Bro-Reviews: Black Panther

A marvel for the culture.

Despite its near blemish-less resume, there are some who believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has grown a bit stale and complacent. With numerous sequels to already established properties and retreads when making new films featuring other popular Marvel Comics characters, some of those detractors aren’t necessarily wrong for wanting Disney’s Marvel Studios to be more flavorful than vanilla. However, when trailers dropped last summer for Black Panther, not only did Marvel seem to answer some of those critics, but also excited the already established fan-base and gained the intrigue of the uninitiated.  Months later, Black Panther has clawed its way into theaters as one of the most daring and original films the Marvel machine has ever released.

Black Panther takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, as the new king of the secret African nation Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), assumes the throne shortly after the assassination of his father and former king of Wakanda, T’Chaka (John Kani). While T’Challa struggles with feelings of uneasiness in taking over, some of Wakanda’s greatest resource, vibranium, has been stolen by the nation’s arch nemesis and his unknown associate, “Klaw” (Andy Serkis) and “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan). With the prospect of their treasured resource being used as weapons to harm others and the threat of dark secrets of Wakanda possibly being revealed, T’Challa must don the armor of the Black Panther to put a stop to these enemies and protect Wakanda.

Black Panther is without a doubt the most involved film the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever produced. While some have noticed the parallels of recent additions to the MCU, such as Doctor Strange and its similarities to Iron Man, Black Panther takes one of the most beloved black comic book characters and gives him the most original film Marvel has released in quite some time. The setting of Wakanda is realized in a way no other Marvel world has ever been before, as its vibrant colors and cultural personalities of each of the Wakandan tribes living there are on full display, making the world feel like a character in its own right. Much praise must be given to director Ryan Coogler, as the young director has graduated from small to medium budget independent and studio films to blockbuster level films with astronomical budgets with ease. The fact that Disney, a studio who has been marred by controversial interpretations of race over the years, allowed for a $200 million budget for a film with predominantly black actors and filmmakers to express their artistic capabilities with one of the studio’s most prized money makers and didn’t meddle with the production is astounding, and the results are nothing short of revolutionary.

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther”.

Black Panther also weaves a complex plot unlike any blockbuster, let alone a Marvel film, before. So often blockbusters are only popcorn flicks, where the mindset is to turn your brain off, watch things blow-up on screen, and have a good time without thinking too much. Not only does Black Panther provide such thrills, but it also highlights key social issues that continue to plague the world today. Important social commentary on the subjects of racism, colonialism, and nationalism are present throughout, and the storytellers do not shy away from them. This makes Black Panther even more incredible and groundbreaking not only in the MCU, but for Hollywood blockbusters as well, proving filmmakers can not only put their cultural stamp on a big-budgeted film, but can also emphasize important historical subject matters as well.

The main benefactor from the aforementioned themes is the film’s main villain “Killmonger”, played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan and Coogler have created magic in the past as collaborators in Fruitvale Station and Creed, and it continues in Black Panther. “Killmonger” is a villain the audience not only understands, but can empathize with on many levels. His arch and motives incorporate the social issues highlighted earlier, and while understandable, also makes him a diabolical villain. Make no mistake about it, Jordan breaks ground as the villain, the best the MCU has ever created, and trumps even the great Andy Serkis in the film.

Somehow, this makes Boseman’s somewhat stoic T’Challa one of the less interesting characters in the film, but we as an audience understand his plight as a king not only wanting to protect his nation, but also atone for its previous sins. Black Panther also features the strongest female characters in the MCU, most notably from Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. It’s refreshing to see such strong female characters on screen, and the fact the film highlights them as Wakanda’s warriors and protectors is daring and pays huge dividends. The rest of the ensemble cast, rounded out by Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke, and Angela Basset, also acquit themselves well in the film, as each character shines in their own way.

Black Panther matters. It proves predominantly black filmmakers and actors can not only make a movie oozing with black culture competently, but also in a groundbreaking fashion. It’s still jaw-dropping Disney in no way, shape, or form interfered with the production of the film and allowed the artists to fully realize their artistic ambitions, and the result is not just a beautiful and thrilling game-changing addition to the MCU, but for Hollywood blockbusters as well. If this glowing review along with the many others Black Panther has garnered results in huge box-office receipts, more films such as Black Panther should be on the way.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Basset, John Kani, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is in theaters February 16th.

