Netflix has adapted Gerard Way’s (The Guy from “My Chemical Romance) superhero deconstruction and it both does and does not stand out.
In 1989, 43 women simultaneously gave birth to babies around the globe. This wouldn’t be unusual, except that none of the women were pregnant until the moment before they gave birth. A rich entrepreneur and scientist named Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) became fascinated with these children and offered to buy them from their parents. Ultimately, he got seven of the babies and decided to raise them, discovering that each of them had a special ability. Rather than address them by their names, he assigned them each numbers based on how useful they were to him. Naturally, they grew up with a lot of issues.
Number 1/Luther (Tom Hopper) had super-strength. Number 2/Diego (David Castañeda) could throw knives with inhuman precision and control. Number 3/Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) was able to manipulate reality by lying. Number 4/Klaus (Robert Sheehan) communicated with the dead. Number 5 (Aidan Gallagher) could teleport and, poorly, time travel. Number 6/Ben (Justin H. Min) had monsters that were summoned from his skin. Number 7/Vanya (Ellen Page) can play the violin well… but not superhumanly so, making her the only one without powers. As children, they were a sensation.
Now, almost 20 years later, Number 6 is dead, Number 5 has been missing for years, and Sir Reginald has died. The remaining five come together for his funeral, only for Number 5 to finally reappear and inform them that the apocalypse is coming in the next two weeks, and it’s up to them to stop it.
One strength of this show is that it takes place long after the team’s “Golden Age.” Of the original seven, one’s dead, one’s a drug addict, one’s a vigilante, one is a vapid celebrity, one has been lost in time for decades, one wrote a tell-all about her horrible treatment for being “normal,” and the only one who was trying to keep the team together has been living on the moon. They are about as estranged as it gets, mostly because they were raised in a completely brutal and dehumanizing way. It’s showing us what would eventually happen if we actually had people like the X-Men or Teen Titans being raised in a way that tells them they’re completely separate, and better, than humanity. It gives us a new twist on the “gritty superhero” genre and it works pretty well.
All of the performances in the show are great, particularly Ellen Page and Aidan Gallagher, who have to portray the reject with the chip on her shoulder and the only sane man who is also slightly insane, respectively. Every interaction between the members of the Academy is different based on their history, allowing us to get a view of multiple facets of each character over the course of a seaons, making each of them seem much more complex than we usually get out of superhero archetypes. Two of the villains in the show, Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), likewise are well developed beyond the “psychotic and slightly random hitmen” archetypes from which they derive.
The fight scenes and action scenes are almost invariably accompanied by catchy music that contrasts with the violence on-screen, something that, I admit, works really well, but is starting to get overused. Still, many of the fight scenes are very creative, using each of the characters’ abilities really well, without making them seem completely unbeatable or requiring them to suddenly become stupid or depowered in order to make things seem fair.
Overall, I recommend the show if you’re a fan of superhero shows or deconstructions.
Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen take us through this true (or mostly true) story about an extremely unlikely friendship.
Classical Pianist “Doc” Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is set to go on an 8-week concert tour of the Mid-Western and the Southern United States. He hires Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver and bodyguard. Don’s management gives Tony a copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book so that he will be able to find motels, restaurants, and gas stations that will allow Don inside.
As the tour starts, the two do not get along very well. Tony dislikes anything refined, or acting like a subordinate to Don, while Don thinks Tony is an uncouth lout. However, as they go on, Don’s talent starts to impress Tony and Tony becomes increasingly disturbed by how everyone treats Don in the South, from managers and venue owners to random white people. Don helps Tony write letters to his wife (Linda Cardellini), with Don’s sophisticated language and talent for creative composition punching up Tony’s less than amazing style. Tony tries to get Don to connect with his family, but Don feels isolated by his lifestyle, both because he’s a classical pianist and also because he’s a homosexual. When Don is caught in a YMCA pool with another (white) man, Tony bribes the officers to release Don. When the two are arrested for Don being black in a town that bars black people after curfew, Don calls his lawyer, revealed to be Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who has them released. These experiences further humiliate Don, but Tony uses them to point out that, by being rich and connected, Tony feels like he’s “blacker” than Don. Don points out how false that statement is, by saying being rich and connected has made him feel disconnected to his black community, being black keeps him disconnected from the white community, and being gay means that pretty much everyone in 1963 hates him. He’s essentially alone in the world.
