Tuesday, February 27, 2018


THE BLACK PANTHER is so good I didn’t miss Inspector Clouseau.

It’s the next STAR WARS franchise. Ryan Coogler is the next George Lucas except he can also write.

What’s amazing to me is that after fifty superhero movies, maybe seventy (last year alone)  – Coogler could mount one that is wholly original. Sure there is tons of CGI and exciting chase scenes (who needs a custom Batmobile when you can just go to your local Lexus dealer?), but there is also an engaging story, social commentary that is truly thought-provoking, and big laughs. Zack Snyder should be tied to a chair and forced to watch this movie on a continual loop for a year.

Coogler (and co-writer Joe Robert Cole) have their sites set on way more than just a popcorn movie. They create an entire world, introduce us to inviting but complex characters, and tell a story that makes sense. I was so bored by the latest STAR WARS movie. And baffled by the Byzantine story-telling in THOR. Coogler knows how to set things up and pay them off in non obvious (DC) ways.

Visually the movie is stunning, but we’ve all come to expect that with CGI.

Chadwick Boseman was the perfect choice to play THE BLACK PANTHER. As Jackie Robinson he already broke the color line in baseball. Now he’s essentially Martin Luther King Jr. with superpowers.

Playing the chief antagonist is Coogler-regular, Michael B. Jordan. For reasons you understand based on his character’s childhood, Jordan wants to destroy the world. And I kept thinking: I’d still prefer him to Trump.

Everyone turns in a terrific performance. Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson on the new SHERLOCK series) does the CIA proud. Andy Serkis is the villain who laughs at everything. Yeah he’s a murderous psychopath but I’d sure want him in my studio audience if I were doing a multi-camera sitcom. Forest Whitaker is always solid, which is good since he’s in every movie and TV show produced in America and Canada. Lupita Nyong’o is also great and I wish she were in everything. I also loved Danai Gurira, Sterling K. Brown (also in everything), Florence Kasumba, and Letitia Wright.

I’ll be interested to see whether this movie gets Academy Award nominations next year. I think it’s a far better movie than any of the candidates for this year’s honor. But it’s also entertaining and people will actually see it so Academy members will likely shun it. Better to nominate LADY BIRD, a pleasant familiar almost stereotypical coming-of-age film.

I don’t want to over-praise THE BLACK PANTHER because then your expectations will be too high. But you should see it once. Zack Snyder needs to see it 100,000 times.


Justin Russo said...

Thank you for the review! Once Oscar season ends, I'll go check this out!

What are your feelings, or rather how do you deal with "stunt" casting? By this I mean more using a big star as a character's parent or sibling for an episode (eg Glynis Johns as Diane's mom on "Cheers" or Debbie Reynolds on "Will & Grace"). Obviously, this poses a challenge when wanting a character to return, especially if said supporting character is central to the main actor's role. Then there is the obvious frustration to the viewer when said character isn't in an "important" episode (I am just thinking of Marlo Thomas on "Friends"; she wasn't at her granddaughter's birth?). Perhaps there are then just too many variables and people to write for. Just very interested in hearing your take!

Daniel said...

I honestly don't understand the negativity toward Zack Snyder. I haven't seen "Black Panther" so I can't comment on it, but every other Marvel movie has been glib, repetitive, and visually bland. Zack Snyder (at least with "Watchmen," "Man of Steel," "Batman v Superman," and "Wonder Woman" (which he co-wrote)) has at least tried to move the genre forward, using it to explore moral, emotional, and ethical themes, while challenging the audience with narrative complexities. And I'm not even mentioning his unparalleled visual sensibilities.

I was slow to warm up to Snyder. I'm lukewarm on "300." I think that "Sucker Punch" is really interesting but rough around the edges. And it took me a while to warm up to "Watchmen" (which, as I said above, I now love). I've found that with his work it's always best to watch his Director's Cuts. Some people tell compact stories. Some people tell complex, epic stories. Snyder falls into the latter category, so when the studios cut his work down for theatrical exhibition it definitely hurts them.

I'm not looking to make any converts here. But Snyder's work is too often dismissed on the basis of its superficial qualities when, if you actually engage with it, it's quite layered and complex. Most people won't give his work that chance, though.

therealshell said...

It is indeed an excellent film, and I concur that it is better (and more deserving of awards) than any of the films nominated for Best Picture this year.

