East Penn Press

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Movie Review: ‘Black Panther’ is no marvel

Thursday, March 1, 2018 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“Black Panther” has everything: great cast, fantastic computer-generated imagery, and distinctive and impressive production design.

“Black Panther” has everything, except one thing: a solid screenplay.

While the film has been hailed as the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) feature film directed by an African-American and with an African-American cast in lead roles, “Black Panther” is just another comic-book, violence-laden, science fiction superhero action film. “Black Panther” is no marvel.

I lost count at six or so the number of scenes of fighting. As I recall, I think the first one takes place in the fictional African nation of Wakanda when the new king, T’Challa, aka Black Panther (Chadwick Bosemen), is challenged to defend his throne in a mano a mano fight in a pool above a waterfall.

Another conflagration is in a casino in South Korea over the smuggling by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) of vibranium (think: uranium meets meldonium), which powers Wakanda and, for that matter, gives Black Panther his superpowers.

Klaue is extracted from a prison interrogation room after a huge explosion.

There’s a car chase right out of “Fast and Furious.”

Another mana a mano clash occurs between Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and King T’Challa (Boseman), again in the pond above the waterfall.

The final battle takes place on a savanah involving spears and, of all things, mechanical rhinos (think: mechanical bulls run wild).

“Black Panther” is a hybrid swords and sandals and science-fiction epic. It’s “Braveheart” (1995) meets “Gladiator” (2000) meets “Avatar” (2009).

The screenplay is co-written by Ryan Coogler, who directed the movie, and Joe Robert Cole (screenwriter, “Amber Lake,” 2011; TV’s “American Crime Story,” 2016), based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Black Panther first appeared in “Fantastic Four” No. 52 in July 1966).

The movie is hampered by a plethora of characters, some familiar from “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), but many Wakanda-based and given insufficient screentime. Of course, they are poised for MCU spinoffs.

Coogler, who directed the excellent “Fruitvale Station,” 2013, and “Creed,” 2015, makes the scenes in between the fights interesting, with riveting closeups of the main characters in the cinematography by Director of Photography Rachel Morrison (Director of Photography, “Fruitvale Station”; Oscar nominee, cinematography, “Mudbound,” 2017) that captures the main actors’ striking and beautiful faces. The movie has an extraordinary look thanks to battalions of artists (with no fewer than 25 special effects companies listed), Production Designer Hannah Beachler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”’ “Beyonce: Lemonade,” 2016) and Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter (“Malcolm X,” 1992; Oscar nominee, Costume Design, “Amistad”). Composer is Ludwig Göransson (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”). Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack.

The crisp, dignified and graceful “Wakandan” accents by the main characters are fascinating and set the film apart from the often trash-talking and quippy MCU characters. When African languages of Hausa, Igbo and Xhosa, or variants of them, are spoken, subtitles are displayed.

Boseman (“Marshall,” 2017; “Captain America: Civil War”; “Get On Up,” 2014; “42,” 2013) is another main reason why “Black Panther” holds together. Boseman is an extraordnary actor who combines enormous physical strength with subtle eye movements and facial nuances that are compelling.

Jordan (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”; TV’s “Parenthood,” 2010-11; “Friday Night Lights,” 2009-11; “The Wire,” 2002) has an equally-strong screen presence. Jordan’s ability to evoke trip-wire emotionalism is an effective counterpoint to Boseman’s mostly serene presence.

The supporting cast is stellar:

Lupita Nyong’o (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” 2017; “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” 2015; Oscar, supporting actress, “12 Years A Slave,” 2013) is Nakia, T’Challa’s former girlfriend;

Danai Gurira (TV’s “The Walking Dead,” 2012-18; “Treme,” 2010-11) is Okoye, general of the Dora Milaje, all-female special forces of Wakanda and T’Challa’s bodyguards;

Martin Freeman (“Captain America: Civil War”; “The Hobbit,” 2014, 2013, 2012; TV’s “Fargo,” 2014-15, “Sherlock,” 2010 -17) is Everett K. Ross, a CIA agent;

Daniel Kaluuya (Oscar nominee, “Get Out,” 2017) is W’Kabi, head of security for the Wakanda Border Tribe;

Letitia Wright (“Urban Hymn,” 2015; TV’s “Humans,” 2016) is Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and techie whiz;

Winston Duke (TV’s “Modern Family,” 2016) is M’Baku, leader of Wakanda’s Jabari Tribe;

Sterling K. Brown (“Marshall”; TV’s “This Is Us,” 2016-18) is N’Jobu, Killmonger’s father;

Angela Bassett (TV’s “American Horror Story,” 2013-16; Oscar nominee, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” 1993) is Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother;

Forest Whitaker (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” 2016; Oscar, actor, “The Last King Of Scotland,” 2007) is Zuri, a Wakanda spiritual leader, and

Florence Kasumba (“Captain America: Civil War”) is Ayo.

As MEGO (My Eyes Glazed Over) at the mayhem in 3-D (the format seen for this movie review), pitting black men and women against black men and women, I kept being reminded of the violence in war zones overseas, and on inner city streets and in the schools of America. I can’t condone it. And I won’t condone it. Nor will I exhault it. “Black Panther” has some bad vibes, dudes. I’m not diggin’ that good vibranium.

The movie is book-ended by contemporary scenes in Oakland, Calif., in an attempt to infuse the material with jive social relevance jargon.

Nonetheless, “Black Panther” never quite leaps beyond the pages of its comic-book origin.

“Black Panther,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture; Genre: Action, Adventure, Science-Fiction; Run time: 2 hrs., 14 mins.; Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The “Black Panther” title and main cast and crew credits in the language of “Wakandan” dissolve into English. End credits include a scene where T’Challa addresses a session of the United Nations. At the very end of the credits is a teaser scene for “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) with Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Stan Lee makes his MCU cameo in the casino scene. The movie was filmed at Pinewood Atlanta Studios, Fayetteville, Ga.; High Museum Of Art, Atlanta, Ga.; Busan, South Korea; Rwenzori Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, and iguazú Waterfalls, Misiones, Argentina.

Box Office, Feb. 23: “Black Panther” continued its reign at at No. 1 with $111.6 million, $403.6 million, two weeks, keeping “Game Night” opening way back at No. 2, with $17 million, one week, as “Peter Rabbit” hopped down one spot to No. 3, $12.7 million, $71.5 million, three weeks, and “Annihilation” opened at No. 4, with only $11 million.

5. “Fifty Shades Freed” dropped two slots, $7.1 million, $89.8 million, three weeks. 6. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” climbed down two spots, $5.6 million, $387.2 million, 10 weeks. 7. “The 15:17 To Paris” tracked down two stops, $3.5 million, $32.2 million, three weeks. 8. “The Greatest Showman” (one Oscar nomination: original song) swung down two rungs, $3.4 million, $160.7 million, 10 weeks. 9. “Every Day,” $3 million, opening. 10. “Early Man” loped down three places, $1.7 million, $6.8 million, two weeks.

Unreel, March 2:

“Red Sparrow,” R: Francis Lawrence directs Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Mary-Louise Parker, and Ciarán Hinds in the Mystery Thriller. Ballerina Dominika Egorova joins Sparrow School, a Russian spy organization.

“Death Wish,” R: Eli Roth directs Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, and Camila Morrone in the Action Thriller. A husband becomes a vigilante after his family is attacked by robbers in the remake of the 1974 movie that starred Charles Bronson.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes