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.

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 15 – “The Honorable Ones” – A Story of Soldiers

“The Honorable Ones” is a fantastic episode. In this episode we see the extent of how evil the Galactic Empire is, the character of Zeb and that there is much more to Agent Kallus than meets the eye. He’s a favorite character on the show after this.

The episode was directed by Brad Rau and written by Kevin Hopps.

The story involves Zeb and Agent Kallus forced to work together when after fighting on a base they find themselves trapped on a Geonosian Moon with limited supplies and dangerous creatures with them.

The Pros: The Action – The action in this episode is amazing! From our crew facing off against Agent Kallus and his surprise attack on a supposed abandoned base, to Kallus and Zeb facing off against the creatures on the moon. The action is strong and immediately draws you in.

Genocide of Geonosis – One of the first things we learn is that there are no lifeforms on Geonosis and that there was something being built around the planet. Given that these were the folks who designed the Death Star, this was probably the Empire hiding Sidious’s ties to the Separatists and all of the plots from the Clone Wars. It is sad and brilliant…the Geonosians were a great species.

Agent Kallus – In this episode we learn that Kallus was just a grunt who became a hero simply for surviving and that he doesn’t view himself as a hero, as well as his regret of the massacre of Zeb’s people. It’s powerful as we see that besides his brothers in arms he has no one and is truly alone among the fleet so Zeb’s kindness is something so new to him that he finds himself longing for something he lost in the past wars…his community.

Zeb – Zeb shows himself to be a man of honor as he works with Kallus to create a signal that any side (Rebellion or Empire) could pick up. He listens to his enemy and relates him and even offers that his crew take him in. It’s powerful and we see how much Zeb has grown and healed from the wounds that Kallus helped make.

The Life of a Soldier – The life of are soldier is a huge motivator for both our characters as we learn it is the community that had in battle that drove them as well as the belief that they were protecting and fighting for a greater good.

Kallus’s Dilemma – Kallus is left with the dilemma of leaving the Empire as he has the resources to find out how the Empire destroyed Geonosis, but will he? He’s isolated and alone but he is also a creature of honor and duty. This alone may keep him with the Empire until the end.

This was a solidly great episode and is easily one of the best the show has released so far. Zeb is one of my favorite characters and after this Kallus is too. I’ve always liked him as a antagonist and in this we get to see where his motivation comes from and that he is more than just a Imperial stooge. I’m curious if he’s going to change and help the Rebels in the end, or if his duty and honor to the Empire will outweigh the rest.

10 / 10. This is the best of “Star Wars Rebels.”

Star Wars Rebels – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Droids in Distress” – Weapons of Genocide

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       This episode was great and shows that “Rebels” can take the 20 minute episode format and still tell amazing stories that advance character and plot without needing a television movie like they did with “Spark of Rebellion.” This episode had similar themes to “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as we learn what the Empire did to Garazeb, whose people where wiped out with these weapons when the Empire exterminated his world. But more on that later on. I was really impressed with this episode though and the themes and situations it covered.

     “Droids in Distress” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Greg Weisman, Anthony Daniels and Phil LaMarr.

     The story begins with the crew of Ghost running low on everything and knowing they need a job. When an oppurtunity comes around to steal a shipment for Cikatro, they decide to take the deal. Things get more complicated though as the Imperials come after them and the shipment is revealed to be the weapons that were used to destroy the Lasan.

The Pros: The Empire – This is an episode where you really feel the threat of the Empire and what they are capable of. The fact that Zeb is the last of his people is a big reason for that and that Agent Kallus defeats and nearly kills him in the final fight is as well. The Rebels are truly the underdogs even if they manage to scrape by small victories and sometimes get paid.

Kanan – Kanan makes some tough calls this episode as he decides to take the deal with the gangster since they are just that desperate for money, but when it falls through does the right thing and destroys the remaining guns and delivers the droids back to their master Bail Organa. He also starts to formally train Ezra after Ezra save Zeb using the force.

Hera – Hera is once again the one aware of everything going on. Zeb’s pain over the guns used to kill his people, the fact that they’ll have to sell Ghost if they can’t get a job soon and reminding Kanan of his responsibility to Ezra and that he needs to be trained. She’s the most aware person on the ship.

Sabine – Sabine has a lot of fun this episode. She gets to overload the rifles when R2-D2 suggests it and says it was the original plan (Why they were working with an Imperial Representative) and we see that she lives up to her Mandalorian heritage being one of the strongest fighters when the Imperial Walkers arrive to get the shipment.

R2-D2 – R2’s got sass and is also one of the most active members of the Rebellion as he is connecting them to Organa so Organa can better use them later against the Empire and provide them the much needed funding they need. He was going to destroy the rifles and is a very independent droid, much like in every “Star Wars” film.

