Black Panther

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

“Black Panther” is a project that had been in the words for over 2 decades, beginning with Wesley Snipes, who went onto be in the “Blade” films; and by the time he could realize the film and bring it to fruition, he’d already been known as Blade for too long. “Black Panther” needed a new face. And we would never see that face until “Captain America: Civil War” when we first see Chadwick Boseman portray him. Black Panther was an interesting character, and it was inevitable that in the coming years, we’d get an origin film.

Now, “Black Panther” comes to the big screen in all his glory, and it’s a smashing achievement. Not only is Boseman a charismatic actor, but he has a stoic quality that’s necessary to pull the character off. Much of the film takes place in Africa and South Korea; but it begins in 1992 in Oakland, CA. It’s important that we see this prologue, because we’re introduced to a backstory of Wakanda, a secret African country “hidden in plain sight”–meaning that the country exists in the natural world, but only as a third world country. In reality, Wakanda is home to a resource known as vibranium, that came from a meteorite. It can basically do anything–it can heal, it can destroy, it can even turn you into a superhero. Wakanda sends out undercover agents throughout the world, and the King of Wakanda, T’Chaka, sends his brother N’Jobu to America. N’Jobu winds up being involved with an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, with no CGI capture this time), and T’Chaka believes this to be a betrayal as he helped Klaue steal vibranium as weaponry. N’Jobu is killed, but not before having a son named Erik. This, of course, will play a big part in the film’s climax.

But before all that, we’re reminded that T’Chaka is killed in the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, and this paves the way for his son, T’Challa (Boseman) to take the throne as King of Wakanda, also making him the new Black Panther (the vibranium superhero). Klaue is still out there, trying to expose vibranium to the world by stealing other artifacts. His right hand man, a now grown Erik (Michael B. Jordan), continues to help him. T’Challa follows Klaue to Busan, South Korea, when he finds out that he’s going to sell the artifact and spread vibranium for his own personal gain. There we’re re-introduced to Agent Ross (Martin Freeman), who also was in “Civil War”. You can’t go one Marvel movie without some cross-pollination injected somewhere. Ross turns out to be an ally for T’Challa, but is mortally wounded while trying to save his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) winds up helping Ross recover back at Wakanda, since she has all the technology and is a bit of a scientist there.

Wakanda as a secret superpower nation doesn’t set well with Klaue, who cynically wants to expose the country for what it is. But instead of altruistic purposes, he wants to exploit the weaponry. This is used as a MacGuffin of sorts. Wakanda as a nation has much to offer the world, but they have always been shrouded in secrecy to protect its people. There are 5 tribes, 4 of which are loyal to the throne. The 5th, the Jabari, self-exile to the mountains. But their “king”, M’Baku, tries to take the Wakanda throne by challenging T’Challa in combat when he’s initially crowned. This ritual is also revisited when we see Erik again, who returns to Wakanda late in the 2nd act.

The film is bursting with bright color and animation, depicting a lovely world like Wakanda with a sense of wonder. We understand the sentiment that Wakanda’s majesty should be shared with the world, like the vast technological advancements and all of the positives that make it so great. But T’Challa is conflicted because of the tradition of keeping Wakanda under wraps. One of his friends, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), wants to break from this as well. We can sympathize.

As a whole, the film has some breathtaking action, some big laughs, all manufactured from Marvel’s best and most enjoyable films. It’s formulaic and predictable, but that’s become part of the MCU charm. The film holds up as well as any of the best, like “Spiderman: Homecoming”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and “The Avengers”. It doesn’t ever lag, even running over 2 hours, and always has enough going on to keep you entertained. The performances are very good; but, of course, they all fall within the standard comic book movie personality vortex. But there is also a nice message about sharing power for the greater good of mankind; the ending leaves us with a sense of hope that “doing good” can be something that makes this a better world. Corny, sure; but it’s presented as credible enough to take it in with good vibes, rather than negative cynicism.

My rating:  :D

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

December 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Movies

“Rebellions are built on hope”. That’s what “Rogue One”, or Episode 3.5, of the “Star Wars” film franchise, bases its story on. The rebellion, the Rebel Alliance, what we come to root for in the most recognizable of the films, “A New Hope”–or as it was originally called, “Star Wars”. But the Alliance isn’t as positively reinforced as it was in “A New Hope”. Here, the rebellion can get ugly, and lines can be crossed. This is a gritty depiction of the rebellion, but to me it makes it all the more interesting.

