Episode 117: Ant-Man and the Wasp

This week we are covering the sequel to the 2015 hit, and one of Aaron’s favorite Marvel characters, Ant-Man. It’s got jokes, it’s got heart, and it’s got the word QUANTUM being used more than a few times. We also have a great conversation about the recently released documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:00:56

(Aaron & Patrick – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review – 0:18:50

The Connecting Point – 1:09:03


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What We Learned This Week: June 17-30

LESSON #1: PRODUCER KEVIN FEIGE KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING AND TALKING ABOUT— Marvel film producer czar Kevin Feige has been a busy man with the soundbites this summer, three of which I’ll feature this week.  Success has put him in a powerful place, but a man doesn’t get to that level without smarts and savvy.  First, I loved his sentiments on whether or not Marvel films should no longer be overlooked as Oscar contenders saying “I would much rather be in a room full of engaged fans.”  He knows that’s the true victory and how awards aren’t everything.  Second, he explained the new three-movies-per-year quota that Marvel is churning out, where he’s not sweating saturation and relishes the chance to expand on the multiple franchise that have been started.  His logic on the matter is solid.  Finally, he’s gained and earned wisdom through his work.  When he was asked about what the DCEU can do to improve their product, he respectfully pointed to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and called that the “paradigm by which we should all still follow.”  I love that use of “we” where he sees everyone striving for the same endearment.  Over and over, Kevin Feige is a guy who flat out “gets it.”  More studio heads should follow his mentality and steady patience.

LESSON #2: UNDER-PERFORMING MIGHT FINALLY HAVE CONSEQUENCES— I know I have long shouted from the soapbox that these blockbusters we see come and go are “too big to fail.”  They may not meet inflated financial expectations that studio execs shoot for on some wish list spreadsheet, but they always, always, always make money.  And because they never lose money, I never think a big studio is really going to dramatically change their ways.  We’ll see little course corrections, but never wholesale change.  As mentioned last time here on WWLTW, we’re teetering on that point with Warner Bros. on their third DCEU head with Walter Hamada bumping Geoff Johns after he replaced Zack Snyder.  That’s the DC mess.  I never fathomed big changes would happen at the juggernaut that is Disney controlling LucasFilm no matter the perception of backlash that makes little click bait headlines and social media rants, but it’s happening.  The spinoff Solo won’t really lose money, but its disappointing haul has slowed plans for more A Star Wars Story anthology films, which presses the pause button on upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett films.  Mistakes were made with that film and its marketing and timing, but the surprising derailment is real.  Add to that the likely “firing” or “stepping down” (pick one) of Kathleen Kennedy at LucasFilm and you have real changes afoot.  What looked untouchable and unstoppable is reeling in its own way.  By the way, Kevin Feige is not going to take over LucasFilm, so calm those heart palpitations.

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS MAY BE FAILING, BUT THEATER OWNERS STILL WANT YOUR BUSINESS— The caveat to that lesson title is that the theater owners want all of the business.  They don’t want to share the dimes you’re spending with with a middle-man service.  With MoviePass plugging more leaky holes in its business boat than it has dollar bills or hands, other companies want to fill that void.  Here comes AMC Theaters and their launch of their new “A-List” service.  Their pitch is up to three movies per week including any and all premium options including Dolby, IMAX, and 3D for $19.95/month.  No matter the provider or perks, price point is still the ultimate motivator.  $20 for as many as 12 premium movies a month sounds outstanding to me.  We’ll see if AMC can handle the financial gambles.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

2 Hours and 5 Minutes (PG-13)

Riding the summer movie coattails of Avengers: Infinity War, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Ant-Man And The Wasp. Our lovable insect-sized hero is back in the clutches of the law, struggling to learn how to balance being a father, a business owner and a superhero.

Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, the Robin Hood-esque burglar, 2 years after his Civil War appearance in Germany. Having stolen his suit to take part in the battle, Scott landed himself on house arrest; his actions also alienated both Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), unintentionally making them criminal conspirators. Having been the only person to go “sub-atomic” and survive, emotions are put aside when Dr. Pym and Hope insert themselves back into Scott’s life to extract any subconscious memories he has of his time in the Quantum Realm. Hope and Hank need Scott’s connection to the Quantum Realm in the hopes of saving Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, who disappeared there decades ago. Hope suits up as “The Wasp” and this duo is back together just in time to face an enemy more powerful than they’ve ever faced. Ghost (Hannah John-Kaman) is an accidental science experiment who molecular instability allows her to phase through objects, coming in handy when she steals Pym technology for her own means.

