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Avengers: Infinity War review- The most ambitious film since Return of the King

After 10 years, 18 films, 15 directors and countless heroes, Avengers: Infinity War is finally here. The amount of hype for this film is huge, as we have the culmination of the most ambitious film endeavour since the Lord of the Rings, if not even more ambitious. Does it live up to the hype? In short, with as little spoilers as possible, no.

Oh who am I kidding, yes, yes it does.

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What are Black Panther’s Oscar chances?

Black Panther is a phenomenon. This isn’t just a superhero film, this is a cultural statement, a message to the world, and easily one of Marvel’s best and most successful films. In just over a month, Infinity War comes out, and it’s a testament to Black Panther that the epic culmination of ten years that involves the Avengers battling Thanos is the one that must be better than the King of Wakanda. Ten years ago, Marvel probably wouldn’t dream of even getting nominated, but Black Panther’s unprecedented success has many people wondering if this is the year the barriers are truly shattered and Black Panther gets recognition from the Oscars. I’m not just talking technical, I’m talking Best Picture here. Could it happen? It’s actually more likely than usual. Let’s look at the case for-

What’s different this time?

The Academy has changed. When Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight failed to get a Best Picture nomination despite being hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture slot to ten. This has helped films such as District 9, Up, Toy Story 3, Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, Arrival and Get Out to get nominated (all very worthy nominations for great films, may I add.) Whilst there were only nine films this year up for nominations (seriously, couldn’t they have nominated Logan or Blade Runner 2049?) the field is open for a superhero film. So why wasn’t The Winter Soldier, another acclaimed Marvel film, or Wonder Woman, another cultural milestone, or Logan, held up as the best superhero film since 2008, up for grabs? Let’s take a look at those in order-

Fellow MCU film The Winter Soldier has similarities to Black Panther- a more serious tone, relevant themes and a great and engaging plot. However, the issue lies with the franchising. In order to appreciate The Winter Soldier, you have to be aware of Captain America as a character and his arc in both his first film and The Avengers. The film has many supporting characters from the MCU film such as Nick Fury and Black Widow and the plot of the film revolves around events that tie into the wider universe. The film is unquestionably a franchise film, and the Academy don’t tend to go for sequels anyway. Black Panther on the other hand is a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the other Marvel films. Wakanda is a detailed world in and of itself and the film more than holds up as a singular superhero film. This is a key reason why I think it’ll be nominated.

OK, so what about the crown jewel of non-Nolan DC films? Why do I think Black Panther will get nominated over Wonder Woman? Make no mistake, Wonder Woman was a phenomenon as well and has just as much to say as Black Panther does about society both then and now, however there are two factors that Black Panther has over Wonder Woman. Firstly, as much as Wonder Woman is acclaimed, nearly everyone, myself included, agree that the third act where Ares reveals himself and the explosions begin is weaker than the outstanding first two acts. It’s not bad, but kinda cliche, especially when he starts to turn himself into a CGI demon. In contrast, Erik Killmonger is held up as the best part of Black Panther, and the third act does not stumble in the way Wonder Woman’s does. Another factor is the release of Justice League, which had Wonder Woman as a central character. I enjoyed the film, but it was hated by critics and failed at the box office, all the while Academy voters were preparing themselves to vote. Could the failure of Justice League have contributed to Wonder Woman’s Oscar snubs? More than likely. Infinity War  is set to smash all box office records and will almost certainly receive acclaim, and even if Ant-Man 2 isn’t good (which I doubt it will be), that won’t affect Black Panther’s Oscar chances. I think fate is on Wakanda’s side.

This brings us to Logan, the only superhero film to ever be nominated for a screenplay award and one of this year’s major snubs. Yes, a writing award is great but the acting deserved recognition, especially from Patrick Stewart. With that aside, people have been saying that Logan’s inability to get a Best Picture award means Black Panther cannot get one. It’s true that Logan’s wildly different tone and themes from most superhero films made it a prime award nominee, and Black Panther is more in line with the Marvel films and is ostensibly a superhero film, whereas Logan is more of a character driven western, but Black Panther has one thing Logan doesn’t- it has the cultural impact. Logan was widely praised and adored but Black Panther is a phenomenon and has taken the world by storm. It is a hugely important films for many reasons and has something to say about the current state of world politics. It has outgrossed most Best Picture winners combined and has made a massive cultural and social impact. What do The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET and Return of the King have in common aside from being blockbusters? They were all massively successful films that became events, which were rewarded with Best Picture nominations. Do the Academy really want to miss out on what is likely to be the biggest cultural event of the year that is causing Infinity War to look small by comparison? It’ll certainly boost the viewing figures.

Hey, if this can be nominated for an Oscar over LEGO BATMAN (!), then anything can.

There’s precedent for films like Black Panther being nominated. It’s obviously political so there’s that going for it (although I would like to think it got nominated for its own merits and not just to score points) and has a lot to say about the world currently. The release date isn’t really an issue, as Oscar-bait is slowly dying and more interesting films are taking over. Just this year Get Out, a satirical horror film about race relations released in February won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for three more including Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is a love story between a fish man and a mute woman and is ostensibly a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who specialises in speculative fiction. There is a high chance that Black Panther can not only be nominated, but win. It all depends on what else comes out though, although I guarantee that none will have the cultural impact of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige have a winner here- and it’s here to stay. Logan broke the screenplay barrier, now it’s time for the King of Wakanda to take one for the team and ride the Oscar glory.

