Black Panther: Movie Man Jackson

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. After participating in the legendary Civil War that pitted Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against each other, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to his technologically advanced and off-the-grid African nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther carries a heavy heart; the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) ever lingering within it. Yet, a king is needed, and that responsibility falls unto T’Challa to take the mantle.

As Wakanda prepares to enter a new era, many in the world are hellbent on discovering her secrets. Arms dealer Ulysses Klawe (Andy Serkis) and mysterious nomad Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) align themselves with each other to achieve what they’re after, respectively. For Klawe, it’s precious vibranium and the riches that come with it, but for Killmonger, it’s a lot more personal. He’s coming for the crown, and the man’s willing to spill as much blood as needed to get it, T’Challa’s included.

Bar none, one of the best feelings is being in a theater and realizing that what is on screen can never be duplicated or replicated. The energy and mood are unforgettable. In less than one calendar year, the world has received two cultural touchstone films in Get Out and, now, Black Panther. Like Jordan Peele’s work, there are some that may only see this as one type of movie only, but the fact is, that’s kind of limiting. Black Panther fits extremely well into the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but honestly—like the best superhero films—it’s able to transcend genre and create something long-lasting.

Praise goes all around, but let’s start with the juggernaut. Marvel’s got a formula, which is news to no one. Black Panther, for the most part, stays in the framework of it. However, in their recent catalog the studio has shown a desire to jigger things up and/or play against the superhero genre conventions, be it The Winter SoldierGuardians of The Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarokor even Ant-ManSuccess can make people and organizations stagnant, but it can also allow for more chances to be taken; no way a movie like this gets made ten years ago.

Perhaps the most surprising thing coming out of Black Panther is just how much control uber-talented writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has over everything. What’s often lost in blockbuster films is a director’s style and vision. But unequivocally, this is Ryan’s vision from the jump, tackling modern issues and topics such as identity, nationalism, and utilitarianism and framing them in the environment that is Wakanda. None of it feels forced or one-sided, either, as valid points are made for each side of the proverbial coin. Providing so much minutiae and plot meat only serves to crystallize the belief that Wakanda is this world that is as culturally reach and detailed as the visuals show. Only the first 10 minutes are arguably a little rough around the edges with a lot of information dumping and a scene that plays out better as we return to it midway through.

Of course, this amount of writing depth carries over to the wide cast of characters in Black Panther, starting with…the Black Panther. Civil War wonderfully introduced the world to T’Challa on a surface level, but his solo film goes into his psyche—sometimes literally—like few superhero movies do with their saviors. Chadwick Boseman is the lead actor this role needs, supremely confident, silently charismatic and in possession of this royal gaze that carries a ton of weight. In short, he’s awesome and an awesomely fresh hero.

But where Black Panther separates itself from its Marvel film brethren is through its villain of one Erik Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan in a role that calls for physicality, swagger, and vulnerability. The studio has always had an issue in creating compelling foils for its legendary heroes. Rarely has a baddie been introduced better in his or her opening scene than here. To spoil even the slightest is a sin, but to say it simply, only Loki has a claim as Marvel’s best villain, and so much of the emotion of Black Panther comes from Killmonger’s past and his rational viewpoint that fuel his actions. Seeing T’Challa and Erik wage war over how to best run Wakanda is kind of Civil War-like, where no guy is completely wrong. Only difference are the levels Erik is willing to go to achieve his vision.

Boseman and Jordan are the anchors, but Coogler allows almost everyone to shine. Whether it’s Lupita Nyong’o pushing shoeless on the pedal metal, Andy Serkis going unhinged as a South African gangster, Martin Freeman being the fish-out-of-water, Daniel Kaluuya commanding an entire head of security, Danai Gurira laying waste to a room with a staff spear, or T’Challa’s brilliant sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) cranking out the latest addition to the Black Panther’s repertoire. Some roles like those of Forest Whitaker’s and Angela Bassett’s might be weaker than others, but they all fuse to make Wakanda what it is.

Everything to this point makes Black Panther sound more like a gloomy movie more in line with that other comic book universe, but rest assured, Black Panther is very entertaining even for those who don’t care to digest the emotional beats and geopolitical questions. The writing is mature in both themes and humor. Sight gags do exist, but the strength of the laughs mostly derives from the delivery and timing of the cast. For those who have seen Creed, it should come as no surprise that Coogler can craft long-take scenes of action and spectacle, this time getting really inventive with some of the setpieces backed by a great soundtrack and a magnificent score by Ludwig Göransson. Whether basking in the purple royalty hues of the spiritual skyline or the sparkling waterfalls, Wakanda is an eye-popping marvel whether 3D is utilized or not.