Peyton Reed returns to the director’s chair for this sequel, bringing with him the same comedic wit and pure joy that was present in the first film. My favorite thing about the Ant-Man films is that the stakes are relatively high, but they’re not nearly as dire as they are in most MCU movies, where it seems like the fate of the entire universe is always at stake. Scott’s adorably dense yet somehow qualified ex-con friends are back,  played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian, providing off-beat humor without drawing too much attention from the plot. Character growth was present in Hope and Scott, while we got a small glimpse into the past mistakes Dr. Pym made. At times the script felt like it was lacking in some stylistic ways, which could easily be explained by Edgar Wright not joining the team for this film; some of Rudd’s jokes seemed forced and unnatural, a few scenes seemed rushed without being able to fully play out their potential, etc. However, the fight/stunt scenes were well choreographed, the visual effects were blended seamlessly, and I’m still eager to see what Ant-Man and the Wasp get into next.

Once again, Reed has managed to somehow create a comic heist film but on a much larger scale, blending in elements of science fiction and physics, all while still adhering to the rules within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

PS: There are 2 post-credit scenes: the first, I was definitely not ready for but the second is completely useless and there’s no point in waiting for it.

Rating:


Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and freelance film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.

What We Learned This Week: June 3-9

LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM IS ONE OF THIS INDUSTRY’S LARGEST UNCHECKED PROBLEMS— What used to be little nit-picky pissing and moaning no more imposing than the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons is turning overly voluminous, hurtful, egregious, and flat-out unnecessary.  The latest ugly example came this week when months of harassing and abusive social media actions led Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Instagram.  Notice in the title of the lesson that I said “industry.”  This fanboy immaturity and hate isn’t exclusive to Star Wars fans.  This kind of abhorrent behavior fueled by internet troll courage lights up with comic book films, gaming culture, TV shows large and small, and many other sources far too often and far too loudly.  Let this school teacher tell you that all this bitching about fiction and entertainment is fruitless and unhealthy.  No piece of entertainment is worth any level of the hate and consequences leveled to Ms. Tran.  The support around her is positive but more must be done.  If you claim these pieces of pop culture are core influences of your formative character, then you don’t have a very good core and need help in the form of interpersonal relationships not rooted in fantasy.  I know its the few ruining it for the behaved majority, but turn off the screens, take off the cosplay, put away the toys, grow up, and go engage in real relationships.  At an industry level, accountability is needed, and I love this NBC News piece from Ani Bundell and this Forbes editorial from Scott Mendelson as highly recommended reads.  No matter how you cut it, this is bullying and it’s time to employ the “see something, say something” practices we tell school kids nowadays.  Help report and block improper behavior.

LESSON #2: EACH FILM STARRING WOMEN OR MADE BY WOMEN IS NOT REQUIRED TO ADVANCE FEMINISM— From one torch-bearing subject to another, I referenced a junket interview from the Ocean’s 8 press tour in my review of the film where the leading ladies are tired of answering questions large and small about gender roles.  They made Ocean’s 8 to have fun.  Let Ocean’s 8 be marvelous for what it is (namely a proper heist film) and not curved by who is in it and which chromosomes they have. When someone adds the marginalizing and labeling descriptors of “all-female,” “women-centered,” or, worse, “chick flick,” their narrow vision becomes part of the problem. That goes both ways. Not every film for or including women has to carry a torch and a battering ram for the #MeToo movement.  Let something fun be fun.  Furthermore, in a second interview piece and connecting to Lesson #1, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock also drew alarming comparison to the flaq the Ghostbusters reboot cast received two years ago.  The wave of hate for that film was off-the-charts higher than what Ocean‘s 8 is receiving, which shows the fickle hypocrisy of toxic fandom.

