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Black Panther (2018)

I was pleased to see that last year’s Black Panther was nominated for Best Picture. I have no idea whether it is – I average about five a year, basically – but it is extremely entertaining, and unlike several of the Marvel movies, it holds up completely and totally the second time around. I think there’s only one genuine flaw in the script, and that’s the bit where T’Challa swears to W’Kabi that he will either kill or bring back their enemy Klaue. A lead character says something like that, he might as well just keep talking. “And I will fail in this, driving a wedge between us that will take the climax of the movie to resolve.”

I’ve got another complaint: we don’t see nearly enough of Wakanda, and that’s a credit to director Ryan Coogler and a team of amazing production designers who make the city look like the most amazing place on the planet. There’s a shot that lasts about one second of a street vendor grilling some meat. I want to taste it. Can you imagine Anthony Bourdain doing a Parts Unknown about Wakanda? Wouldn’t you want to live in this world?

Michael B. Jordan plays an amazing villain with frightening and very real motivations, and his great flaw is that he can only see Wakanda as a source of weapons and violence. He doesn’t pause to see how beautiful the land and its people are, and how remarkable their technology is. His character’s father once told him that the sunsets in Wakanda are the greatest in the world, and he doesn’t remember until his dying minute.

I think Black Panther is just a great film, full of backstory and love and it feels so real in every scene. I certainly think this is among the most entertaining of the Marvel movies, thanks in large part to the excellent cast and the terrific sense of design and wild tech. Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o are wonderful as former lovers brought back together by duty. Letitia Wright is so fun as the scene-stealing genius Shuri, and if you don’t finish this movie wishing for a spinoff or a miniseries where Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya argue about whose turn it is to walk the rhinoceros, I dunno what to tell you.

I haven’t read very many Black Panther comics. I mainly saw him in the pages of Fantastic Four and The Avengers, and the villain was invariably M’Baku, and thank heaven they reworked him for the movie. The comic Man-Ape was a clown, an embarrassment, and M’Baku and his separatist tribe are anything but. I like Winston Duke’s character a lot. In fact, the sooner they can get this sequel into production, the happier I’ll be. There won’t be room for Forest Whitaker or Michael B. Jordan’s characters outside of flashbacks, but it doesn’t even have to be an action-adventure superhero epic. Just give me weird tech stuff, the Dora Milaje hammering their spears into the ground, and Chadwick Boseman’s fabulous performance as a flawed king moving past his father’s mistakes. We’ll be back in Wakanda in seven days for the next Marvel movie, but they didn’t spend enough time there, and the body count is heartbreaking. I want two hours in this place.

Oh, and third quibble: and if we could have a little less of Atlanta pretending to be London next time, and the High Museum of Art pretending to be the Museum of Great Britain, that’d be great.

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I had this silly idea to tag actors and continue tagging them into every appearance they make in anything we watch. Then we get to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which would have something like two dozen tags if I named everybody. So never mind.

A couple of months before the movie was released, I got a little petulantly annoyed with the Marvel PR team for revealing that Tom Holland would make his debut as Spider-Man in it. I still think that would have been the greatest wha-huh?! in the movies to have the audience slowly realize that Tony Stark was visiting Peter Parker and his Aunt May, but I forgave them immediately when Scott Lang debuted his Giant-Man shtick. That’s probably been the most agreeable surprise any of these movies have hit me with.

Our kid still tunes out a little when people are talking – unless they’re like Holland’s Spider-Man and they just flat out steal the middle of the movie with their constant banter – but I think we helped him focus a little more this time. When Cap, Falcon, and Sharon Carter are figuring out that they’ve been set up, it’s a truly great little moment. I do love the way realization slowly makes its way across Emily VanCamp’s face. That’s terrific acting.

The other thing I really love is the introduction of Black Panther’s universe, including the very low-key first appearance of Florence Kasumba as Ayo. She’s a minor character among the people of Wakanda, and isn’t even named in this movie, but her instruction to Black Widow to move is just about my favorite threat in a movie full of people giving each other strong warnings. The Panther had always been one of those characters that other people enjoyed more than me until Chadwick Boseman took the part. In Boseman’s hands, he is one of my favorite Marvel heroes.

But in the end, the movie is about the awful end to Tony and Steve’s friendship, their truce shattered when we learn that Bucky had, twenty-five years earlier, murdered Tony’s parents while under Hydra’s control. The fight at the airport is wonderful and hilarious, but the climax, with Tony, Steve, and Bucky beating each other with more blood and pain and bruises than these movies typically give us, is horrible and heartbreaking. It’s a terrific end to a really excellent movie, but it kind of demands that the next few stories are a little different and more lighthearted…

Seven movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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