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Review: “Black Panther” Packs the Biggest Punch of the MCU

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Black Panther

If Marvel’s Thor was a watered down Shakespeare with a surfer glaze, Black Panther is the real deal. It’s a tale of kingdoms and ancestors, where men of sordid family histories battle for the throne. At the same time, it’s also a James Bond film of gadgets, casinos, and chases with sexy cars. But, wait, it’s also profoundly political and racial with elements of xenophobia and colonialism. The only thing more astounding than seeing all of this present in a Marvel superhero film is that all of it works incredibly well and serves as Marvel’s most influential and most groundbreaking of comic book films.

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has some cleaning up to do at home before he can jump back into the Black Panther superhero suit. His father dead, he must take on the mantle of king of Wakanda. To the rest of the world, Wakanda is a third-world nation, but hidden behind a holographic shield is a thriving metropolis built on Vibranium, the same substance used for Captain America’s shield. Even with all their tech, Wakanda is still a land of tradition and T’Challa must prove himself in shirtless combat atop a waterfall to be the king of his people.

black panther

Governing a metropolis overflowing with Vibranium, he must keep at bay the cackling Klaue (Andy Serkis), a sinister dealer that fancies Vibranium and brandishes a fake arm that houses an energy gun. He could very well be our standard villain for T’Challa to foil, but he thankfully isn’t the true antagonist. That title goes to Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) or Killmonger as he’s better known from the comic books. He is easily one of the best villains in the MCU for his pathos and plight that make some solid points. Having grown up on the streets when dear old passed was murdered, Stevens blames Wakanda’s closed nature for his dark childhood and the ills of the world. It’s a notion that T’Challa must weigh and not merely brush aside as a typical villain monologue. Sure, it’s easy to go against Killmonger once he enacts his plan of ruling Wakanda and plans to dominate every country with Wakandan technology, but his argument about the nation being xenophobic is a strong one that can’t be denied.

While Black Panther does adhere to a few familiar formula aspects of the MCU, its script manages to be original for focusing more on a classic tale of kingdoms than a quippy cape adventure. There’s faith in the direction to plow ahead with its drama of bloody family histories and raw emotions of clashing cultures, evading the usual stammering jokes to poke fun at the fantastical. I had my worries with the rebellious tech Shuri (Letitia Wright) and the outsider CIA ally Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), but they thankfully never grind the picture to a halt with their silly mannerisms. By that same token, T’Challa’s female forces of the stoic Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the emotionally driven Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) never mug for the camera that much. They know they’re badass and don’t need to add a pointless exclamation to stress this point, doing more talking with their fists than forgettable banter.

The look of Black Panther may be one of the most thoroughly realized and gorgeous looking settings of any Marvel movie. The balance of otherworldly technology and African culture creates a unique mixture of a colorful utopia. Shuri’s lab of Wakandan tech is the most remarkable of locations, dressed up like a fancy loft with its winding stairs, circular platforms, and colorful walls that make the lab appear as an art installation. The various costumes of Wakanda are fantastic and believable of what an African culture would look like if they had a boom in industry; one of the representatives of the tribes brandishes lip discs and fancy suits. The customs are rich with intrigue and mysticism, as with the ceremony where the new king must be buried in sand to communicate with his ancestors. Even the technology itself has a specific purpose and function, as with the mining train system that uses an elaborate means of light to transport Vibranium at high speeds.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without some superhero action, and there’s just enough here to please. The car chase through the streets of South Korea is exciting with Wakandans using their tech to manipulate cars and Black Panther leaping from one vehicle to another. T’Challa’s suit comes equipped with armor that is not only strong enough to take a bullet but also take that kinetic energy and use it against his enemies. The battles cliffside are the most exciting of all with raw warriors in combat for the throne. And though the climax settles on a large-scale battle of pike-wielding warriors and armored rhinos, it’s a final fight that feels more earned than necessary for all the drama stirred up to this point.