On one of the last stops of the tour, Don refuses to play at the club because the owner refuses to allow Don to be served inside the very venue that he’s been booked to play. Instead, Don plays at a black club and wows the audience. Heading back North, Tony invites Don to join his family for Christmas Eve Dinner, which Don eventually accepts. Tony’s wife thanks Don for the letters, revealing that she figured out Tony wasn’t writing them alone.
One of the most interesting things about this movie was the response by Don Shirley’s family and the counter-response by Mahershala Ali and the film’s main author Nick Vallelonga. Shirley’s family insisted that Vallelonga and Shirley were never friends and that the point of their relationship was that Shirley had to employ subordinates of a different race in order to deal with racism. Mahershala Ali apologized profusely for not consulting with the family to add nuance. However, Nick Vallelonga, Tony Lip’s real-life son, revealed that the movie was based on a series of interviews he conducted with Shirley and his father, and that Shirley had specifically asked Vallelonga not to consult other people. So, ultimately, the accuracy of this movie now seems somewhat in dispute.
The best part of this film are the two leads, although, I’m not going to lie, I think Mahershala Ali did most of the heavy lifting. I do admit that I might not think as highly of Viggo’s performance because I conflate Tony Lip with all of the characters that Tony Lip portrayed throughout the years (mostly mobsters), but I also just don’t think he made Tony nearly as complex as Ali made Shirley. I acknowledge that might be partially because Shirley was just a more interesting character within the film, although I think Tony actually had the more complete character arc. This isn’t to say that I thought Viggo Mortensen’s performance was bad, in fact it was very good, I just thought Ali delivered a little more.
My biggest problem with this movie is probably that it falls into some of the same traps that most films run into when dealing with race. First, it just has to copy some of the traditional scenes, like a white man being shocked at how a black man is treated, or a black man having to remind a white man that he has an advantage that’s completely unearned. It’s just not new, and it takes a lot to make it interesting. Second, when you’re making a movie and you have a conflict, at the end of the film you like to feel like that conflict is resolved. What do you do, then, when your conflict isn’t really between your two leads, but between your lead and a societal injustice? If you’re The Hunger Games or The Matrix or even Fight Club, you can end your film on a note that hey, these problems are actually going to be solved. But when your injustice is racism, something that is still pervasive to this day, how can you even try to pretend that it’s solved? Well, you have your main characters learn to get past their natural biases and bond and that’s just as good, right? Not really, but it lets us feel like something has been accomplished, so we can walk out feeling like everything’s not hopeless. I’m not saying you should end every movie with a nihilistic point of view saying that nothing ever gets better, but I also think that most films about racism make you feel “oh hey, this is over now” at the end, and we don’t need to do that, either. The movie does make us feel better about the fact that we’ve come a long way, and it should, but it shouldn’t allow us to forget that we still have a ways to go.
I do think that the film does a good job of adding in the elements that were unique to Don Shirley’s story, particularly his disconnect with traditional black culture in the 60s arising from his wealth and connections and his disconnect with almost everyone arising from being a gay man in the 1960s. It’s interesting to be reminded that even a perceived advantage, and wealth is generally always an advantages, can actually serve to limit the number of people you can relate to. The film even reminds us that while Don Shirley worked to combine classical and jazz music, those two styles still remain fairly distinct, even within most of his performances.
Overall, it’s a solid film, even one that is probably worthy of the nomination it’s received (and definitely worthy of the two acting nominations), but I still feel like it just wasted a little bit of its potential by retreading what other films have already done in the past. Definitely worth seeing, though.
Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury in this musical biopic which covers for a lot of its sins by using the music of freakin’ Queen.
It’s the early 70s and Farrokh Bulsara, AKA the future Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), goes out to see a band called Smile, whose lead singer quits that night. Mercury takes his place in the band, joining Guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), who are soon joined by Bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello). At the same time, Mercury begins dating Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). Based on Mercury’s suggestion, they change the band name to Queen and record a debut album which garners attention, and their single “Killer Queen” gets them an appearance on Top of the Pops. The band goes on a tour of the USA where Freddie starts to begin sexual relations with men.