VincentS said...

Dare I hope this is the return to super-hero movies with intelligent scripts?

PW said...

Now this is really making me wish I'd gone to Black Panther yesterday instead of "Annihilation".

Pete Grossman said...

Friday Question - M*A*S*H Yiddish.

The show was peppered with Yiddish words - Hawkeye yelling "Dreck!" (Shit) during the river of liver and ocean of fish scene; "Mazel Tov" (Good Luck [said with a congratulatory tone] uttered from Pat Morita's character; Col. Potter responding with "Emis" [truth] later in the show's run. For the last one, I remember watching it with my father when it first aired and my dad asking me, "How does Col. Potter know Yiddish?" Sure, there's a certain conceit, but wondering how much it was discussed if at all, as most of the population isn't quite up on their "farshtand" (understanding) of the language. Thanks!

tavm said...

While I loved Black Panther the second time (I fell asleep the first time), I'll disagree with it being better than any of the BP nominees this year as I definitely think The Shape of Water is much better!

Peter said...

Vincent, last year's Logan was a fantastic film with a moving and intelligent script. And it's been justly rewarded with an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, the first ever comic book movie to get a screenplay nomination.

Unknown said...

Wondering if you're aware that Breitbart Big Hollywood's troll-in-chief John Nolte has proclaimed Black Panther a "Pro-Trump Movie" - and is interpreting the big box-office in that light?

You can check out the Nolte creature's riff on this at the BBH site (but be sure to lay in a supply of antacids in advance).

Anonymous said...

Zack is given a HUGE advantage. People go into his movies and already love the characters and really want to see them be great. Yes, it's added pressure but it's also a leg up. If nobody gets your "genius" everyone else isn't the problem. As Ken stated Black Panther was very layered but it was also accessible and relatable. You can make a complex movie that the masses can understand and appreciate. Batman v Superman was just bad. If you can't make a great movie in the two hour time frame that's nobody's fault but the directors. Shouldn't take a director's cut or multiple viewings to fix a movie. As a writer/directer you know the sand box you are given to build a castle.

Peter said...

Rest in Peace to Lewis Gilbert, director of two of my favourite Bond films, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Also directed classic comedies Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita.

Peter Aparicio said...

The anti-Trump jabs ate getting old. Can we go anywhere without politics?

By Ken Levine said...

Once he's locked up or no longer with us then I'm happy to. Until then, feel free to leave because my hatred for the motherfucker is all-consuming.

Doug said...

" Now he’s essentially Martin Luther King Jr. with superpowers." No. The Falcon is MLK jr with superpowers (well, high tech suit). The Black Panther is Thurgood Marshall with super powers (high tech suit).

Peter said...

Trump summed up in one image.


Kevin from VA said...

Ken, have you ever thought of writing an updated version of the movie "Being There"? It's about a clueless man who somehow, regardless of his ignorance becomes very powerful politically. The movie ends with him maybe becoming the next President.
If you do, perhaps call it "Fleeing Hair"?

VP81955 said...

Perhaps he grew up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, as James Cagney did in real life. Cagney learned to speak Yiddish in his youth, and you can hear him carrying on a conversation in that dialect in the 1932 Warners film "Taxi!" with Loretta Young. (The lady in my avatar was sought as the female lead, but she refused a loan-out from Paramount on the advice of then-husband William Powell, who had just jumped to Warners. "Taxi!" became a hit, and Lombard long regretted her decision.)

Ralph C. said...

Ken, I agree with you. I saw it in 3D with a few friends and we all enjoyed it.

mdv59 said...

I liked Black Panther a lot but I'm not quite ready to nominate it for best picture. Personally I think Creed was a better movie. To me they could have cut 15 minutes out and it would have been a better film.

I also found the tone (intensity?) of Michael B. Jordan's character a little jarring compared to the rest of the cast. To me it felt like he was in 'Saving Private Ryan' and the rest of the cast was in 'Thor.'

I think it's similar to 'Wonder Woman'-- if you like the comic book hero films you'll love it, and even if you don't like them you'll probably still enjoy it.

Speaking of wholly original films... If you haven't seen 'Coco' you should check it out. That may have been the best film of last year.

Tom Galloway said...

