Black Panther – A Review

Image result for black pantherRyan Coogler directs Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Michael B Jordan in Black Panther. Black Panther first made appearance in Marvel Cineverse with the Civil Wars and sees him return to the mythical African country of Wakanda to take to the throne after the death of its king T’Chaka.

 

Ryan Coogler has made quite an impact with his first two movies, Fruitvale Station and Creed, both movies pushing the boundaries with furthering the African-American representation in mainstream movies. Here again he teams up with his favoured actor Michael B Jordan. In Jordan, Coogler fleshes out Erik Killmonger in such a way that despite his villainous turn, the audience ends up being invested in him. Teaming with Black actors Coogler pulls off quite a stunning feat. The movie is lush and textured, it proudly embraces the African roots of T’Challa. The myths and motifs of African culture are in every scene. The battle scenes are choreographed to the tune of war drums, the subjects of Wakanda wear the most colourful garb and tribal jewellery. All actors wear their hair natural. The importance of this cannot be overstated. What Wonder Women did to represent the women as super hero, Black Panther does that for people of colour. There are only two white actors, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman and for once they are relegated to unimportant roles.

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Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa is regal, lithe and ferocious all qualities befitting the Black Panther. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, the daughter of the tribe leader and T’Challa’s love interest is determined, industrious and benevolent all qualities that make a perfect queen of Wakanda. Danai Gurira as Okoye the general of the Milaje – the all women royal guard, is the stand out star of the movie for me. She is fierce in every possible way. She is a fierce warrior and she is Sasha Fierce, she flits like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Her spear handling is just as deadly as her deadpan humour. If only we can get a spin-off series for Okoye all will be well with this world. Angela Bassett as Queen mother is phenomenal and Letitia Wright as the whiz-kid princess Shuri, T’Challa’s sister is to Black Panther what Q is to James Bond and then some. Michael B Jordan is the perfect Erik Killmonger. He has a heart-breaking back story and he manages to balance that with sheer evil. The scenes between him and Boseman evoke the sense of Lion King-esque déjà vu

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I went in hoping to be blown away by the music, the trailer promised that it would have a very urban contemporary, rap, hip-hop feel to it but the overall soundtrack pales in comparison to that used for the trailer. In parts the story loses steam, especially when setting up the origin story and there are elements that feel a bit repetitive, the multiple visits to ancestral land, the ritual combat sequences, the final combat between T’Challa and Killmonger. Also Forrest Whitaker is as over the top as you would expect him to be. But it is easily overcome with the battle over ground with Rhinos involved and Okoye kicking serious ass! The CGI, especially around the Black Panther suit is phenomenal.

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While not quite on the same story telling scale as Nolan’s Batman Trilogy Black Panther does manage to lend a sense of mythical epic in the marvel universe. The humour which is the hallmark of Marvel takes a back seat to a story with a heart, a heart that throbs to the drumbeats and tribal calls of Africa. A new king has indeed risen and his name is Ryan Coogler! Wakanda Forever!

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X-Men : Apocalypse – A Review

Bryan Singer directs Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and many others in the third instalment in the X-men reboot X-Men: Apocalypse. After basing the First Class in the 60s and the Days of Future Past in the 70s we are in the 80s now and the characters don’t seem to have aged a day since the fateful events of 10 years ago when Mystique/Raven played by Jennifer Lawrence changed the course of history by ending the Sentinel program of Bolivar Trask. This time around we are witness to events of 3600 BCE when En Sabah Nur ruled Egypt and is believed to be the first Mutant by Agent Moira MacTaggert of CIA. After lying entombed for several millennia he is accidentally awoken by Moira herself as she lets the rays of sun hit the PCB-Pyramid.

I have always vehemently defended the superiority of the X-men universe over their Marvel rivals The Avengers but I was massively disappointed by the almost cartoonish tone of the first half where Oscar Isaac who plays En Sabah Nur – or Apocalypse goes about recruiting a young Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. There are moments of brilliance when we are introduced to an incognito Magneto and the subsequent breakdown that is more Macbeth than Magneto but brilliant nonetheless. Michael Fassbender can do no wrong.

After what seemed like an eternity trying to establish character back stories the 2 line plot reaches its climax. Essentially it is Apocalypse trying to recruit mutants into fighting against the human race.

I love Olivia Munn and had high hopes of her being one of the four horsemen of apocalypse. But while she slayed as Sloane Sabbath in The Newsroom with quick wit and perfect timing in terms of dialogue delivery she is given no more than 2-3 lines. She does however wield the sword and the telekinetic “light sabre” and Lasso well. I believe this is not the last we have seen of her. Also disappointing is Alexandra Shipp as the young storm. Haley Berry was perfection as storm and to get that kind of iconic character so wrong is nothing short of criminal. Here’s hoping Shipp improves with future outings. I also feel a little cheated with how Wolverine was used – by teasing the fans with a glimpse of the adamantium claws in the trailer and what we end up getting is more stryker than wolverine. But stick around for the post-credit scenes and your disappointment will dissipate significantly when you see what is in store for the next instalment.

