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.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – The “Star Wars” Mostly Works But Drags Though the Ending is Fantastic

rogue-one

     “Rogue One” is a good movie. It isn’t a great movie…not by a long shot as it has structurual problems and a lot of the characters don’t have arcs and this goes for the overall structure too. If you want an experience in the “Star Wars Universe” though, this is a good experience of that, and for what it’s worth it is better than “Return of the Jedi” but I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like that film and only finds it okay.

      The film was directed by Gareth Edwards, written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanual.

      The story involves the Rebels getting the plans for the Death Star as told through the eyes of the group that comes to be Rogue One, lead by the extremely rebellious Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), daughter of the man (Mads Mikklesen) who designs the Death Star under threat from his former friend Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Star Wars” in that galaxy a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…is one that I care about. I am a fan and not just of the Original Trilogy, I love KOTOR, the Thrawn Trilogy, The Clone Wars (3D and 2D) and Rebels. I grew up on the games that are no longer cannon and this is sci. fi. fantasy in it’s base form. This film captures so much of that as we really see the breadth and strength of the Empire and that is one thing that kept me in this film through it all.

The Cinematography – Gareth Edwards knows how to direct and this film is beautiful in the scenes that are shot, especially those of the Death Star and the Space Battles.

The Action – The action is the strongest part as the action has consequences. Characters die and like “The Empire Strikes Back,” we see the consequences of the Rebellion. This can’t be stated enough and knowing that the Rebellion is only going to suffer more in the coming film lends this film strength.

Grand Moff Tarkin as Character – The character of Tarkin is fantastic even if the CGI is really good video game CGI but not quite there CGI. I still enjoyed the things he did even if how he looked was a little distracting. They should have just got a look a like, they did in “Revenge of the Sith.” Beyond that though, his character is a wonderful snake who is using and disposing people to meet his final ends of holding his power and position and destroying the Rebellion. He is the greatest threat outside of Vader through the film.

Darth Vader – We got to Vader’s Palace on Mustafar! The fact that this is even a thing makes me happy as it fits, the “Dark Side” gains it’s power from pain and rage and that is where Vader lost everything so Krennic visiting him here (and getting strangled for trying to assume on Vader) gives us more to Vader’s mystique. He also kills a lot of the rebels and shows why he is one of the only 2 Sith in the Galaxy.

K-2SO – Alan Tudyk is wonderful as the cynical reprogrammed Imperial Droid and he is the only one of the “Rogue One” rebels with an arc. He goes from uncaring from someone who sacrifices for others. I really like how cynical he is and how nihilistic he is about everything. He is very Marvinesque (From “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”) and it works. It sucks the other cast members weren’t given an arc.

Getting the Plans – Getting the plans is really well done as we see Jyn and Cassian go undercover at the Imperial Intelligence homeworld to get the plans that Jyn’s father implanted in the system. It is really well done and it is this battle and heist that is easily the best part of the film. There is cost, consequences and action…it is a shame we couldn’t have gotten more of this earlier.

The Final – The rebels barely escape Vader with the plans and all of the Rogue One characters die. This is powerful and I like that for the first time since “Empire Strikes Back” the Empire felt like a threat. “Star Wars Rebels” is mostly miss on this issue sadly and most “Star Wars” lore is about the victories…but all that does is make the Empire look weak. This film did some work to change that with the final.

Okay: Rogue One Team – Bunch of guys from a Temple Guardians (a cynic and a blind man) to a rebel intelligence agent (Cassian) to K-2, an Imperial Pilot who joined the rebellion (Bodi) and Jyn. Outside of K-2 most of these folks are just there. They don’t get any arc and are just pulled along by the plot, which is sad as the idea of all of these characters was good, but none of it went anywhere.

The Ersos – The Father and Daughter relationship was supposed to be central but it wasn’t. Mads and Felicity did fine with what little they were given but we didn’t get anything on their relationship to the Empire or Krennic. They were pulled along by the plot rather than shaping the plot. This isn’t a con as it didn’t make me angry and it wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t good either.

Orso Krennic – This dude is just a pawn which for a guy who is the main villain was a waste. I cared about him more than Hux from “The Force Awakens” though as Krennic was fighting against a system that wanted to crush him. Hux was at the head of his game and was still winy.

The Cons: CGI Lore Characters – Leia and Tarkin look like video game characters. I get the look they were going for but it still looks not quite right. It worked in the story but it also took me out of the story. They should have just used look alikes.