Even the very last shot of Black Panther seems to realize the moment at hand, drawing parallels to the movie that started it all with the MCU way back when in 2008. Whatever goes down in The Avengers’ next chapter, one thing’s for certain: T’Challa’s here to stay. Wakanda Forever.

A-

Photo credits go to digitalspy.com, nairobiwire.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Thor: Ragnarok-Movie Man Jackson

Ah-ah, ah! After the events of Sokovia, The God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has been busy scouring the Earth for Infinity Stones. He’s been hell-bent on prepping his city of Asgard from a destruction known as Ragnarok, a feeling he possesses as a result of his reoccurring visions of this event. Believing that he has prevented Ragnarok from happening after defeating Surtur the fire demon, the hero returns home in good spirits.

But, those do not last long, as the defeating of Surtur wasn’t the catalyst to stopping Ragnarok. In truth, Ragnarok has already begun, and the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), announces it with an impact arrival, obliterating Thor’s legendary hammer and banishing him, along with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to a foreign planet called Sakarr. Led by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), it’s a place where fatal battles are fought for entertainment, and Thor is forced to enter and fight an old friend in The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). To get back home and save his home, Thor must fight, and somehow get the help of Banner, Loki, and even a mysterious nomad by the name of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to drive out Hela.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it’s fraying, re-coat it. Terrible similes aside, the two Thor movies showcasing the God of Thunder weren’t exactly broken, but the fact is, they are two of the more forgotten or rather, nondescript movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fans, especially The Dark World (truthfully, yours truly is rather fond of 2011’s Thor). So with Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has certainly left behind a movie that won’t be considered “nondescript.” Has he left a movie behind that many are calling one of Marvel’s best? That’s up for debate.

The direction is certainly worth taking note of and remembering. The style the trailers promised is front and center throughout. Asgard has never looked better, but it’s the world of Sakarr—a trippy, futuristic hue of neon colors and post-apocalyptic feel—that stands out the most. It makes the somewhat bumpy first 20 or so minutes worth sticking around for. Waititi’s action, visual flair, and predominately 80’s inspired score/soundtrack coalesce to create something so unlike what has been seen in the MCU up to this point. Even the movies that Ragnarok will be most compared with in Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2, the third chapter of Thor is substantially different than those.

One main thing Ragnarok shares with those movies is an appetite for humor. It wouldn’t be out of line to consider Thor: Ragnarok comedy first, action/adventure second. And for the most part, the comedy hits more than it misses. Seriously, there are some very funny jokes and awesome delivery found in all characters. But honestly, it can get to be a bit much. The story, while functional, kind of seems to be written around the jokes (apparently 80% of the film is improvised). Absolutely nothing is wrong with a lighter superhero film, though going so light while still trying to generate emotion can undermine some of the more dramatic moments of the production. In a few “big” moments, Ragnarok seems to struggle with this, wanting to immediately cut to the next visual gag or joke from something with a serious or vice versa.

With that said, one does have to commend those in charge who say they’d like to flip the script and actually achieve in doing it. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a Jason Bourne, a franchise in which director and lead actor said they’d never do another unless they could do something else—only to proceed with doing the same thing they had done three movies prior. The changes in Ragnarok seem to revitalize the main holdovers from the prior installments in Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Both seem to really be having fun like never before, and the machinations of the story allow them to take advantage of their natural chemistry. Those who wanted more Hulk get their wish granted; the not-so-jolly green giant has a load of screentime and Ruffalo handles the two parts of the beast and Banner like only he can.

Newbie to the MCU Tessa Thompson brings a great new character into the fold as Valkyrie, the foundation and backstory being laid for her own potential standalone journey. As for other newbies, their characters don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but in the ride that is Thor: Ragnarok, they fit right in. Anytime a wide-eyed Jeff Goldblum is cast (save for Independence Day: Resurgence), it can only amp the fun factor up. There are some disappointments, but not due to performance. The villainous Hela is introduced wonderfully and played up wonderfully by Cate Blanchett, only to be forgotten in long stretches of the movie. Karl Urban, always a joy to watch, is a little underutilized as a basic henchman. Taika Waititi probably possesses the biggest laughs lending his voice to Korg, a rock-based gladiator-turned-gatekeeper of the battle arena.