LESSON #3: THE RIGHT DOCUMENTARY CAN MAKE A FLASHIER DRAMATIZATION UNNECESSARY AND OBSOLETE— This one is more a prophecy than a lesson.  One of my many reactions and takeaways after watching (my full review) the incredibly detailed, moving, and impactful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that I, for one, absolutely do not need an upcoming movie biopic version of Fred Rogers’ life story.  There is tangible spirit and a magic watching the real personality of the late TV personality that comes out in Morgan Neville’s film that speaks rightly true and cannot be translated into a glitzy newfangled narrative using dramatic license.  I don’t care how wholesome and loved Tom Hanks is or how immensely talented his is as one of the finest actors walking the planet.  Even he cannot suspend disbelief to become Fred Rogers.  The genuine article is too singular, too unique, and, to borrow his favorite word, too special.  Fred’s central mission and message is strong enough on its own and demands full reality.  Flattering imitation, in my opinion and even cited in the documentary itself with recaps of impersonations done by Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, SCTV, and In Living Color, would take away shine from the gleaming legitimacy of what Fred Rogers stands for.  There is more value to both nostalgic audiences and neophyte discoverers of Fred Rogers to see his actual self in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? than the diluted Hollywood version to come.  Let a documentary become a summer blockbuster for a change.  Get some truth out there and see this film.

LESSON #4: A VENOM CHARACTER NOT IN THE CURRENT MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS NOT A REAL VENOM AT ALL— I was right there with you salivating at the idea of Tom Hardy playing a brawny Eddie Brock and his beastly alter-ego of Venom.  Throwing looks and Daily Bugle character history out the window, you couldn’t cast a more imposing threat for an emerging Tom Holland Spider-Man than Hardy.  The problem I’ve always seen has been timing.  Pulling off a Venom film is cart-before-the-horse too soon for a brand-new teenage Spider-Man. Now, the problem has increased to misalignment with the news that the Venom film will not be a recognized part of the MCU.  I know I just talked about toxic fanboy culture earlier in the column, but, I’m sorry, Venom is not Venom without Spider-Man.  What looked to already be an impatient cash grab by Sony to stay relevant with its Marvel character properties now looks to be an expensive and possibly pointless waste of resources entirely.

LESSON #5: YOU CAN’T WASH THE STINK OF MICHAEL BAY OFF THAT EASILY— Much like Venom in a way after its recent trailer surprises, I don’t care how good that Bumblebee trailer looked this past week (and yes, Mr. Ignore-All-Trailers over here did see it).  It’s going to take more than a decent teaser or two and a whole heap of deeper narrative work from Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight on the final product to improve this tainted franchise.  Hope is there with Knight’s reputation, but plenty of films, when manipulated correctly with marketing magic, have duped us before.  I will still preach tempered expectations for Bumblebee.  Michael Bay’s cinematic skunk spray is still all over this.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: RBG

RBG (2018)

1 Hour and 37 Minutes (PG)

“I dissent.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RBG begins with a camera tour of Washington landmarks, backed by classical music and hateful comments about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is a somewhat electrifying beginning and one that implies a fast-paced, exciting documentary, setting up what is sure to be a rebuttal of those opening comments. This scene, however, is a bit of an outlier as the filmmaking style generally used is much more bland, with the exception of one section that focuses on Ginsburg’s rise to pop culture icon. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it certainly doesn’t break any new ground in terms of how the story is being told.

Despite not being the most compelling documentary with regards to style, RBG’s story about the life of the tiny 85-year old Supreme Court Justice is fascinating. Before becoming the second-ever female justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked tirelessly as an attorney, making a name for herself in sex discrimination cases, famously saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren, is that they take their feet off our necks.” It’s only in her older age that Ginsburg reached a certain legendary status among the public, though, and it is incredibly interesting to learn how and why she became determined to fight for women’s rights as an attorney. Ultimately, Ginsburg reaches the Supreme Court and becomes known as “The Great Dissenter”. The documentary does an excellent job of showing how she maintained close friendships with conservative judges like Antonin Scalia despite vastly differing opinions and covers several of her higher profile cases, though sadly not with the level of detail most would like.

Outside of the courtroom, RBG introduces us to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a daughter, parent, grandmother, and wife. These more intimate sections of the film are extremely straightforward and exist to establish her character, as well as tell a touching love story between she and husband Marty. One granddaughter’s insight is extremely telling and defines the Justice Ginsburg we have come to know, telling us “She taught me that the way to win an argument is not to yell because that will more often turn people away rather than bring them to your table.” In being this calm, relentless source of dissent to those who would marginalize the rights of the minority for any reason, Ginsburg became an icon to a younger generation, even garnering the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.”, a play on the name famous rapper, Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G. The most entertaining part of this portion of the film is perhaps seeing Justice Ginsburg’s reaction to her fame, giggling in delight as humbled by the support as she was fierce behind a bench.

