Black Panther – Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off its tenth year in style with its 18th film, Black Panther. The film brings brilliant directing, acting music and design to the forefront of this origin story of sorts for the MCU’s first black lead character.

Black Panther is set a week or so after Captain America: Civil War as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home after the death of his Father to be crowned King of Wakanda, only for his reign to be challenged by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). The film’s storyline, while good, is probably the weakest part of Black Panther as it doesn’t offer much that is new. It’s a ‘sins-of-the-father’ plot that we have seen before in the MCU especially in Iron Man 2, though this is executed better. While this film repeats the traditional hero with specific powers vs villain with very similar powers plot point, I would say that this is probably one of the best versions we have seen because of the time taken to develop the villain. Erik Stevens AKA Killmonger is the hero of his own story. While from our point of view he is the villain, the film sets him up with enough background and emotional development that he is a villain we like and understand. This is something that the MCU has struggled with in the past but not in Black Panther.

That isn’t where the character development stops in this film. Black Panther is full of strong, likeable and developed characters. From T’Challa struggling with his rise to power to his good friend and chief of security, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) who sees some of Wakanda downsides, everyone gets their chance to shine. The old saying goes that behind every great man there is a great woman, in Black Panther though there are many great women. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who acts as a Wakandan spy in the outside world. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the head of the Dora Milaje, a team of women who serve as the special forces of Wakanda. Shuri (Letitia Wright) T’Challa’s sister, Princess and tech-genius. Shuri is the Q to T’Challa’s Bond while also developing new technologies for the nation of Wakanda. We round out the main female cast with Ramonda (Angela Bassett) T’Challa and Shuri’s mother and the Queen of Wakanda. Also bringing fantastic characters to the table are M’Baku (Winston Duke) the leader of the Mountain Tribe, Zuri (Forest Whitaker) an elder spiritual leader in Wakanda and friend of the former King T’Chaka. Andy Serkis reprises and improves on his role from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ulysses Klaue and Martin Freeman returns as Agent Everett Ross.

Black Panther features a stunning setting in the Afro-Futuristic Wakanda a nation with incredible technology that is tied together with it’s spiritual roots that creates some stunning visuals. The design of the world of Wakanda is beautiful and my only issue is that we don’t see enough of it. I would return to Wakanda in a heart beat and judging by the Avengers: Infinity War trailer, it looks like we will, even for just a little bit. The costume design incorporates that same vibe of the future coupled with traditional African culture, so colourful and vibrant, it continues the MCU’s departure from the muted tones of its earlier entries. One of the biggest tools used to immerse the viewer in to the world of Wakanda is the music. The score by Ludwig Göransson is inspired by local musicians from Senegal and South Africa. It brings a feeling that the film is in touch with the culture it is portraying. It helped make Wakanda feel real.

Director Ryan Coogler has created an amazing world within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He and co-writer Joe Robert Cole brought the characters and story from the comics to life in a way that the MCU hasn’t done before. They were able to bring the idea of a secretly futuristic African nation and somehow still ground it in a bit of reality. Coogler brought out the very best from his actors to the point where you could say this film has some of the best and most developed characters in a single film in the MCU. I can’t praise his work on this film enough. Quick shout out to cinematographer, Rachel Morrison who helped bring this world to the screen and came up with some really nice shots including a inverted shot that turns 180 degrees!

Black Panther is a great film and just what we needed to get us excited for Avengers: Infinity War in just a few months. The film benefits from great acting, direction, writing and world-building. The sum of all this come to one of the best ‘solo’ MCU film.

Above Average

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Thor: Ragnarok – Review

Why wasn’t Thor in Civil War? That’s because he was dealing with his own problems searching for the Infinity Stones he saw in his weird dream in Avengers: Age of Ultron. His journey brought him to Muspelheim in front of Surtur in order to prevent Ragnarok, a prophecy that foretells the destruction of Asguard.