With a big production and a story heavy with race and politics, Black Panther is a risky gamble of a superhero picture, but the bet on black paid off greatly. Unlike Wonder Woman, which merely placed a leading female within a typical superhero popcorn blockbuster, there’s a real influence, and meta-storytelling is going on, so that isn’t just another Marvel movie with a refreshing African coat. It’s an inspiring tale of old-fashioned kingdom drama, well-choreographed action, dazzling fantasy, and an ending that is deeply profound for the impact you’d want to see an actual hero make in the world. It’s been stated that a lot of black children are going to be attending this film in droves. They’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that they’re not just getting an all-black comic book movie, but one of the best comic book movies of the year that will give them more than just a satisfying dose of fists and explosions.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: Pleasing Heists and Nagging Winks in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

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Solo is a prequel that teeters between pointless backstory and rousing world exploration. By its very conception, it is an unneeded movie, tracing origins I didn’t need to see of Han Solo acquiring his blaster, ship, and Wookie. But when the story can pull itself away from its tiring foreshadowing of the Star Wars trilogy, the film nears its more engaging aspect of the swashbuckling nature a Han Solo movie should be.

Alden Ehrenreich plays the young Han Solo with a certain swagger that doesn’t seem quite there yet. In many ways, this works for the benefit of an origin story by not starting off the outlaw as such. His story begins as that of a slave who escapes a nasty overlord, smuggling his way off a manufacturing planet with his thieving and piloting skills. But he needs to go back for his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), giving him more of a purpose besides scoring the biggest take. This aspect sends Han down many paths, from working for the Empire in the battlefields, to snatching loot from gravity-shifting train cars, to staging a rebellion on a mining planet.

Alden Ehrenreich is Han Solo in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. (Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures)

As with any prequel, there’s a problem with care for the characters when we know more or less what will happen to them. We know the dashing romance between Han and Q’ira won’t go anywhere and that Han’s new acquaintance of the gambler Lando (Donald Glover) will make it out of this film alive. Han’s questionable ally of Becket (Woody Harrelson) and his bitter crime boss Vos (Paul Bettany) probably don’t have a chance of surviving this ordeal. While I’d like to set the original Star Wars trilogy aside to enjoy Han’s heist film, I can’t help bringing it up when there are so many knowing nudges and winks to forming the character. As if we really needed to see where Han first picked up his iconic blastr or hear a variation on the line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

When the film does decide to put down the callbacks, however, it does start to become the fast and adventurous caper that can exist on its own. There’s real zip to scenes of high-speed chases through snowy mountains and dangerous maelstroms. There’s a multitude of romances and twists that always keeps the blood pumping, even if it feels more like gas churning through an engine, seeming more exciting by design than delivery. And per the Star Wars design is lots of color in the settings with creative alien designs. It just wouldn’t be a gangster bar in the Star Wars universe if there wasn’t a singer in strange attire singing next to a crooning blob in a jar.

The cast is sufficient enough, particularly Donald Glover embodying a smirking scoundrel and Paul Bettany as a sinister force, even if his facial makeup makes him look as though a cat scratched him. Alden Ehrenreich does a decent job at trying to match the cocky nature and boastful posture of a Han Solo in the making, but there’s not much time for him to fit into the role. The film is in such a rush to zoom towards a robot rebellion or a fighting an octopus near a black hole that the charisma never simmers enough to the point where Ehrenreich makes the character his own. The most unique character, despite being overtly bold in its message, is the droid of L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a supposed female droid that is more infatuated with droid rights than piloting for Lando. She has a romantic attraction to Lando which opens up a whole new can of worms for the Star Wars universe.

Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. (Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures)

Much like the Millenium Falcon, which appears in the film as a less dirty spaceship before Han got his hands on the controls, this is a film that stops and starts, making me want to kick the projector every few minutes. When slowing down for its underwhelming conversations of how Han met Chewy, the film stalls in easy and unnecessary nostalgia. Just before it grows tedious with references, the action kicks back in and there’s a glee to Han’s adventure of thieving, blasting, and deceiving. And I really wished the film kept up its own pep of being its own thing so the fate of Solo doesn’t loom over the picture with a depressing realization that it’s not going to end well for him. It’s such a rusty movie that struggles to be fun and daring you can almost hear director Ron Howard muttering that old Han Solo line “Here me baby, hold together.” Solo does hold together, but crashes towards the finish line in such a broken and battered state you wonder how it even took off.