VERDICT

RBG provides biographical insight into both the personal life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lasting impact on the laws of this nation. Though nothing artistically interesting, the history lesson for those who know nothing (or little) of this great woman’s work is nonetheless a powerful and important one.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: April 1-7

LESSON #1: BUILDING A CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS HARD— With the impending arrival of Avengers: Infinity War marking a peak as the seventh film of the planned ten-film third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Patrick Shanley of The Hollywood Reporter asked the question “Can Anyone Besides Marvel Make a Cinematic Universe Work?” and it’s a good one.  We’ve seen Universal Pictures flop with its “Dark Universe” of movie monsters and Warner Bros. unable to find the same success with their DC Comics titles.  Franchises with sequels can be done (Transformers, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, etc.).  It’s the intertwining of standalone films and storylines that can exist on their own outside of the combinations that is key.  That requires developing more than one narrative and character.  Marvel did it right with by having patience with its unified vision.  Nothing was rushed.  The other attempts have not shown that level of patience.

LESSON #2: BELIEVE IN CINEMATIC GUILTY PLEASURES— The arrival of Pacific Rim: Uprising side-by-side with the nostalgic energy of Ready Player One calls to mind the idea of guilty pleasures.  Some movies are never going to win Oscars, but are just flat-out fun and garner repeat viewings for easy entertainment.  A fellow Chicago film critic buddy of mine always tries to assert that there are no such things as guilty pleasures.  If a film is good for someone to a pleasurable level, it must have some objective merit worth a higher rating without shame or the need to defend it.  I see his point, but I disagree.  I think it’s perfectly OK, realistically even-keeled if you will, to recognize the differences found between artistic integrity of a film and the fun value.  Honestly, we do the very same with the vice versa end of the highbrow other stuff.  For example, a film like Schindler’s List or any Terrence Malick film can easily be recognized for its artistic superiority and seriousness, but no one is going to Netlfix-and-Chill to a Holocaust film or an Emmanuel Lubezki slideshow of familial hate and trees.  If we’re going to put qualifiers on one end, why not the other?

LESSON #3: DON’T ALWAYS BELIVE FILM SNOBS— From guilty pleasures, we switch the gears to revered classics and faked bragging rights.  Film snobs exist in this world (I work amongst them constantly), but, let me tell you, the majority of them are full of sugar-honey-iced-tea.  First, they don’t admit to finding fun in those aforementioned guilty pleasures.  They were silly kids and teens once too, and I’ll put money on them geeking out to some adventure or playing princesses in a younger life.  They didn’t always watch French New Wave films on 35mm.  The second point of fakery stems from this Gizmodo article by James O’Malley presenting the top movies film snobs say they’ve seen but never actually have.  Those types of film snobs feel the need to rub our commoner noses with notions like “you’re not a true cinephile if you haven’t seen ____” or “you haven’t lived unless you’ve seen ___.”  If they are faking that, they deserve to be called out.  You have my permission to troll the hell out of these people with every meme of movie commercialism possible.

LESSON #4: AVOID PURVEYORS OF THE WORST CLICHES OF FILM REVIEW— Speaking of film snobs and piggybacking off of last week’s column, film critics are often guilty of hyperbole of their own.  Props to Feelin’ Film Facebook discussion group regular Jacob Neff for providing this Letterboxd list piece by Erik Bazjert on the worst frequently-used cliches in film reviews.  I adore this list and know too many film critics who fall for these and write with a pull-quote/pun methodology of little substance.  Worst of all, more often than not, these cliches are celebrated and even encouraged by every studio’s marketing departments to fill their posters, packaging, and signage with these overused and weak zingers.  Even if I never get to scratch off that bucket list item of having one of my reviews cited on a DVD/Blu-ray cover, I, for one, actively try to avoid every single one of these tired and ultimately meaningless expressions.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

Episode 098: Black Panther

Black Panther has arrived and Marvel’s latest film is shattering box office records and receiving plenty of praise in its first weekend. We’re joined by Emmanuel Noisette of Eman’s Movie Reviews to discuss the cultural importance and quality of entertainment that Ryan Coogler’s film brings.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:12

(Aaron – Hamilton: An American Musical)

Black Panther Review – 0:09:21

The Connecting Point – 1:30:15


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER (2018)

GOING IN

This is the most excited I’ve been for a Marvel film in several years. Black Panther looks to be set in a completely unique world that feels like an African Asgard. The importance of this superhero film for African Americans is significant, too, and cannot be dismissed. With a cast of incredible actors of color plus two of my favorite Tolkien-universe stars, and director Ryan Coogler whose never made anything less than an excellent film, expectations are high that this will be a comic book movie to remember. Plus, his superhero persona is a cat. I mean, c’mon… who doesn’t love cats?

