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

Creed

December 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Creed” is technically the seventh “Rocky” film, and it’s probably the best since the original “Rocky” in 1976. While “Rocky Balboa” was a great apology for “Rocky V”, “Creed” is a fresh start that begins a new legacy and starts to say good-bye to an old one.

The film opens up with Creed as a young boy, known as Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, who seems to be a magnet for fighting at the juvenile correctional facility he lives in. He’s taken in by the wife of Apollo Creed, who died in the mid-80’s and is not the mother of Donnie, as he was conceived by a woman Apollo was seeing on the side. Donnie (played by Michael B. Jordan as an adult) lives a decent life, and has a decent job, which he leaves as the boxing world beckons him, as his father’s shadow also haunts him.

Donnie doesn’t go by his last name Creed, he wants to establish himself as his own fighter and have his own name. He enlists Rocky Balboa (in a truly Oscar worthy performance by Stallone), who reluctantly agrees to train him, because he was such good friends with Donnie’s father. Donnie has to establish himself first, and has his first real professional fight which he wins. His real last name, however, is leaked, and Donnie is requested to fight a guy on his way out but still has something to prove. Ricky “Pretty” Conlan, a English fighter out of Liverpool (played by real life boxer Tony Bellew), is the one defending his title. Adonis must agree to change his last name to “Creed” in order to put himself on the ticket.

Of course, he accepts and of course there’s a big fight at the end. In the middle, we have a wonderful character study of Donnie maturing, but also finding himself close to Rocky and the friendship between the two is where the real strength of this film is. All of the training montages (because every “Rocky” movie must have one) are great, including my favorite that involves a group of rowdy bikers, and of course we are rooting heavily for Donnie to win his fight against Conlan. But he’s not the only one fighting something. Rocky is diagnosed with an early stage of cancer, and knowing what his deceased wife Adrian went through and lost her battle, he isn’t sure he wants to put the gloves on for that. Donnie makes him realize, however, there’s something to live for.

The other nice relationship is with Donnie’s neighbor, Bianca (well played by Tessa Thompson). She’s an up and coming musician (the music sounds much like trip hop, and reminded me of Massive Attack), and she seems to shut out most people, but she is interested in Donnie. The two of them have some sweet scenes together, and we very much feel like we’re seeing Rock and Adrian again–but these two do not go an ice rink and no turkeys are hurled into the snow.

The film is strong because writer/director Ryan Coogler wanted to make a “Rocky” picture personal to him, and he succeeds. The performance by Michael B. Jordan is also strong, and he makes an appealing character much like Stallone did with Rocky for all those years. We might yet see a new series of “Creed” pictures. I think the formula can sustain itself if the story and characters can continue to grow. It’s always a pleasure to see Stallone play a good role, and Rocky has always been my favorite.

There are nice homages to the series, including a brief cameo by Cuff and Link; and Donnie receives a pair of trunks in the style of his dad as a gift from an important person in his life that also wants him to have his own legacy. This film achieves what Donnie did, in doing just that.

My rating::-)