The movie opens brilliantly with the sort of jovial humour and full on action one comes to expect from Thor’s character (portrayed by Chris Hemsworth). Thor’s showdown with Surtur though is short lived and the God of Fire is defeated quickly. Because the film isn’t about him, it’s about Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death who returns from exile to rule Asgard and conquer more than just the nine realms.

Thor’s first confrontation with Hela sends him to Sakaar a world where those who are outcast and lost end up. It’s there he is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and drafted in to the gladiatorial games overseen by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). To win his freedom, he must confront Grandmaster’s champion, which as you’ve all seen in the trailer is Thor’s ‘friend from work’, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Add Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) in to the mix and you have your main cast in a movie full of characters from the previous Thor films and a few from other entries in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Chris Hemsworth was in his element in this film, he wanted this film to be different for Thor and working under Taika Waititi is exactly what he needed. His character kept much of the charisma and charm that made him one of the MCU’s most loved characters and added more comedy, depth and strength to the character. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has been through a lot and you can see that while still a trickster god, he has matured somewhat in to someone who cares. You can tell Cate Blanchett had a lot of fun portraying Hela, she hasn’t had much of a chance to play a character so completely evil and she pulls it off very well. She does seem to use many standard, ‘I’m an evil lady’ traits, (the standard; snake like movements, sexy walk, baring teeth, snarling, etc.) but it works for the Goddess of Death and Blanchett is great!

Tessa Thompson joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Valkyrie and she is a welcome addition. She is a tough Asgardian warrior who had faced Hela before. The fight against the evil goddess decimated her army and she is the sole survivor, she resides on Sakaar drinking, fighting and making a living for herself far away from Asgard. While they didn’t delve too much in to her character in Thor: Ragnarok, Valkyrie is set up enough that I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in Avengers: Infinity War and beyond.

I blame Transformers: The Last Knight for what I’m about to say next. I guess if there was one thing I didn’t enjoy about this film, it would be that I couldn’t take Anthony Hopkins seriously. His portrayal of Odin in Ragnarok is a far cry from the Odin we saw in Thor  and Thor: The Dark World. I feel that he was ready to say ‘dude’ at any moment. So thanks for that, Michael Bay.

Thor: Ragnarok is a beautiful looking movie and a nice departure from the first two Thor films who, while being colourful, still had a muted layer over the top. This film does not, and there is so much colour! The muted pallet that plagued many of the Marvel movies is hopefully gone for good. The VFX are really nice and some of the alien characters look fantastic – especially fan-favourite, Korg (voiced by Taika Waititi in a brilliant extended cameo).

Which brings me to the directing. Taika Waititi, who has brought us What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople was not many people’s choice to direct a mega-franchise film. What we did expect was good quality humour and we got it. What we didn’t expect were great action scenes and stunning visuals, but we got that too! The story was developed by the team that wrote Thor: The Dark World while the screenplay was written by the man responsible for many of the Marvel One-Shots from a few years ago, Eric Pearson. Throw his comedy writing with Waititi’s comedic direction and we were bound to be in for a treat!

Thor: Ragnarok tells a concise story that while involving other members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is largely its own thing. The film does its job of putting Thor in the place he needs to be for next year’s Avengers: Infinity War but is still free to tell a very Thor centric story. Which is what the MCU has done reasonably well in the last few years (Captain America: Civil War excepted), but I understand that some set-up is required for the big-banner Avengers films.

Thor returns to the MCU in this brilliant film that combines the extravagance of the previous Thor films and the gritty lived-in feel of Guardians of the Galaxy movies and expands the galactic part of the universe. Thor: Ragnarok is funny, colourful and action-packed and probably the best entry in the Thor series of films yet!

Thor: Ragnarok: Above Average

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – Review

The galaxy’s favourite A-holes return.

It’s been a few months since the Guardians of the Galaxy defeated Ronan the Accuser. Since then, they have been picking up jobs around the galaxy due to their notoriety from this feat. While the film opens with a flashback to 1980 where Ego (Kurt Russell) and Peter Quill’s mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock) are young and in love the main story kicks in with a fight between the Guardians against an inter-dimensional monster, the Abilisk for a client, known as the Sovereign.