Queen records their hit album “A Night at the Opera” including the track “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which the record label insists can’t be played on the radio. Eventually, Freddie gets it on the air and it becomes a smash hit. He also begins an affair with Paul (Allen Leech), the band’s manager and Mary breaks up with him over it, though they remain in contact and on friendly terms.
Freddie starts to descend into depression and hedonism, though he meets a very attractive waiter named Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), who tells Freddie to call him when he learns to like himself. During a press conference for one of the albums, “Hot Space,” the press keeps asking Freddie about his sexuality, which makes him uncomfortable. Paul convinces one of the band managers, John Reid (Aidan Gillen), to offer Mercury a solo career, but Mercury responds by firing Reid. However, he does end up working on a solo album, “Mr. Bad Guy,” while Paul tries to isolate him from the world. Mary tells Freddie that he should rejoin the band to do Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. At the same time, Freddie is diagnosed with AIDS, leading him to decide to help people through Live Aid, and the band is given a last-minute spot. He reveals to the band that he has AIDS and they are supportive.
On the day of Live Aid, he comes out to his family with Jim, tells Mary she is the love of his life, and tries to reconcile with his father. The band performs at Live Aid, rocking the entire world for 21 minutes, resulting in a massive number of donations. Mercury died at age 45.
Let’s get a few things out of the way: A lot of the events in the end of Freddie Mercury’s life were re-arranged so that the big climax of the film was the performance at Wembley. He didn’t likely know that he had AIDS at that point and he definitely hadn’t told the band about it. The band wasn’t broken up, they’d been touring for at least a year before this. Also, while Queen’s performance at Wembley is listed as one of, if not THE, greatest live shows in history, Queen was not the only major name at Live Aid. In fact, they took the stage after Sting, Phil Collins, U2, and Dire Straits and right before David Bowie, the Who, and Elton John. While they rocked the hell out of the stadium, they definitely weren’t the only stars. It’s a biopic, so I have to give them a little leeway, but I still thought that some of this stuff might have been going a bit far.
This movie is interesting to me because when I first saw it I was blown away by it. Then I rewatched it to do this review, and I was shocked at how little it was impressing me. That’s when it hit me: It was the soundtrack. When I was in the theater, with the soundtrack, which, naturally, is Queen’s greatest hits, everything was so pleasant and coated in a layer of awesome nostalgia that it was inherently more fun. Without the great speaker setup the effect was muted. I watched it again with the sound down to try and focus just on the dialogue and the effect was basically broken. And then, in the cold light of day, it hit me: This is an okay movie with one amazing performance and a fantastic soundtrack, though it’s not the first movie to use Queen well…
The dialogue in this movie is pretty bad, the structure consists of a lot of hurrying to try and capture the entire ~20 year career of Queen in one film, and the climax, while amazing, is rushed and disorganized, with a lot of “emotional” moments feeling unearned. That said, Rami Malek is a f*cking fantastic Freddie Mercury in this and since he’s the focus of the film, that means a lot. Every motion, every look, every note he sings, all of it convey a complex level of emotional depth. You see him as the boy who is worried about what his family thinks, the rocker who just wants to party, the artist who just wants the beautiful music inside of him to get out, the performer who wants to see everyone under his sway, and the broken man who just wants to avoid the loneliness within him. Often, you get scenes in which you can see all of them at once, which is a sign that you’ve truly captured a character. Malek nailed this hard.
The rest of the movie is sadly fairly mediocre, but it feels amazing because it has a soundtrack that consists of the best songs by Queen. That’s not really a small thing, to be sure, since music can be a powerful force on a scene, but the thing is that this movie is using it to do most of the heavy emotional lifting and to get people in a mindset more accepting of the mediocrity of the dialogue. That’s not great filmmaking, that’s just making a movie about great music with a great focal performance that keeps you from being able to realize it immediately.