 

Thor: Ragnarok is a sugar rush in the most positive and negative of ways. But Marvel does deserve some praise for wanting to tweak its formula and try a few new things with one of its less beloved lead Avengers. No matter what…Marvel, uh, finds a way.

C+

Photo credits go to collider.com, polygon.com, and comicbook.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Spider-Man: Homecoming-Movie Man Jackson

Welcome back. After the events of the Great Civil War and fighting alongside Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to Queens and his uneventful high school sophomore life with best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). Pete longs for the attraction of senior hottie, Liz (Laura Harrier), but also wants ever so desperately to be a full-time Avenger.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing. The alien attack some odd years ago in New York left behind some mysterious alien artifacts. These artifacts have been mined, harnessed, and cultivated by Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton), a man who’s providing for his family but in questionable ways. As much as Pete wants to leave the borough for the big time, his home is going to need the protection of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

There’s the old saying that goes something like “what’s old is new again.” I never thought that saying could apply to Spider-Man’s latest standalone reintroduction to cinemas in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was only three years ago when he was last seen doing battle against the Green Goblin, Electro, and mass amounts of CGI. What could really be done to spin a unique web for the longstanding webslinger?

Sharing more in common with The Edge of Seventeen and John Hughes offerings than most of the MCU’s films, Homecoming certainly has elements of a superhero origins story, but it is more akin to “a day in the life” than full-blown beginnings. That means going back to high school and all of its pitfalls, extracurriculars, awkwardness, popularity and the like.

This is a deep dive back into the teen years, certainly not a cursory one. Homecoming spends as much time in the classroom and the hallways as it does along the New York skyline and under the iconic Spidey suit. It’s very relatable—almost everyone can remember back to those days as a teen craving more responsibility while being told to enjoy being young—and surprisingly fresh, even though it honestly should not be.

Part of that freshness can directly be attributed to the writers and director of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Writer/director Jon Watts (Cop Car) and contributing writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Frances Daley, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, and Christopher Ford are more known for their comedy and animated contributions than anything in the superhero realm. As such, Homecoming comes, thankfully, without any forced contrivances or common expectations as to what a superhero movie needs to have or do. One could even call it a central character study before a superhero actioner.

The action is firmly solid, though it’s where Watts shows a little bit of inexperience. Nowhere near the best action Marvel’s ever put on screen; then again, this film isn’t action-centric. As for the humor, it sticks on just about all levels in a very organic, free-flowing way, perhaps the benefit of having comedy writers. It may stand as the MCU’s funniest and breeziest movie to date, and Michael Giacchino’s score seems to reflect that.

There is a huge cast in Spider-Man’s latest outing, but obviously, the bulk of the work belongs to Tom Holland as Tiger—err—Peter Parker. The baby-faced youngster carries the requisite wit, duty, athleticism, and likability that has come to define Pete. What’s great about this iteration of Parker is that he truly is “nerfed” and vulnerable. He doesn’t grasp all of his powers quickly or the full capabilities of his suit. Despite clashing face-to-face against Captain America, Tony Stark makes it clear that he’s nowhere near his level, nor is he supposed to be. RDJ’s father/mentor role, screentime limited, is fascinating. He’s in Homecoming just enough to connect to the larger universe, yet is dialed back appropriately to reinforce the focus on Parker and Spider-Man.

To spoil any significant details about Michael Keaton’s Toombs character to those who have still yet to see Homecoming would rob the surprise and layers this anti-antagonist possesses. But he stands as one of the best big baddies of any comic book movie in recent memory, and there’s a way that Keaton goes about this role in his delivery and general persona that makes you want to see him succeed in his goals. Homecoming showcases many characters found in the comics, but served in unfamiliar ways. While it takes a little time to buy into the new Flash Thompson (particularly), Liz Allen, Michelle, and Aunt May, by the end of the film, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, and Marisa Tomei all add something to Peter’s story and should continue to do so in the future.

No spidey sense tingling happening here. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings the wall-crawler back where he belongs in extremely successful and never-before seen fashion. Excelsior!

A-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, comicbookmovies.com, and lrmonline.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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