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Deadpool Dethrones Avengers With Triple-Digit Debut

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The first film to knock down Marvel Studio’s towering juggernaut of Avengers: Infinity War from the #1 slot has arrived. It’s no surprise that it would indeed be another superhero movie, but it is surprising by how much it overtook. Deadpool 2, Fox’s Marvel property of a fourth-wall breaking anti-hero that satirizes comic book movies, premiered to a huge first weekend of $125 million domestic. Despite being just a few million dollars short of its previous film, it’s still an impressive achievement for an R-rated Marvel movie that keeps the momentum going both in comedy and box office. Even more impressive is it’s worldwide gross that is currently sitting at a beefy $301 million. Expect it to stick around for such a successful first weekend.

With such a high take from Deadpool, Avengers: Infinity War naturally took a big hit. Dropping by 53%, the blockbuster made only $28.6 million in fourth weekend. It’s still standing tall with a domestic total of $595 million, but it’s doubtful at this point that it’ll reach the same heights as Marvel’s earlier 2018 blockbuster of Black Panther. Other debuts this week were not so lucky with such limited takes. The all-female comedy Book Club premiered at #3 for the weekend with a $12.5 million domestic gross. The family comedy Show Dogs placed at #6 with $6 million in its domestic take.

Returning films are weathering the Marvel storm decently with expected drops. A Quiet Place is still hanging in there with the lowest drop of the weekend, bringing in another $4 million to boost its domestic total up to $176 million, still an amazing gross for the $17 million horror movie that could. The giant monster movie Rampage is clinging to the top 10 in its #9 slot, but it’s not looking good for such expensive blockbuster still so far away from meeting its budget. And RBG, the documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsberg, remains in the #10 spot from last weekend with its domestic total now up to $3.8 million.

View the full top 10 for the weekend below.

Deadpool 2 ($125,000,000)
Avengers: Infinity War ($28,672,000)
Book Club ($12,500,000)
Life of the Party ($7,725,000)
Breaking In ($6,470,000)
Show Dogs ($6,034,770)
Overboard ($4,725,000)
A Quiet Place ($4,040,000)
Rampage ($1,500,000)
RBG ($1,280,000)

Next weekend will pit Deadpool against another anti-hero in Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Star Wars side story on Han Solo. It will indeed be interesting to see how a Star Wars movie plays in the summer as the previous three Disney Star Wars productions have all been massive blockbusters in December. For debuting in 4,200 theaters, the pressure is on to see Star Wars topple Marvel.


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Another Astounding Weekend at the Box Office for Avengers: Infinity War

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Box Office Weekend 5/4/18-5/6/18

Not the least bit surprising, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War has dominated the weekend box office with another massive gross. In its second weekend, the grandest superhero ensemble to date brought in $112.4 million. This brings its domestic total up to $450 million, and its worldwide take well over $1 billion. Time will tell if it has the legs, however, to hold its own against Marvel’s other superhero epic this year, Black Panther. Considering Black Panther is still in the top 10, and has almost passed $700 million domestic, it’ll be a close race between the two Marvel movies.

Of course, the success of the Avengers is due in no small part to this being a rather sparse weekend of premieres appearing in fewer theaters. Braving the Marvel storm to come in at #2 was the romantic comedy remake, Overboard, starring Eugenio Derbez and Anna Faris, making $14.7 million domestic. And if that’s the gross of the #2 spot, you can imagine how lower the other films are. Tully, a new comedy Jason Reitman and starring Charlize Theron, came in at #6 with a domestic gross of $3.1 million. Further down at #10 is the new David Tennant starring thriller, Bad Samaritan, making $1.7 million for the weekend.

There were expected dips all around with no huge surprises, but many of the successful films that have hung around are growing a considerable gross. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place had the lowest drop and is currently sitting at a robust $159 million domestic total. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has already blazed many records, but it’s only $7 million away from clearing $700 million domestic.

See the full top 10 box office results below.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War ($112,474,000)
  2. Overboard ($14,750,000)
  3. A Quiet Place ($7,600,000)
  4. I Feel Pretty ($4,900,000)
  5. Rampage ($4,620,000)
  6. Tully ($3,186,000)
  7. Black Panther ($3,146,000)
  8. Truth or Dare ($1,885,000)
  9. Super Troopers 2 ($1,815,000)
  10. Bad Samaritan ($1,758,000)

Next weekend, Avengers will be battling against the Melissa McCarthy starring comedy Life of the Party and the Gabrielle Union starring thriller Breaking In. Considering that Life of the Party will have the most significant theater count, McCarthy has the only real shot at being the first film to knock the superhero giant down from the top 10, though it’s doubtful of the Avengers hype will have died down by then.


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