Overall, I do still think this movie is worth seeing, if only for Rami Malek’s performance, but ultimately it just had so much potential that it failed to take advantage of.
Alfonso Cuarón brings us the life of a maid in 1970s Mexico and the family that she is a part of.
Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is a maid for a moderately wealthy family in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. The father of the family, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), regularly leaves for conferences in other countries, leaving his wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), to raise their four children with the help of her mother Teresa (Veronica Garcia), Cleo, and another maid Adela (Nancy Garcia).
Adela and Cleo go to the movies with their boyfriends Ramon (José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza) and Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), respectively. Cleo tells Fermin that she’s possibly pregnant and he promptly abandons her. A doctor confirms Cleo’s pregnancy. Meanwhile, around the area, racial tensions are rising, as are tensions between students and the government, as part of the Mexican Dirty War.
Several months later, Cleo and the children see a movie, only to see Antonio leave the theater with a young woman. It’s revealed that Sofia is aware of her husband’s philandering, but she tries to hide it from her children. Cleo finally manages to track down Fermin at a massive outdoors martial arts class, but he responds by saying he isn’t sure the child is his and threatening to beat Cleo if she contacts him again.
Teresa takes Cleo to buy a crib, but they are caught in the store during the Corpus Christi Massacre. They witness two people gunned down by angry young people, only to find out that one of the killers is Fermin. It’s then that Cleo’s water breaks, but her baby is stillborn. Back with the family, Sofia announces to the children that she’s going to be divorcing Antonio and takes the children to the beach. At the beach, two of the kids are nearly carried off by the current, but Cleo saves them. Sofia and the children all affirm that they love Cleo as a part of the family, but Cleo reveals that she never wanted the baby. They return home to find that Antonio has moved his belongings out of the house, and life goes on.
This movie is Oscar gold. Even though it wasn’t my favorite film nominated for Best Picture this year, it wouldn’t shock me at all if it won. The acting is great, despite the fact that the lead wasn’t a professional actress. The cinematography is as good as exists in film, with great, meaningful, match cuts and perfect control of the imagery. The characters are all interesting and very human. Hell, it’s in black and white, that’s like 10 points on the “is this artsy” scale right there.
The problem with analyzing a movie like this is that much of what makes it amazing is all of the little scenes that seem to have come straight from the memory of Alfonso Cuaron, because they’re so genuine and so unusual that they just don’t feel like they could have come from fiction. It’s not particularly a secret that the family in this is based on Cuaron’s, and the film is even dedicated to the memory of the inspiration for Cleo. One scene from the beginning of the movie that stands out is where one of the sons lies on the roof telling Cleo that he can’t move, because he’s dead. Cleo ends up laying next to him until he can’t resist talking to her, only for her to tell him that she’s dead. There are a number of these small, unusual scenes throughout the film that really seem to represent the tiny moments that bring a level of authenticity to the characters that most films don’t really achieve. It’s doubly impressive because the main character isn’t the surrogate for the author.
Cuaron’s skill in cinematography and editing shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, since it’s pretty much the thing that set the film Gravity apart from other space films, nor should we be surprised at his skill in characterization, given that he wrote Y Tu Mama Tambien and helped adapt Children of Men. However, those movies didn’t really get the level of parallel narrative that this film develops through the great use of the structure of the shots in the film. Themes of classism, of eradication of native cultures, of suppression of the masses, all are interwoven with the much tighter family themes. This all culminates with Cleo’s water breaking during the Corpus Christi Massacre. This was a brutal paramilitary (and military) attack on protesting students demanding greater educational freedom which was notable for ending at hospitals, where Los Halcones, a shock group trained partially by the US, would kill off the wounded, including in surgical suites. We see Fermin sew death directly at the massacre, and also symbolically, with his abandoned child being stillborn. While a lot of other symbols are more blatant (there’s a cut to three crosses that will make you hear the words “meaningful imagery” shout in your head), the film is still emotionally captivating even if you aren’t looking for something deeper. I think that’s probably the hallmark of a truly great film: It doesn’t require a ton of investment, but the more you give it, the more you get.
Overall, I can’t really do this movie that much justice in a review, since it’s so visual and subjective. It’s available on Netflix and I highly recommend watching it.
Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) brings us a historical fiction about a rivalry for the ages.
It’s the early 1700s and Queen Anne’s War (or, in Europe, the War of Spanish Succession) has been going for nearly a decade. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is not in good health and most of the ruling decisions are made by her friend and secret lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). While Sarah favors taxing the landowners to continue the war, the head of the Tories, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), opposes taxation and seeks to convince the Queen to end the war.
Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin, arrives to seek employment, her father having squandered her family’s wealth (and having lost Abigail previously in a card game to a German). Abigail becomes a maid, but after she puts some healing herbs on the Queen’s gout-ridden leg, she is promoted to Lady-in-Waiting. Abigail soon discovers that Sarah and the Queen have sex, but does not tell Harley, even after he threatens her to be his spy.
Abigail and Sarah develop a friendship, but as Abigail becomes closer to the Queen, it becomes a rivalry. Abigail first talks to the Queen about her rabbits, which she discovers represent each of Anne’s 17 unsuccessful pregnancies, something Sarah clearly never cared to ask about. Eventually, Abigail uses her position to sleep with the Queen, which Sarah finds out immediately and dismisses her. However, Queen Anne hires her back. With Sarah now actively trying to curry back the Queen’s favour to get rid of Abigail, Abigail poisons Sarah’s tea, resulting in her being dragged for days on a horse and nearly forced into sex slavery. While she’s gone, Abigail convinces the Queen to allow her to marry Baron Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), regaining her title and wealth. When Sarah returns, she threatens the Queen to either send Abigail away or have their sexual relationship revealed. Sarah eventually destroys the evidence of their relationship, but this has ended her friendship with the Queen. Sarah is sent away and then framed for theft by Abigail, resulting in her exile from Britain.
At the end of the film, Abigail has now become cruel and egotistical, and the Queen dislikes her because of how she forced Sarah out. After going one step too far and hurting one of the Queen’s rabbits, the Queen forces Abigail to rub her legs like a common servant.
The general story behind this movie isn’t exactly original (whether in fiction or history). It’s the powerful being corrupted and overthrown by the downtrodden… only for the downtrodden to now become the powerful and corrupted. When we see Sarah in the film, she mostly takes Queen Anne for granted and talking to her like a child, despite the fact that Anne, being, you know, QUEEN is actually much more powerful. She also antagonizes almost everyone, from the Tories to Abigail (who she pretends to shoot as a threat when Abigail learns her secret love life). The only advantage she really has is that she’s the Queen’s only lover and confidant. She also risks her husband’s (Mark Gatiss) life, seemingly with only a moderate amount of concern, by continuing a war that he is fighting. Despite that, she is trying to do what she thinks is best for the country, not necessarily just herself.
When we first see Abigail, she is ostensibly fairly honorable, but has dealt with a lot of hardship because of her father, including having to be the sex slave of a German man to honor her father’s wager. She’s basically a classic tragic figure. While she sees the merit in gaining the Queen’s favor, she does also seem to be genuinely interested in helping her and being friendly towards her and Sarah. However, as the movie progresses, we see her scheme more and more and with less and less concern for the morality of her actions. She even says at one point that her honor won’t be much comfort if she’s forced to become a prostitute to survive. Eventually, she stops caring about anyone besides herself, becoming even more antagonizing to everyone than Sarah was.
Anne is the most sympathetic character, because she’s constantly in a position that she doesn’t want, is in physical pain, is dealing with a number of traumas, and her closest friends are constantly taking vengeance upon each other. However, she also is someone who could have prevented many of the issues in the movie had she just been more assertive. That’s part of why it’s satisfying in the end to see her take control over Abigail and diminish her feeling of invincibility.
Neither Sarah nor Abigail ever chooses to end the cycle of escalating attacks between them, even though either one could end it. Abigail even points this out to Sarah after she becomes a Baroness again, but neither can stand the other one having the last strike at them. Sarah does finally try to stop, choosing to burn the letters between her and the Queen for Anne’s sake, but by this time it’s too late, and Abigail realizes that she has to remove Sarah forever to ensure her power, which cements her as truly corrupted.