C-3PO – C-3PO is the worry wart and calls Kallus to them as he thinks they’ve been kidnapped by the rebels. This leads to the fight with the guns and the stormtroopers shooting at him (stupidly). 3PO wasn’t any help at all this episode and was the but of every joke, but at least was a nice contrast to R2’s selflessness.

Bail Organa – Bail Organa gives the Rebels money for delivering him his droids and his shown to have a higher plan in mine as he asks R2 for everything he recorded while he was with the Empire and Rebels. It’s a great scene and we see how in the fight he is, which in a way shows Alderaan isn’t exactly an innocent player in the game of Imperial Resistance.

Agent Kallus – Kallus killed a Lasan Honor Guard for his weapon and defeats Zeb in combat when he fights using it. The fact that he has one and is so genocidally bent makes him more complicated than Zhao. Why would he use the weapon of the people he hates and views as lesser than himself? I get the idea he fears the Lasan and that’s why he has embraced their combat and probably how he helped destroy them when he gave the order.

Ezra – Ezra really wants to be a Jedi and the first half of the episode deals with that, while the other deals with his caring for Zeb after he hears what happens when Zeb kicks him out of his room and later on it is his fear for Zeb being killed that leads to him force pushing Kallus away from making the kill shot.

Zeb – Zeb’s story is that of tragedy. He is the last of the Lasan and in this episode meets the man who gave the order and was there killing his people. We see how understandably deep his anger and pain are as he joins Kallus in combat. After Ezra saves his life we see he has the beginning of respect for him.

Okay: Cikatro – He would have been humanized if he’d altered the deal and gave them some money. I’m still waiting for this guy to be more than just a classic gangster. He has a great design at least.

    This was an episode that articulated why the Rebels fight (the Empire commits genocide against all who resist), where Ghost fits into the bigger picture (the meeting with Senator Organa and it being secret) and character arcs as now Zeb will want to defeat Kallus even more.

Final Episode: 10 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Retrospect – The Losses That Drive Us

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“Avatar: The Last Airbender” had a great Book 1. There was only one episode that I considered weak was “The Great Divide.” The rest of the episodes were at the very least good even if there were some things that could have been explored more. What made Book 1 “Water,” so great were the characters and their arcs and the themes that certain episodes explored as well as the overarching theme of the Book.

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The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Track Team did a fantastic job with the soundtrack to the series of Book 1. From the ending theme, to the haunting sound whenever loss or death was faced or the drum beats during chase sequences…the music only ever added to the story.

The Animation – I really liked the animation for this show, it was one of the first things that drew me in as each character has a distinct style and the world is all the richer because of it. Bryan Konietzko and his team really did a great job on this series and Book 1 highlights this.

The Action – From the first fight with Zuko and Aang to the Siege of the North and all the smaller fights and duels inbetween. Every fight Zuko was in was one to see and seeing Katara become a Master Waterbender was great too as she continued to get the point of besting her enemies.

The Writing – The writing was amazing, this is a kids show and the characters were real as well as whether they were complex or static…the reasons behind what they did or believed were mostly explained. There was also so much showing rather than telling which made it so great.

The Characters – The characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are amazing and we see that all of them are complex in different ways or at the very least compelling on their own. Whether it’s the strength of Suki, the wisdom of Iroh or the pride of Zhao we see characters who may not change but who give us so much in how they interact with Team Avatar. This even goes for the minor characters as well like Jet, Chief Amook and Master Pakku as well.

The Character Arcs – The character arcs of Book 1 are powerful and mean something. So much of it is dealing with trauma and growing from the loss. Whether it’s Aang’s abandoning his role to embracing it over the course of the Book and his learning responsibility, Sokka learning compassion, Zuko learning to depend on more than anger and Katara learning humility. These are just some of the changes that happen in our characters and their arcs.

The Themes – There are quite a few themes that Book 1 covers, genocide in the destruction of the Air Nation, colonization Earth Nation’s relationship to Fire Nation cities upon their land, equality and justice and the fight for it in relationship to Kanna and Katara in regards to the Northern Water Tribe and countless others in regards to justice and war and what it means to be good. This themes go throughout the series but are introduced really strongly here.

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The Cons: Simplifying Cultures or Characters – “The Great Divide” was the worst at this which is why I used the image from it above, though the non-existent Northern Water Tribe politics and the existence of the character Hahn also fit this description. This was the only thing that really brought down this season.

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        The first season of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” ends strong and is solid all the way through. Throughout the drive from loss humanizes the characters as we see Aang deal with the loss of his people, Katara and Sokka with the loss of their mother and so much of their tribe and Zuko with the loss of his Nation. All of them are driven by these losses to try and write the wrongs as best they see fit, all the while striving towards good. They lose more in the process and all the while grow. The ending of Book 1 is one of the more tragic endings in any animated series and really captures what makes this series so great. Loss is never seen as something to be avoided when it is tackled and the important themes like genocide are at the forefront of the series and the First Book. If you like great animated shows, you won’t be disappointed by “Water.”

