the end he was only a thing to the town, not a person. He was wanted for his race not his personhood.

The Power of Privilege – Privilege is the assumption of power over another and this is the core of the terror in the film. The town assumes they have a right to Chris and any other black person they bring to the town. It is through their privilege that they believe they have the right over his body and the body of others and rationalization is their justification.

Okay: The Townspeople – The town could have been developed more. They do fall into the horror pitfall of being the toxic sweetness in how they treat Chris, but they are all part of the organization that wants to live forever. It would have been great to see their motivations and the reasons they want to live forever.

   Jordan Peele is truly a great writer and director. This was a film that Blumhouse produced and I’ve honestly never seen a good film from their studio, until this film. It is kind of sad how good horror movies are hard to find. They are generally made on the cheap, are exploitative, usually by their nature and rarely have a deeper point that is illustrated well. “Get Out” manages to avoid all of these pitfalls and in doing so is up there with the original “Halloween” as one of my favorite horror films of all time. Seriously, check this film out.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The townspeople could have been developed a bit more.