The costuming and sets in the movie are excellent, as expected for a period piece like this. They’re not exactly accurate (I’m told), but the outfits do a good job of conveying how the characters are trying to present themselves in a scene, particularly the more masculine shooting outfits that Sarah adopts to try and show dominance over Abigail.
The cinematography is interesting, with a lot of the film using wide-angle fisheye lenses. From a practical standpoint, this shot shows the entirety of a room, something that shows off the setting rather than just the character, but from a narrative standpoint it tends to isolate the characters, showing how they are trapped within the rooms because of their choices. It’s definitely the easiest Yorgos Lanthimos film to watch, but it will still throw some people off.
The performances are all amazing, and I think Olivia Colman’s performance as a stroke-ravaged Anne is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. Given how much of the communication between characters relies on what is being intended rather than what is being said, anything less from the actors might have wrecked the film.
Overall, it’s a great movie and practically screams “Oscar Bait.” I don’t know that it’ll win, but it’s definitely worth seeing and Olivia Colman is the only person who might take the Oscar from Glenn Close this year.
The Lego Movie, the movie that should have been crap but instead was a masterful meta-commentary, got a sequel which should have been crap, but instead was a masterful meta-commentary. I wonder if they actually help sales.
It’s been five years since the events of “Taco Tuesday” depicted in the first movie. Duplo/Mini-Doll aliens from the Systar System have repeatedly invaded and destroyed Bricksburg, occasionally taking people and things away with them. In response, the citizens now live in “Apocalypseburg,” a Mad Max-esque desert wasteland. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is the only person who has maintained a positive attitude about their circumstances, something that annoys Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), who wants Emmet to be more gritty and dark. Emmet, however, is troubled by a dream of “Ourmomageddon,” which has all of the Lego citizens sucked into a void.
One day, the town is attacked by the General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who abducts Lucy, Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Batman (Will Forte), Benny the Spaceman (Charlie Day), and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and takes them to the Systar System to meet the ruler of Systar, Queen Whatevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet takes off to rescue them, with the help of Rex Dangervest, a raptor-training space cowboy archeologist who has chiseled features under his baby fat (Also Chris Pratt).
Also, the whole thing is actually a metaphor for the imagination of some kids.
So, up front, you have to see the first movie for this one to really work well. This movie goes straight into the meta-narrative that was sort of the big “twist” of the last movie: Everything that’s happening is both part of the narrative (i.e. the Lego World) and also a representation of the meta-narrative (i.e. what’s happening in the Real World). Stuff that happens in each one actually impacts the other, however, which almost makes this a pataphysical movie… something that is really unbelievably complex for a children’s film and impressively done so well that this movie is actually really easy to follow.
Unlike the last movie where the revelation is pretty late, this movie makes it pretty explicit up front that the “Systar System” is a representation of Finn’s (Jadon Sand) sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). In fact, if you don’t get that pretty quickly, I’d actually say that the first few scenes don’t really make sense. For example, in the opening battle against the Duplos, the Duplo monsters respond to being shot with lasers with “okay, I eat lasers” and to being hit with batarangs with “you missed.” Anyone who has ever tried to play an imaginary game with a small child will immediately recognize this interaction. What’s great is that you could analyze almost every scene from both the normal and meta levels and both work perfectly. I’m not sure how Lord and Miller keep doing it, but I’m damned glad they are.
The messages of the movie, and yes there are several, similarly work on a bunch of levels, both as the lessons learned by the characters and also the lessons learned by the kids through the characters. Everything is a pretty wholesome moral, ranging from the value of family to the nature of maturity to the fact that it’s easier to be a judgmental dick than it is to genuinely keep opening yourself up to people and hope for better. No matter who you are, there’s something to get out of this movie.
The music is just as fun as the last movie, particularly the movie’s signature song “Catchy Song” which is such an earworm while also being a song about how the song is an earworm. I also would give credit to all of Tiffany Haddish’s songs, which are hilarious and awesome, as well as Lonely Island’s song with Beck and Robyn.