The writing of the film could have made that a strength, that you didn’t know who were the good guys and who were the bad guys within the Alliance; instead, it’s more of a backdrop. We’re introduced to a small family at first, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) and his wife, and their little daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones). Erso looks to be a farmer on a desolate planet, but the Galactic Empire comes calling, led by snooty looking Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), whose name could not have served any other office. He certainly wouldn’t have made a good Galactic jester.

Erso had been developing something for the Empire which he no longer wished to be a part of, but Krennic won’t leave without him, and Erso has no choice but to go. His wife is killed and his daughter is left behind in safe keeping by a rebel leader named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Jyn grows up to be a laborer, her identity presumably hidden from Galactic forces for unknown reasons. Her anonymity brings her a life of concentration camps and lodging with a slimy alien roommate. But it doesn’t take long for her to be thrust into the Rebel Alliance.

She is told by the Alliance that they need to see Gerrera, who seems to have defected from the main Alliance himself. But it appears that they have deadlier plans for him, and for Galen Erso, who is still a reluctant scientist aiding the Empire with finishing the weapon. Oh, want to take a guess at what that weapon is? It’s nothing big. Not like it’s referenced anywhere else in the series or anything.

Well, Jyn feels doublecrossed when she learns the plan of the Rebellion–but she knows something about the weapon that could spare her father’s life. He built a designed weakness, and left a holographic message that details said weakness. They come to find out that there are plans that can be retrieved–that should sound familiar–and that becomes the mission of the Alliance.

If you couldn’t tell, the plot is a bit thick for an action picture. But in the “Star Wars” universe, I think we’ve come to expect a lot of intersecting storylines and characters. And believe me, you’ll need a pad and pen to be able to keep up with them all. This film has so much going on, it’s easy to get lost in all of it. But while you’re trying to figure out which planet they’re on and what the significance of that is, you’ll be immersed in a lot of battle scenes.

So much so, that this becomes more of a war film than a fun little “Star Wars” lark, such as “The Force Awakens”. This was directed by Gareth Edwards, who also made the 2014 “Godzilla” reboot. Much like that, there is a dour, brooding tone and look to the film that brings the mood down a bit. Its dreary cinematography can sometimes weigh down the film–but for some reason I liked that it wasn’t just your average plucky “Star Wars” film. There is a “gang” assorted, my favorite characters being Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a literally blind Force believer and his sidekick and caretaker Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and of course there’s a droid. This time, it’s K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), and it has to be the snarkiest droid in the series. I actually found it to be a little jarring, as if the cynical humor was a little out of touch and out of tone for the film. Some of his lines are good–too good. As if they should be coming from someone watching the film, not someone who’s in it. It’s too self-aware. But, the droid does turn out to be useful at least.

The film does have some amazing action sequences, and the space war and planetary war scenes are all exhilarating. You may feel yourself bogged down because of how much is going on, and how grim a lot of the film is; but overall, I found it to be a worthy entry into the series. In fact, I think the film served as a better primer for the rest of the series than all the prequels combined. We see exactly how much we need to in order to bring us into “A New Hope”, and we see enough of Darth Vader to know what kind of enemy to be prepared for.

We also see another familiar face–Grand Moff Tarkin (CGI Peter Cushing). It is amazing how they pulled this off, and sometimes it can be a little distracting because of how seamless they’re trying to make it, but I commend them on the effort. Most of the performances by living actors are good–Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, part of the Alliance, is probably the biggest throwaway. I know how good of an actor he is, but he seems a little stiff in this role because Cassian wasn’t written as thoroughly as he could have been. It’s a shame, because the climax of this film could have been more emotional had we known some of these characters more. They don’t carry the same weight as the characters do in the Episodic films, even the latest one.

But for all of its flaws and shortcomings, I still think this is a good film on its own. I like that it gives more breadth to the Force, since it is bereft of light sabres (except for Vader’s of course), and Jedi (who have all been slain or exiled at this point). Denying those things gives IV, V and VI more meaning when you revisit them after this film. It makes Luke all the more special of a character. And speaking of special, obviously almost none of these characters are referenced in the following episodes. It’s almost just as well. But I do think Jyn was a strong lead, and her band of rebels should be given a bit of credit. So for what it’s worth, that makes the film unique in its own way. It’s not exactly what you’re looking for in “Star Wars”, but it should suffice as a good enough film experience to be satisfying.

My rating: :-)