Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Arrival (2016)

arrival

At the center of an Alien “Arrival” is a stunning performance by Amy Adams…

While director Denis Villeneuve (who did Prisoners and Sicario) does a great time of pacing and giving vivid visuals in his newest film, the one downside from Arrival is that it tends to be a tad too smart for its own good.

That is not to say the film is not worth checking out; quite the contrary. The story centers around the arrival of aliens in twelve locations around the world. We spend the majority of the time in location in Montana, where Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) has recruited Scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try to access the situation.

The center of the movie is Banks, played with power and grace only Amy Adams can give. Her character is suffering from a loss (which I will not ruin here) that gives her many flashbacks. Both Renner and Whitaker are good as well in their respected roles.

The visuals are masterful. Of course, when we think of a sci-fi movie, we think of great CGI (which is present here). However, I am talking more of the cinematography, done by Bradford Young (whose previous credits include Pawn Sacrifice, A Most Violent Year, and Selma). It is the visuals that will remind you mainly of other films such as Inception, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (which this is clearly aspiring to be) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (which is what every sci-fi film aspires to be).

I can’t really mention my qualms with the film without giving away key points, so I will not. All I will say is that, at the end of the film, I was thinking back and could point out a few interesting parts that did not make sense to me.

Parents, the PG-13 rating is just because of swearing. There is no violence or sexuality (despite one character asking another if they want to make a baby, but it ends at that). I only really remember one F bomb, and maybe a few other swears thrown in, but that is it. I would say middle school and up is ok.

What I like most about Arrival is its patience. It takes its time (something 2001 did so well). In most sci-fi films, we can come quickly to the aliens and not just stand back and drink in what we are witnessing as we get there. Once we do get there, the pay off is hopefully rewarding. Arrival is no exception. Like many great films, it is one that will require more than a few viewings.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****