Last, I have to complement how well the movie handles references, much like its predecessor. Unlike the last one, where most of the characters that pop up are just there because Finn’s dad (Will Ferrell) owned the kits, in this one, you can actually figure out why Finn and Bianca themselves would have these figures and the reasons range from funny to borderline profound. My personal favorite is ***MINOR SPOILER ALERT*** the fact that Finn keeps seeing Bruce Willis in ducts… because his dad showed him Die Hard and, as a teenager trying to be “mature,” that’s a movie that you tend to focus on ***SPOILER OVER***.
Overall, I loved this film. It definitely has a few slow scenes which tend to make more sense from the meta-level, but most of the movie is just so clever you’ll forget about it.
Black Panther, the highest-grossing film in history with a majority black cast and crew, is also the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.
Following his father, T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the heir to the mantle of the Black Panther, returns to his homeland of Wakanda, a secretly hyper-advanced but isolated African nation, to become the king and rejoin his superintelligent sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his wise mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Along with his head guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), he rescues his former girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from her undercover duties attempting to end human trafficking so that she can attend the ceremony. T’Challa takes on the only challenger to the throne, M’Baku (Winston Duke), and emerges victorious, but spares his life.
Meanwhile, thief and murderer of Wakandans Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) steal a weapon made from Vibranium, a near-magical metal that is found almost exclusively in Wakanda. T’Challa’s friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) asks T’Challa to capture Klaue, who murdered W’Kabi’s parents. T’Challa captures Klaue in South Korea, but Stevens rescues him… only to kill him shortly after and present his body to W’Kabi to gain entry to Wakanda. Stevens reveals himself to be N’Jadaka, the son of T’Chaka’s brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), who betrayed Wakanda until being killed by the king. This makes Killmonger a candidate for the throne of Wakanda. He challenges T’Challa and wins, knocking T’Challa off of a waterfall.
Killmonger, now the king, prepares to distribute Wakanda’s advanced weapons to secret operatives around the world with the plan of staging insurrections to institute black supremacy in the major world powers. Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda, and CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) flee to M’Baku’s territory and find that T’Challa is alive. They give him the heart-shaped herb that powers the Black Panther and he returns. While Okoye and T’Challa’s loyalists fight W’Kabi and Killmonger’s soldiers, T’Challa and Killmonger battle, with T’Challa emerging victorious. Killmonger, mortally wounded, chooses to die rather than live in prison. T’Challa realizes that isolation from the world has weakened Wakanda and chooses to reveal the nature of the country to the United Nations.
Well, this is the first Superhero Movie to be nominated for Best Picture for Academy Award. Is it a perfect film? Well, let’s Pro-Con this.
Here’s what the movie does well: First, it features a representation of African culture that has not often been seen before, particularly the Afro-Futurist aspects. Most depictions of Africa often ignore the developed areas and instead focus on the more tribal and poor areas. Hell, most movies treat “Africa” like it’s just one country, rather than dozens of countries with wildly different cultures, something that this movie makes a point of avoiding. Even Coming to America, which does depict a similarly wealthy and powerful African country like Wakanda, doesn’t particularly have an underlying representation of the nature of different African cultures like this movie. None of this is by accident, either, as Ryan Coogler spent a lot of time and effort working symbols of various countries and groups into things ranging from backgrounds and sets to costume choices.
Second, the supporting characters in the movie are fantastic, particularly the female characters. Letitia Wright’s Shuri is the embodiment of the plucky genius to a degree that, appropriately, is usually found only in comic books. She’s been described by at least one Executive Producer as the single smartest human in the MCU, which means that she’s outclassed Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, and Tony Stark. Despite her intellect, or perhaps because of it, Shuri is one of the more relatable characters, being mostly a rebellious and creative teenager finding her place in the world. Okoye, on the other hand, is not necessarily relatable, instead being a well-crafted rendition of the Amazon archetype, a stoic warrior. However, her wonderful sense of humor keeps her from being too serious and her care for the country and the people in it make her stand out from being generic. Also, they cast Danai Gurira without having seen her in The Walking Dead, something that’s insane to me. Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as she always is, although her character as the love interest sometimes seems a little underdeveloped, due to always sharing the scenes. In contrast, Winston Duke’s M’Baku, while he has little screen time, is well-developed because he’s always the focus.