 

 

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Bro-Reviews: War for the Planet of the Apes

Ape-ocalypse Now.

Planet of the Apes is one of the last remnants of classic Hollywood still alive today. Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, a release of a Planet of the Apes movie was an event, as moviegoers flocked to see an epic sci-fi story of an alternative universe where apes ruled planet earth. 2001 saw a re-make of the film, directed by Tim Burton and starring Mark Wahlberg. That version was savaged by critics and fans alike, leading to the cancellation of any future sequels. 2011 saw a revival of the franchise in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a thrilling new take on what was essentially a re-boot of the classic franchise. While many praised its sequel released in 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I found myself disappointed in the film. Due to Dawn’s critical acclaim and financial success, however, the epic and final chapter of Caesar and his primates has arrived in the form of War for the Planet of the Apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes seeking refuge away from humans, who still blame the apes for the Simian Flu outbreak and for the current state of the world no thanks to the actions of Koba two years earlier in Dawn. The particular humans they are at war with are a clan known as Alpha-Omega, led by the ruthless and seemingly apathetic Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After Alpha-Omega attack Caesar and his tribe in their refuge in the woods, Caesar goes on a vengeful mission to kill the Colonel and end the war between apes and humans once and for all.

If there were ever a time to praise a film for its ability to create a big-budgeted blockbuster while avoiding the typical tropes of such blockbusters, this would be the time. War for the Planet of the Apes is able to be an engrossing, emotional film with minimal dialogue, as it substitutes dialogue for some of the best reaction shot acting ever captured on film. The film relies upon these reactions to pull the emotions out of the audience, and War leaves you feeling every single emotion there is throughout during its near two-and-a-half-hour run-time. At the same time, the film also delivers on its title, as the action/ war sequences are nothing short of thrilling, leaving you on the edge of your seat.

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“War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Within the confines of the film is also emotional complexity that you not only do not see in summer movies, but do not even see in some movies period. We feel Caesar’s plight and wanting to be left alone, yet completely side with him once he decides to go after the Colonel. We laugh at the quirkiness of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) yet empathize with him since he too has experienced pain and suffering that has led him to becoming a hermit. The tenderness of the relationship between Maurice (Karn Kornoval) Nova (Amiah Miller) is nothing short of sweet and tear-jerking, representing one of the best parent child relationships we’ve seen on film in quite some time. Even though the film wants us to root against our very kind thanks to Woody Harrelson’s harrowing performance as the Colonel, we understand his motivations and the decisions he makes in order to protect the human race. It’s emotional depth, investment, and complexity like this that sets War for the Planet of the Apes above and beyond the rest of the pack.

The motion capture technology used in the film is nothing short of extraordinary, as the apes look more realistic than ever in this epic final chapter. This technology, however, wouldn’t be anything without the casting of such tremendous actors who are able to capture the spirit and likeness of actual primates. They are of course led by the great Andy Serkis, who continues to exploit his niche of motion capture acting and delivers yet another showstopping performance as Caesar. It’s times such as these where I believe the Academy of Arts and Sciences should seriously consider motion capture actors for acting awards, as Andy Serkis’ performance of the apes’ leader is not only deserving of recognition, but is the best acting performance you’ll see this summer.

The film also draws many parallels to slavery and the journey of Moses to the promised land, adding even more compound aspects to a film that is being released during a time in which most audiences are looking for escapist entertainment. The Planet of the Apes films have always had some sort of uncomfortable comparison to racial tensions back in the late 1960s due to certain people’s reluctance to accept the Civil Rights Movement, but War also seems to be the most contemporary Planet of the Apes film to date. One can’t help but think of Donald Trump’s psychotic plans regarding the border of Mexico after the mere mention of the Alpha Omega clan building something in order to keep certain people out of there military camp, adding a composite nationalist mentality to the humans that is even more enhanced in the real world today.

In a summer filled with franchises that have well overstayed their welcome, War for the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular triumph. A film such as War should be praised immensely for having the courage of its convictions by not only having limited dialogue and packing an emotional punch, but also for delivering the type of explosive action we’ve come to expect summer blockbusters to provide. It’s an ambitious film that dares to defy the action and drama genres all at once. Three films into the re-imagining of the franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes is the strongest Planet of the Apes film yet, and administers an enthralling and satisfying conclusion to Caesar’s saga.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.