During the fight Rocket Raccoon steals some important batteries which pisses of the Sovereign in the team being chased down. After a series of events resulting in the Milano being damaged, and then Peter meets his Dad – lovely.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 continues the colourful style of outer-space in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while making more of a point to develop each character and fostering some new relationships. While there is a lot of action akin to the first film, there does feel like there was more exposition in this film, which while important to the character progression, did slow down the story in some places. The visual effects tough, were again top notch.

Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill is so Chris Pratt-y that I don’t consider the role as acting all that much, but he brings it again and I can’t fault him on it. Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan’s performances as Gamora and Nebula played off each other quite well in the few scenes they had together, most of it was exposition, Nebula explaining to Gamora why she hates her and what happened to her etc. Look, it was good and effective and you really get why Nebula is so damaged but I couldn’t help but think, “How has this not come up before?”

Dave Bautista, now there’s a man that knows (and has admitted to) knowing very little about acting, but boy can James Gunn get it out of him. Some of Drax’s jokes were a little forced yes, but all in all he continued to be a good character. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) had some beautiful moments showing his softer side, and of course, everybody loves Baby Groot, who brought a lot of lighthearted comic relief to the already comedic film.

Other characters included; Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who had her own comedic parts, particularly with Drax. Yondu’s faithful First Mate, Kraglin played by James’s brother, Sean Gunn. As well as Taserface (Chris Sullivan), Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) and Sovereign leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) who all served their purposes as side-antagonists well.

Wow! Holy ensemble cast! To round it off; Michael Rooker, oh man. He’s just so cool as Yondu Udonta. We get more into his character in this one as the role he played of side antagonist in the first movie was taken by the Sovereign in this film. I wont go too much in to it but he was fantastic. Kurt Russell also did pretty well as Ego, Peter’s Father and living planet, but to be fair it was Kurt Russell playing Kurt Russell.

The soundtrack was good and fit in with the scenes well, most of the soundtrack finds it way in to the movie as diegetic sound, played from sources actually in the film, headphones, car speakers etc. The songs were good, maybe not quite as memorable as the original soundtrack but still good quality.

James Gunn shows his love of these characters in this film, it’s hard to imagine what the Guardians of the Galaxy would be like with out his loving hand. Whether good or bad, just before the film came out he announced that we would be returning to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 sometime after Avengers: Infinity War and the currently untitled, fourth Avengers film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2‘s main short fall was the unexpected hit Guardians of the Galaxy was. I think a lot of people have gone in wanting it to be better than the first film was. While I would say that it might not quite beat it predecessor, the important thing is that it’s different, it develops the characters we have grown to love and it furthers their story.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Above Average

History of Superheroes in Movies

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While there were superhero movies in the 1940s, 50s and 60s it wasn’t until the 1978 film Superman opened the door for comic books and their characters to be taken as serious movie ideas, but that faded over ten years until 1989’s Batman put them back on the map again. Unfortunately, with the exception of Batman Returns (1992) the popularity of superhero films declined again until 2000 when X-Men got it right.

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Since X-Men superhero movies have been on the up and up. Production companies started taking the concepts seriously again rather than trying to make it comical and camp (I’m looking at you Joel Schumacher). 2002 saw Spider-Man swing on to the silver screen and both the X-Men and Spider-Man films spawned major film franchises for Fox and Sony respectively. But we’ll get to the major production companies later. Fox continued it’s push with Daredevil (2003), X2 (2003), Elektra (2005) and Fantastic Four (2005) while Sony (Colombia) released Hellboy and Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Following the success of
these franchises DC and Warner Bros. took a different angle and rebooted the popular Batman franchise with Batman Begins (2005) which had a much darker tone to it than the Marvel films that were being released at the time. Superhero films cashed in on the success of the early 2000 hits for a few more years X-Men: The Last Stand and Superman Returns in 2006 and Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007 (which might I add were all franchise killers) but come 2008 something clicked in the minds of Marvel, DC, production companies and audiences… Superhero Movies could be better than exciting. They could be exhilarating the perfect escape for people young and old just like the comic books they were based on were for people years ago.

