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.

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Marshall

Marshall (2017)

Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Honestly, this film didn’t need more than that to get me interested and it should have your attention, too. Boseman’s star is rising and he is no stranger to playing heroes, having already embodied sports great Jackie Robinson and Marvel superhero Black Panther.

Marshall follows an ambitious young Thurgood Marshall in the early stages of his career as a hotshot attorney representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Not knowing the history behind his rise to becoming a judge in the highest court in the land, I was hoping to get a history lesson along with some cinematic enjoyment, and to some extend I did. This story focuses on a single case in 1941, the rape of a wealthy white woman (Kate Hudson) by her black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown from This is Us). Marshall is brought in to assist the local counsel, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), but is denied the ability to speak in court by the judge and therefore must rely on Sam more than he intended. At the heart of Marshall is a strong reminder that fighting for civil rights has never been easy and that as a country we haven’t come as far as some might believe. It’s also a reminder that this is a fight the oppressed side cannot win on its own, but one in which it needs allies. It’s also not just Marshall and Spell that experience discrimination, but as he becomes further involved, Sam (a Jewish immigrant) too becomes the target of hate. Throughout the film Marshall is strong, intelligent, and respectful, even in his defiance. His unwavering fight for justice becomes something easy to root for, and his ability to lead and teach Sam bring about a change of character that is a real strength of the film. Perhaps it is somewhat a matter of my own perspective, but by the time the credits rolled, I was as invested in Friedman as I was Marshall and was inspired to take his words to heart myself

With regards to the Spell case, I am a bit concerned at the unfortunate timing of Marshall‘s release. Currently Hollywood is in a tailspin as sexual assault and abuse cases come bubbling to the surface. At a time when we should all be standing with women and acknowledging our trust in accusations they make, the case depicted here presumes the possibility of a woman who has lied about being raped. That being said, defending African-American men accused of rape was an enormous part of Thurgood Marshall’s career and was a huge problem for much of the 1900’s. Of the 455 men executed for rape between 1930 and 1972, 405 were African American, so it’s no surprise that Marshall would have had his hands full fighting for fair trials in this area.

The performances in Marshall are excellent across the board. Josh Gad stands out the most, bringing more than just his usual comedic tones to a role that requires nuance and has emotional weight. I came away incredibly impressed. Dan Stevens plays the prosecuting attorney perfectly, his smarmy and smug demeanor both captivating and enraging. And Chadwick Boseman is Chadwick Boseman. Folks, this man is going to be a superstar.

What I don’t understand is the film’s tone, or should I say tones. Director Reginald Hudlin seems to be all over the place. At time this does feel like a superhero origin story. There are brief moments of film noir and comedy, and then the sections where it appears to be a hard-boiled courtroom drama. The unevenness was distracting for me and it all can be summed up by an oddly included scene where Marshall is having lunch with Langston Hughes and they are joined by Zora Neal Hurston. For a moment I thought that I was watching Midnight in Paris. It’s a scene meant to show Marshall’s connection to other visionaries of his time, but in truth it just felt out of place and awkward. Perhaps expecting a true dramatic turn from a director best known for House Party, Boomerang, and The Ladies Man was unfair. Regardless, it was a major disappointment and I would have preferred a more documentary-like telling of Marshall’s accomplishments. Instead Marshall feels like something you could just as easily have watched on cable television and not a story that needed a theatrical telling.

“It all means nothing, unless you stand up for something.”
Verdict

Marshall feels incredibly relevant right now and in some ways it better evokes a conversation around race relations and civil rights than Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit did earlier this year. Strong performances from the lead cast and highlighting the importance of Sam Friedman were strengths of the film, while its tonal inconsistency and almost mythic framing of Thurgood Marshall were distracting at times. Marshall ended up not being the film that I wanted it to be, but it did serve as a solid introduction into the life of Thurgood Marshall and inspired me to learn more. For that alone, it is worth recommending and has to be considered a success.

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.