The high points are the introduction of Kodi-Smith McPhee as Nightcrawler who brings in the comic relief and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey the Telepathic Mutant played in the first three movies by the brilliant Famke Jansen. Jean Grey in my opinion is a criminally underused character so far and seems like Bryan Singer is about to set that straight. I am almost certain that the future instalments of this franchise are going to feature a more prominent role for Jean Grey. I say this because of the final words of Apocalypse. Evan Peters reprises his role as Quicksilver and is also a welcome comedic presence in an almost entirely grim outing.

For Fassbender, Turner and Smith Mchpee alone I would say that this is an easily watchable feature. Not the best in the series but certainly not the worst (that would be The Last Stand – which was effectively written off by Days of Future Past)

Avengers Age of Ultron – A Review

Joss Whedon directs the second chapter of the Marvel superhero multiverse in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremey Renner, and Scarlett Johansson return along with new stars like Elisabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader.

Because I hated the first Avengers move my expectations going into this were abysmally low and that is perhaps why I came off more impressed than I expected. While there are still plenty of gaping plot holes but there is a lot more done in terms of a worthy villain, a plausible catastrophe-in-waiting and in terms of character development with respect to the hulk and especially black widow and Hawkeye.

The gang is busting up some shady looking eastern European mobster who seems to be using Loki’s sceptre in some form of weapons development. After a scene reminiscent of Nolan’s Inception where blurry blobs fight other blurry blobs we are introduced to the Maximoff twins Wanda and Pietro Aka Scarlett witch and Quicksilver. RDJ aka Tony Stark is shown a vision of what future looks like which set off a series of events which will lead to the downfall of the avengers and the possible annihilation of the human race.

Recovering the Sceptre Stark goes about trying to uncover its secrets and sets in motion the Ultron project – where robot proxies of iron man will do the dirty work instead of the avengers having to go in and fight the good battle themselves. I find this to be a very interesting point of view where the heroes are weary of the burden of having to be the saviours of humanity. But what transpires splits the avengers with every single one of them turning against Stark as he sets of a rise of the machines, every AI-enthusiasts worst nightmare ( did you know that Elon Musk aka real-life Tony Stark has paid 10 million to stop AI from turning against humanity?)

The rogue AI-bot is voiced by James Spader and I have no shame in admitting that I giggle like a little school girl every time Spader speaks. And especially when Ultron tilts its head when speaking “down” to the Avengers you know IT IS James Spader. Through curious turn of events the voice of Jarvis – Paul Bettany comes to life as Vision and this is where the plot made no sense.

Skip ahead a paragraph if you dont wish for the movie’s surprise to be spoilt

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why would Ultron a Machine with the ability to traverse the internet try to create an android using human cells infused with Vibranium? And why not spend the time it takes to create this vision and transfer Ultron’s consciousness into the Vision be spent on creating more clones of the AI-bots to fight in Ultron’s army? Why are the marvel super-villains so patently stupid? Also once the plan to create a meteor like big-bang which would wipe out the entire human race is unveiled – how exactly does Ultron think he will be able to spawn and spread? I am guessing the big-bang would destroy the internet as well?

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The problem with marvel franchise is that it takes comic-book stories which were written in 80s and continues to push forward with the outlandish theories which make no sense in today’s world. A director of Whedon’s talent must find ways of bringing this forward into the 21st century. They rely on self-deprecating humour to overcome the inherent ridiculousness of the source material.

With Age of Ultron however they try to make inroads into the other neglected aspects of the storytelling, fleshing out the back stories of Black Widow via flashback and visions of what she fears and introducing to the secret side of Hawkeye’s domestic bliss and his out-of-place ness with the avengers in general. Also the romance between Bruce and Natasha is a welcome relief to the general Bayhem of NYC and Sokovia blowing up.

All in all this movie defies the curse of the sequel and ends up being the better movie in the avengers multiverse with the introduction of many many interesting characters and more importantly character development of existing ones.

Watch it for decent action, almost plausible end-of-world scenario and marvel’s coming of age. finally they don’t spend half the movie going into everyone’s back-story and get on with the task of saving the world

 

The Wolverine – A Review

James Mangold directs Hugh Jackman in his 6th outing as the Adamantium –clawed superhero in The Wolverine. This movie explores Logan’s time spent in the Second World War serving the American troops and being held captive in Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the happenings of the X-men Last stand Logan is distraught at the loss of Jean Gray and living in a jungle with grizzly bears. There is a red-haired Yukio played by Rila Fukushima who seems to be tracking Logan at the behest of Yashida, the soldier who Logan saved when the Americans dropped the atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yashida is dying and has requested that Logan return to bid farewell to the man whose life he once helped save. Logan is quickly pulled into the world of the Japanese mob the Yakuza and The black clan Ninjas.