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2008 was a big year for Superheroes, with Marvel’s start of their Cinematic Universe (Actually owning the rights to these characters this time) Iron Man blasted on to the screen, reviving the dwindling superhero audiences and Robert Downey Jr.’s career at the same time. On top of that the reboot of the Hulk franchise with The Incredible Hulk re-established another character for something in the future. Iron Man would have been the walk-away hit of superhero films that year had the follow-up to Batman Begins not been released. The Dark Knight wowed audiences and box officenumbers proved that superhero movies were not just a sub-class of action films. They were their own genre. Mixing comedy and drama with action, visual effects and the characters people of all ages could enjoy. The superheroes were here.

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The late 2000s brought us a prequel to X-Men in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and a surprise cult classic with Watchmen. The start of the new decade brought in more of the independent heroes in to the spotlight, Kick-Ass and Super depict average joes standing up and answering the call against villainy and Iron Man 2 delved deeper in to the mystery behind S.H.I.E.L.D and why they were showing up in all these Marvel movies. 2011 was another big year for Marvel with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger setting up for the biggest superhero team up in film history. Fox released a re-invigoration of X-Men going back to the early days of Professor X in X-Men: First Class and DC unfortunately missed the mark with Green Lantern. Last year blew me away though with The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises three of the four big superhero movie powerhouses put everything they had in to these films and they were incredible.

The superhero film genre has risen over the last twenty or so years to become films that provide drama, comedy, explosions and an all round entertaining visit to the cinemas.

Captain America: The First Avenger – Review

In the midst of the Second World War, the Americans joined the efforts against the Nazi threat. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) attempts to join the U.S. Army to fight in the name of his father, who fought in WW1. Unfortunately, due to a list of medical conditions and his scrawny phisique, a topic of many jokes during the film, he is rejected. After five tries in five different cities, Rogers is given the chance to serve.

He is chosen for a super soldier program, headed by German Ex-Pat, Abraham Erskine and the father of Iron Man, Howard Stark. After the programs’ sucess and first result of Roger’s new abilities, he is put on the theatre circut to raise War Bonds. He is named Captain America and becomes a symbol of the American’s efforts against Germany.

Captain America is then sent to Europe to inspire the troops where he finally puts his abilites to good use… Rescuing his best friend and the rest of the 107th from the clutches of the evil super-soldier-gone-wrong, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Now seen as a hero of the U.S. Army, Captain America and his band of soldiers take out Red Skull’s remaining ‘HYDRA’ bases. The last base in the Alps is the headquarters of ‘HYDRA’ and the home of Red Skull and his ultimate weapon, derived from a tesseract that belonged to the god, Odin. Red Skull and Captain America fight each other as the fate of America’s largest cities and the world hang in the balance.

Captain America: The First Avenger is the third Marvel movie this year and the last one before the currently in-production, Avengers flick. The film sported good scenes with humour and action as well as the most obvious tie-ins to the Avengers franchise to date… The HYDRA superweapon is derived from Asgard technology, from Thor, while a major character in this film is Tony Stark’s father, as well as the usual cameo from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), foreshadowing the involvement in the Avengers, because the title, “The First Avenger” apparently isn’t enough.

I found the movie was good, however, I think I enjoyed X-Men: First Class more. I have been a fan of the Captain nythos since the 90’s cartoon, Spider-Man, where the events of WW2 are reserected and Red Skull and Captain America come out of a time-locked vortex and I found it interesting how they played around with his journey to the present in this story. Overall, Captain America: The First Avenger was very enjoyable and I cannot wait for The Avengers, next year.

Captain America: The First Avenger: Above Average