Third, and let’s be honest about this, Killmonger is the best part of this film. It’s rare for a film to go out of its way in presenting a villain’s ideology in this way… as having so much of a point that the hero actually has to change his way of thinking in response. Throughout the movie, T’Challa, like all of the kings of Wakanda, is mired in tradition and isolation. Wakanda has never needed allies, nor has it wanted them, but this has limited their way of thinking. For example, they still use TRIAL BY COMBAT as a way to select their leaders, something that is, on every level, freaking ridiculous for a sophisticated society (as the movie even points out implicitly). Additionally, their refusal to help others has resulted in a much more awful world for everyone, particularly their neighbors. Killmonger points out that Wakanda could have helped stop the slave trade or made Africa technologically advanced enough to prevent colonial exploitation… but just chose not to because of their insular nature. Killmonger points out that they could easily have solved so many of the injustices which have been levied upon black people over the centuries which have resulted in the countries doing the exploiting gaining wealth and power… but, again, chose not to. So, he decides that it’s their obligation now to try and undo that mistake. Unfortunately, he also has a big chip on his shoulder from having his father murdered, which leads him to believe that the only just action is to literally reverse everything that has happened and create a world where black people are subjugating everyone else. Still, it’s telling that, at the end of the movie, T’Challa is forced to admit that isolation has weakened Wakanda and that things need to change.
Also, the music was great, most of the action sequences were solid, the locations were all interesting, and the writing was amazing in most of the scenes. So, yeah, lots of good stuff.
As for the things that the movie didn’t do perfectly: Pacing in the movie isn’t great. The first time I saw it I didn’t really notice, because I was kind of caught up in the clever writing, but yeah, there’s a lot of scenes in the second act that feel a little slow.
Several of the action sequences didn’t have the best CGI, particularly of T’Challa. The stunts were great, but when you do a CGI sequence in the middle of a live-action film, particularly one where the CGI figure is close to the camera, you get a lot of uncanny valley action and some of it doesn’t hold up well.
Mostly, the biggest problem with Black Panther is Black Panther. T’Challa is well portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, but the character itself is actually a little blunted because of the number of other great characters in the movie. The other problem is that he’s genuinely too overpowered in this film against anyone other than Killmonger. The armor that Shuri gives him is completely invincible against almost anything, so even during the major chase scene in Korea, T’Challa is never really at risk. Also, the final fight just isn’t that interesting, since it’s two nearly invulnerable people punching each other. The best parts of the performance are when it’s Boseman as T’Challa, not the Black Panther.
So, no, this isn’t a perfect movie. I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year… in fact, I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year featuring a black lead (Into the Spider-Verse takes the gold), but it’s still a good movie. Mostly, though, it’s an important movie. A few years ago, the Sony leak confirmed that, within film studios, the myth that “black films don’t travel,” i.e. that black films can’t make money internationally, was still going strong. This movie kicked that myth in the nuts. It proved that representation does not necessarily mean falling into stereotypes or trying to remove the characters from their cultural roots. It showed that a diverse cast and crew can produce a different feel to a film and that a film could address race relations within a structure of a normal action movie. If you don’t think that’s significant, let me remind you that Hattie McDaniel, the first black person to be nominated and win an Oscar, wasn’t allowed to attend the premier of Gone With the Wind due to Georgia’s segregation laws. THAT WAS IN 1940.
Overall, I don’t know that I think this movie deserves to win Best Picture, but I do think it deserved the nomination. It’s a well-done film on many levels, even if it has its flaws, and I think it represents something much bigger than itself.
One complaint I do want to address right now is that superhero films aren’t deserving of this kind of accolade. I see a lot of critics online complaining about the idea that this is “legitimizing” superhero films, which are just popcorn flicks. To that I say: Good. Legitimize them. They’re genre films with a lot of rules and shortcuts that can be taken, to be sure, but you know what else that applies to? Westerns. Mob movies. War films. All of which are constantly given critical accolades as art, when they deserve it. So, let’s encourage people to make artsier, more impacting superhero films, and stop treating them like they are just there to grab the box-office.