Extremely Slow First Half – I felt like I was nodding off early on until the Death Star is finally used. This is due to characters not fully being developed and the film going way to slow. There were so many missed opportunities for character development and growth in the first hour that were never taken.

Character Arcs? – None of the “Rogue One” cast have character arcs…and they need them for us to fully feel their loss. Outside of K-2 I cared way more about Vader and Tarkin since I knew from from prior works…this film needed to develop the main cast and it failed to deliver.

   This was a film that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Star Wars. I enjoyed it even though I wouldn’t call it great, it isn’t “The Force Awakens” (a film with characters that had actual arcs and growth) but it is better than “Return of the Jedi” and easily my 4th favorite “Star Wars” film. There was the potential to do so much more, either making this a complete heist type film (an under appreciated genre) or make this an ensemble film. I wanted to love Bodi, I wanted to care about to Orsos…but I was never given the chance too. We didn’t get exploration of what they really desired and were fighting for and that went for the rest of “Rogue One” which makes the deaths matter not nearly as much as they should.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

Arrival (2016): A Great High Concept Sci. Fi. Film That Just Needed More Heart

arrival

   “Arrival” is a film I really enjoyed but could have been better and more. Non-spoiler thoughts up front…at times it drags and there just isn’t enough heart as there are two characters we don’t really get to know which gives the film the detached feeling of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I’d still recommend it though.

   The film was directed by Denis Velleneuve, written by Eric Heisserer and produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde while being based off the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

   The story involves linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) being called onto the scene of First Contact as strange alien pods have touched down all over the world and humanity is attempting to communicate before other countries decide to attack them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! Countries act with fear but also with openness too as their societies crumble from the masses unable to take first contact, but they go forward anyway. This universe is full of stakes that make the importance of first contact all the greater. The aliens also have a cool squid like design.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially in how it presents the inside of the UFOs and the outside as they float above different areas of the world. It keeps the mystery and suspense up just seeing them as the music plays. Bradford Young did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Johann Johannsson did a wonderful job of creating a soundtrack that reminded of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and with it power and mystery as the aliens aren’t so much a threat as a great unknown. The soundtrack captures this beautifully in how limited it is.

Louise – Amy Adams is the best part of the film as it is her relationship with her daughter and those in the future that help her solve the problem of first contact in the present. She is really cool and I liked how human she was. She was anxious and nervous but went forward anyway because she wanted to and she knew what was at stake. The only thing that felt tacked on was her romance with Ian.

Cyclical Time – In this time is cyclical and it is events in the future that prep Louise to solve the problems in the past. From General Chang telling her what they talked about that made him call off his attack on the aliens, to her daughter and her marriage to Ian. This changes her as she now perceives time as the aliens do.

Okay: Ian – Ian is just kind of there. Renner does a good job with him but he is mostly a support character and he isn’t given the chance to really make his own decisions outside of how they relate to Louise, so more could have been done with him.

Colonel Weber – Whitaker does a good job with what he’s given but Weber’s motivations are never fully explored. He is supportive and antagonistic at different points but we never get why. He just represents the U.S. governments reaction to the project at the end of the day.

Okay/Con: The Ending’s Length – The ending goes on way too long and could have just ended with Ian and Louise starting their romance and it would have been fine, instead we see the future with them talking about having a kid (who we know will die of cancer later). It could have been cut down and been the more powerful for it.

The Cons: Pacing – Segments of the film drag, especially after first contact is made and they are figuring out how to ask the aliens for their motivation. The switch from understanding one another from not is really quick too which made the pacing all strange and didn’t help the film.

Detachment – The film is a bit too detached at times. For example we don’t learn anything about Ian until the very end when his romance with Louise is a major part of the film. He is still great and is given chances to shine but we never really get his motivation at first beyond Scientist Stereotype (loves science to science!). I think if there had been more of a core and less detachment the script would have explored that better.

   This is a film well worth your time. I wouldn’t consider it in my Top 5 of 2016, but it is still a film I’d highly recommend. The detachment of the narrative didn’t change the fact that I cared about Amy Adams’s character and was rooting for first contact to be successful. In that way it as a successful “Twilight Zone” episode as even though it was detached I found myself still really enjoying the story, even if at times it dragged. I you are a fan of sci. fi. like I am, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.1 / 10