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with the weaker episodes.

Avatar: The Last Airbender Pilot – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 1 – “The Boy in the Iceberg” – Discovering the World

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We kick off our exploration of “The Avatar Universe,” with “Avatar: The Last Airbender” pilot, “The Boy in the Iceberg.” This episode really does get into serious issues by implication, which is part of what I love about this show. I’ll get into the particulars in the review, but genocide is in the title. Aang, is the Last Airbender, since all the rest have been killed off by the Fire Nation. You don’t to see kid’s shows explore issues like this, which brings a lot of depth to the story from the beginning.

I didn’t start watching this show until college, but when I did I never failed to be impressed. This is a major reason why I’m looking forward to reviewing the entire series, the comics and Korra and doing Character Profiles through this year of the different characters on the show, as there is so much to explore. This Universe is so rich with politics, philosophy, religion and characters that it would be a shame to not give it the full justice and exploration it deserves.

“The Boy in the Iceberg” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by ‎Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Peter Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg and Aaron Ehasz.

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The premise is that the Fire Nation has been conquering the world since the Avatar went missing 100 years ago. In current time Sokka and Katara are taking care of their tribe as their father and all the men have gone off to war to fight the Fire Nation. It is while they are hunting that they discover Aang, the Last Airbender, which attracts Prince Zuko to their people.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is fascinating! You have a world where certain individuals can control the elements, and the Avatar who can control all four. You have the empire of the Fire Nation who has decimated populations like the Southern Water Tribe and committed genocide on the Air Nomads and is a real ongoing threat. We see how advanced Fire Nation technology is compared to the Water Tribe and the fact that Aang, the Last Airbender and Avatar is just a kid, shows just how in over his he and the other characters will be in facing down the Empire that has been conquering the world for 100 years. The idea of people bending elements based off of Martial Arts styles is really cool too…as we see in the introduction, it was through fire bending that the Fire Nation conquered the world.

Katara – Katara is calm except when she is disrespected, which Sokka does throughout the episode. It is his being disrespectful that leads to her water bending Aang out of his hibernation in the ice. From here she is the one who sees something special about Aang, but also has the self respect to confront her fears of the Fire Nation (when her and Aang explore a Fire Nation ship that was abandoned during one of the invasions of the Southern Water Tribe) and she is the one who updates Aang on all that has happened since he was gone.

Aang – Aang is the Natuto personality type. He’s high energy and likes to have fun and joke around…since the first thing he wants to do is go sledding using penguins. You can tell why he was in the ice as well since he is the Last Airbender. He ran and I don’t think he’s made peace with that. He also has not made peace with the fact he’s the Avatar, which makes sense…that’s a lot of responsibility for a kid and he doesn’t feel ready to face it.

Appa – Is a Flying Sky Bison. The Bison has a great design and is a pretty chill creature that cares deeply about people.

Zuko – Zuko is introduced as our antagonist, trying to win the honor of his family by capturing the Avatar, when none of his ancestors could. He has a cool scar and great character design. Also, great voice acting by Dante Basco. His character is impatient and wants to have honor again no matter what. He’s a small man, but intriguing because of it as he is no older than Katara and Sokka.

Iroh – Iroh is Zuko’s Uncle and is the rock that is ignored. When Zuko is getting all wound up it is Iroh who mentions he should sleep and tries to help him become a better Fire Bender by using the meditation and martial arts aspect of bending so that Zuko can find calm and balance. He isn’t successful sadly and is the wise sage along for the ride at this point. He also loves tea as the first scene he is in he is playing a game and offers Zuko some Jasmine Tea. The wonderful Mako Iwamatsu does his voice.

Okay: The Southern Water Tribe – We don’t really get to know them. They have Inuit garb and culture is implied, but we don’t get to know what those beliefs are. They only appear briefly in the first episode and are such a small tribe.

The Cons: Sokka – The guy is mean to Aang and Katara throughout the entire episode. He was pretty insufferable so I didn’t mind at all that he was the but of every joke and got tormented.

The pilot was a great way to start off the series! I had thought Zuko held the Southern Water Tribe hostage in this episode, but it looks like that is next episode as this episode is just Zuko confirming that Aang is with the Southern Water Tribe before he acts. This is godo as it gives us a chance to get to know the characters of Zuko, Iroh, Aang, Katara and Sokka. The characters have always been the strongest part of the story and in this case you really get a feel for how fleshed out the world is too.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is because of how annoying Sokka is and how much more fleshed out I wish the Southern Water Tribe was.