The pacing of the first half of the movie is slow moody and melancholic with just one massive action sequence and it works to a great degree more than most super hero movies that try to meander into the origins/backstory territory. The stark cold landscapes of rural USA and the old world/ modern clash of present day japan are framed beautifully. The action sequence on the train is relentless and could have done with some editing. Hugh Jackman has said that this was the Wolverine movie he had always wanted, and with the first half of the story I would agree with him.  the second half with multiple unresolved storylines and the constant crossing and double crossing gets tiresome after a while.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is the best he has been as the titular character, a better suited person cannot be imagined to play the wolverine both physically and also physiologically. Jackman went from looking old and haggard in Les Mis last year to looking buff and all veiny in The wolverine and he looks as good as ever. Rila Fukushima as Yukio is also very very good with her mix of bad assery and a tongue in cheek humor. Tao Okamoto as Mariko the heir apparent to Yashida industries leaves a lot to be desired, she does vulnerable well but in other scenes she is too one dimensional to have any real impact or connection . Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Viper is either woefully underutilized or almost entirely unnecessary, when she plays the viper she has this femme fatale vibe that verges on comical but when she plays the doctor she carries a hint of danger that could have had more of an impact if she didn’t do the whole skin shedding act towards the final minutes.

The cinematography by Ross Emery is very good and it captures the contrasts of Japan perfectly.  The music by Marco Beltrami is pretty solid too mixing the drums and strings to evoke a very typically oriental experience while still managing to deliver a blockbuster worthy score which accompanies the adrenaline fueled action sequences.

The movie has been garnering mixed responses with most people complaining about not enough action in the movie and a lot of the samurai/Ronin references, my problem with the movie is a little different the samurai bits are the best in my opinion, had they taken the viper out and just had Khodchenkova play a evil doctor with no mutation it would have been more effective.  The Adamantium Silver Samurai towards the end seems like an afterthought whereas it is actually central to the theme of the movie, the action sequences are too long and the Yakuza angle seems to be a wasted opportunity.  Where the movie succeeds is in the contemplative nature of wolverine as he struggles to go back to being a soldier that he once was. The flashbacks of Famke Jansen as Jean Gray also work but they are maybe a little overused.

Overall I enjoyed this Wolverine movie a lot more than 2009 origins story, this is Jackman at his best playing the clawed mutant superhero.  I’ve always enjoyed the Marvels X-men universe more than the marvel’s Avengers universe and I seem to in the minority atleast when it comes to the movies. And once the credits roll please stay put and wait for 2 minute long teaser for X-men days of future past.  Trust me you will be surprised.

Iron Man 3 – A Review

Iron Man3 directed by Shane Black is supposed to setup the second phase of the avengers universe with Robert Downey Jr. donning the red and gold suit as the titular superhero and the PTSDed suffering Tony Stark.  The movie is set in the immediate future after the happening of Avengers where the entire city was New York was laid waste after the aliens and other-world gods descended and the Avengers united.

The movie sees Robert Downey Jr. spending an unhealthy amount of time staying awake as when he tries to sleep he fear the loss of “the one thing that he loves” Ms. Pepper Potts played by America’s most hated Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow .

The main villain is played by Ben Kingsley who fashions himself after Osama bin Laden with video hijacks posting threatening messages to the president of USA and multiple bomb explosions around the world with no apparent traces for the explosives at use. The opening scene with the botanist Rebecca Hall might lend some clues as to what is at play but that is left for later to be unraveled.  Ben Kingsley is wonderful in the most unexpected of ways.

We are introduced to Guy Pearce as the scientist Adrian Killian who apparently had a history with Potts and has come seeking funding for his ground breaking scientific mumbo-jumbo about upgrading the human genetic makeup which Potts turns down because of the ethical ramification (while building super-powered armory suits and teaming up with other worldly gods and a genetically mutated angry green giant does not?)

There are definitely some genuine moments of comedy which unfortunately were mostly lost on the audience I was with – I laughed out loud at the whole “ Hispanic Scott Baio” bit but other than that it is just mostly the dry witty charm of Robert Downy Jr. which carries this through . another funny moment was when Mandarin speaks of doing psychotropic drugs and ending up on streets doing unmentionable things it must’ve rung true for RDJ considering his past dealings. But again it was mostly lost on the audience I was in.

There are some genuine high points in the movie especially involving Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin in the second half of the movie and Robert Downey Jr. is again in top comic form with an unparalleled comic timing.  Guy Pearce brings a genuine menace to Adrian Killian and Rebecca Hall is beautiful and effective in the small but vital role that she plays. Guy Pearce as Adrian Killian is justifiably menacing but the motivations for his megalomaniac behavior are not as resolved.  Don Cheadle is forever a character from Rwanda and I cannot take him seriously as the Iron Patriot or even consider the notion that from Iron Man 4 or onwards he would be donning the red and gold suit.

I’ve enjoyed the individual Avengers movies more than the collective mess that Joss Whedon directed. And with this I enjoyed it as an inoffensive popcorn entertainment with a few genuine laughs. But overall the marvel universe lacks the gravitas that a DC-verse does and the Disney-marvel studio seems keener on getting more movies out there so that they can make a quick buck rather than alter the landscape of cinema in any real sense.  A case in point would be the much touted last snippet which you have to sit through 4 minutes of credit roll to get to and at the end it is nothing but a rambling incoherent insignificant fluff piece whose only value is to show the Iron Man and Bruce Banner in the same scene  with one joke about the Dr.Banner’s Temperament.