Black panther review- You’ve never seen a superhero film like this

It’s only February, but Marvel have wasted no time in giving the world the first superhero film of the year, and it’s set a huge bar for the rest of the year. Considering Infinity War is next, you’d think Black Panther would mainly act as an excuse to set it up, but I was surprised at just how different and standalone this film was in relation to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the awesome intro is there, Stan Lee has his usual hilarious one-liner and there are after credits scenes but for the most part Black Panther is the most unique and out there Marvel film. You’ll never see a blockbuster or superhero film like it. This movie serves as a massive statement to critics who complain about all superhero films being the same- I dare the superhero cynics to find another mainstream blockbuster film that features a mainly black cast which serves as a celebration of African culture whilst also dealing with Shakespearean ideals about loyalty, disillusionment, identity and colonialism, tackles modern day issues such as immigration and inequality, has an utterly unique, Oscar-worthy visual design and world building that presents a fully detailed country with its own laws and customs which also happens to be plain fun (Black Panther 2 won’t count). Until there’s another one, I’m going to assume those critics have no idea what they’re talking about.

 

As the film’s been out in most countries for about a week and it’s been released in America now, I will be spoiling the film, although not massively.

Continuing on from his awesome introduction and arc in Civil War, T’Challa/Black Panther/The coolest character in the MCU returns home to Wakanda to be crowed king. Things are not so easy though, as he soon gets involved in a global plot which revolves around vibranium smuggling, the return of Ulysses Klaw and a threat to the throne of Wakanda. Already the film sets itself apart from the rest of Marvel by having a relativity contained plot- after the awesome action scene in South Korea (Marvel really loves filming there) the rest of the film is set entirely in Wakanda and has very personal stakes. But the uniqueness doesn’t end there, as this is a very thematic and dramatic film a world away from the buddy comedy of Thor: Ragnarok. Through the different tribes of Wakanda, incredibly topical issues are raised that are very relevant for today’s world. T’Challa believes in Wakanda’s isolation as he does not want the resources of his country being taken away by foreign powers like the rest of Africa, but at the same time he rules the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and believes this to be the right way, leaving the rest of the world behind to face their own problems. W’Kabi fears that Wakanda’s involvement in world affairs will bring unneeded immigration and integration, which risks Wakanda being just another country and Killmonger believes that Wakanda should be the leaders of the world and that it is justified, seeing how Western cultures took over Africa during the 19th century and how black people have been treated even now. His motivations make absolute sense. I was very surprised as to how political this movie was, but it wasn’t done in a hamfisted or preachy manner. It enhanced the film and made it a lot more complex than the usual blockbuster.

Speaking of Killmonger, he’s probably the best villain Marvel has ever done. Like Loki, he is a very complex and interesting character who opposes the hero in a far more interesting manner than just being evil. His motivations make total sense, his actions are justified and he gets a complete character arc which is immensely satisfying to watch. There’s also the return of Ulyssess Klaw, who is great fun to watch. The film’s villains are all great and Marvel have definitely improved on this front. This bodes well for Thanos. A great villain is nothing without a great hero, but fortunately Black Panther is an awesome character. He commands the screen every second he is on screen and in his solo film he is perhaps even more well thought out than his amazing introduction in Civil War. He is a hero who doesn’t see himself as one and definetly doesn’t see himself as a superhero, yet his actions and character are all heroic. He’s become one of my favourite Marvel heroes as he isn’t afraid to make mistakes and even do things that antagonise others, as long as it’s in the service of his goals.

The world of Wakanda and the highly unique style this film has is simply amazing. The film combines futuristic technology with African culture, and it’s so interesting to watch. Marvel have successfully made politics interesting- albeit the politics of a fictional nation which seems a lot cooler and a lot more well run than most countries today. That’s kind of the point though, as fear of expanding and helping others is one of the main conflicts of the film. For all the wider themes at play, this is still a comic book film, and the action is amazing. The fighting is very intense and quite different from the usual Marvel action and it reminded me in places of a 12-rated Logan. The final battle is also awesome and the film is never boring, always offering up something new and interesting. The links to the wider MCU are very thin, with only Klaw, minor references to Civil War and a hilarious Martin Freeman as Everett Ross offering wider links to the universe. I appreciate this though, as being bogged down in references would have alienated casual audiences. The standalone nature gives Ryan Coogler to tell his own story and put a unique stamp on Marvel, which he has done immensely well. As much as I am looking forward to Infinity War, I am desperate for a Black Panther sequel to return to this unique world.

In conclusion, I highly reccomend Black Panther, even if you are not a huge superhero fan. It’s different enough to stand on its own and it has a lot to say about race, diversity and building relationships, very relevant in today’s world. It’s one of Marvel’s best films and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a bit of recognition from next year’s Oscars for this film. Next up, it’s a film ten years in the making- Infinity War. April can’t come soon enough.