2 Hours and 14 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

There’s nothing quite like that feeling when a highly hyped movie delivers the goods. It’s euphoric and can lead to long bouts of smiling the rest of the day. When that film is in a genre that has largely become stagnant and routine, a diamond emerging from the rough is an even bigger deal, and cause for great celebration. Those who have followed Ryan Coogler’s brief career thus far (Fruitvale Station, Creed) knew the young director had the chops to pull of a great Black Panther movie, and boy did he ever.

Early in the film, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) tells him “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” This little nugget of wisdom feels like foreshadowing because that is exactly what Coogler and this fantastic cast have done with Black Panther. Marvel movies make money and are highly enjoyable, so the formula thus far has worked just fine. But Coogler, who also co-wrote the film, has definitely elevated that formula and created something with so much more depth than the majority of comic book films. Fans are constantly clamoring for these films to be more than just jokes and great action, and to have some genuine stakes. Because of the more personal level of the conflict in Black Panther it has those necessary stakes, both for T’Challa as a king and the nation of Wakanda. Coogler’s film also tackles the reality of African American history while comparing that to an incredibly advanced civilization free from colonization and bondage. The subtle but strong way the story handles all of these topics is what makes it so special.

Well, that and the acting. Black Panther features a standout cast that just rocks it in almost every role. Andy Serkis steps out of the motion capture suit to play villain Ulysses Klaue and promptly steals every scene he is in. It’s a performance that is dripping with that exaggerated comic book style and I ate up every second he was on screen. Pairing with him in the villain role is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, who unsurprisingly is phenomenal. Goodness gracious can this guy act! I’ll be blunt – these two together are the best Marvel villains we’ve seen. In Killmonger, for once Marvel has given us a villain worth caring about, and the difference in personality and motivation between he and Klaue makes for superb entertainment. Other standouts are Danai Gurira as Okoye, as T’Challa’s Wakandan General and absolute bad-ass warrior. Her performance is fierce and she epitomizes the strength of Wakandan women who may live under a patriarchy, but are every bit as equal and valued as the men. I could go on and on, but the aforementioned Letitia Wright also was excellent. As T’Challa’s sister, she provides an interesting picture of someone who has grown up with the comfort and technology of a secret tribal country yet still has the sensibilities of a wide-eyed teenager. She gives the film plenty of its humor and is the primary vessel for us to learn about and fall in love with Wakandan vibranium tech (which is AWESOME).

The setting of Wakanda is a beautiful, at times breathtaking, fascinating sort of African Asgard. The filmmakers took great care to make each tribe look and feel unique. Everything about this world felt so vibrant and traditional, from the rituals to the manner of conversation. Much of the score features tribal music with beating drums that fit perfectly, but at times it also switches up to modern musical styles. This is best shown in one particular fight scene where the style of music alternated back and forth based on which character was shown in battle.

Black Panther is truly great, but it isn’t quite perfect. My two biggest complaints about the film are its CGI and a few of the narrative choices made during the climax that felt like shortcuts. The climax also felt a little long to me, but that’s a minor quibble. The CGI being wonky was a major problem in a genre that showcases its heroes using their abilities. Many times it was so bad that it took me out of the moment and lessened the intensity of the action sequence taking place. There are definitely great moments, many relating to the Panther’s kinetic reflecting suit, but overall it was still a letdown from a studio that should be acing that element.

VERDICT

Black Panther may not be king of the MCU, but it certainly is a worthy challenger for that mantle. The film’s deep themes and focus on developing characters makes it linger in your thoughts even after the high has passed. This is the first Marvel film in a long time that I immediately purchased tickets to see again. There are so many great lessons and they’re all contained in a beautifully unique wrapper unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Representation matters and Black Panther is certainly an important step forward in film, but it’s also just a damn good comic book movie and reminder of what the genre can be at its height. Wakanda Forever.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.