For what it's worth, while pretty much all of Black Panther's individual comics series have had elements of note (there's one writer's take I wasn't fond of, but other folk who I respect have a better opinion of it), I'd recommend the Christopher Priest* written stories, collected in four trade paperbacks, as the ones that really set up a lot of the character seen in the movie**.

*Not the British sf author. These days, the comics writer tends to just use the name "Priest" in his writing due to the possible confusion.

**Yes, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee set up the basic core of T'Challa and Wakanda in his/its first appearance in Fantastic Four as genius king of a technological advanced African nation. Priest took that and really ran with it, having T'Challa almost always being lots of steps ahead of anyone else in the world and adding an emphasis on global politics. In the comics, the Priest created Everett K. Ross character works for the State Dept. rather than the CIA.

MikeN said...

>pay them off in non obvious (DC) ways.

The overall movie, and visuals and dialogue are excellent, but
wasn't this movie almost as predictable as Avatar?

Mike Doran, it's not just Breitbart, there's some left-wing writers making the same complaint.

Andrew said...

I haven't seen Black Panther yet, but plan to soon. But since someone else brought it up, I was blown away by Creed when it came out. I thought the Rocky franchise must have been exhausted by then, and in any case had a final swansong with Rocky Balboa. I only went to Creed because of word of mouth. What a fantastic, powerful movie.

So anyway, I plan to see Black Panther primarily because I'm a Jordan fan.

Larry V said...

I agree with some of the other commenters here - I liked Black Panther, but I wouldn't call it a great movie. Better than all of this year's Best Picture nominees? Nah. Better than a couple of them, maybe. Lotta fun though.

Different strokes.

Before the Black Panther was released, the alt-right was trolling the movie on Rotten Tomatoes and other sites. Now that its a colossal hit, it's hilarious to see the likes of John Nolte trying to claim BP as pro-Trump. His reading of the movie requires more contortions than an Olympic gymnastics routine.

I don't agree that the Academy will shun a movie because it's popular. I grant there may be a feeling on the part of some voters that big box office hits aren't hurting for attention, so awards can go elsewhere. But if a big hit is also an obviously great movie, it will win - The Godfather movies, for example, or The Best Years of Our Lives, which was a colossal hit in its era.

Likewise, a good movie, even if flawed, is also likely to win if it's a huge hit. For example, there was no way Titanic was going to lose Best Picture in 1997, even if there were better movies nominated. L. A. Confidential was a near universal critics' choice that year, but it had no chance against the box office juggernaut.

The bigger hurdle for a Black Panther nomination would be genre - no comic book movie has ever been nominated for Best Picture.

As for Zack Snyder, he has taken a lot of hits from critics, it looks like WB is in the process of removing him from further participation in the DC "universe," and the Marvel fanboys have been jumping on his professional grave with glee. More seriously, he has recently suffered a terrible family tragedy. I think we've reached the point where it's unsportsmanlike to keep kicking this man while he's down.

Unknown said...

Some years back, when Roger Ebert was running his Journal on his website, I was a regular lurker thereon.

Two of the regular commenters were Randy Masters, who was a right-wing Fundamentalist Christian, and Bill Hays, who was a left-wing Fundamentalist Atheist.
Basically, two sides of the same slug.

Being young (?) and foolish in those days, I would sometimes engage with either or both of these worthies, from my insecure spot in the middle (I sometimes called this "being in the rundown - caught between Bases" -clever, what?).

Randy the Rightist, was determined to advocate for what he believed were "Tea Party movies", which he felt advocated his hard-to-starboard world view.
Two of his favorites in this regard were The Hunger Games and Les Miserables (the musical version), which latter caused quite a bit of head-scratching among us lurkers.
Ebert's Journal and its archives are still up at his site, so anybody who is sufficiently masochistic to check this stuff out may do so at their leisure.

My point (I think) in bringing this up is to show that the Hardline Ideologue of whichever side can always find justification for his own laminated viewpoint - whether it's really there or not.

As I mentioned somewhere else, I don't plan on seeing Black Panther anyway, because I'm off the whole genre.
I should also stop reading the BreitSites, as they aren't helping my acid reflux a one little bit.

The forthcoming Mid-term elections are disheartening enough as it is.

So how was your day?

MikeN said...

When I saw reviews for Black Panther, they said, "Not giving away spoilers, so I will just say ...", which served as a spotlight on what would happen. Ken doesn't do it, though he outright gives away a plot point later. My question is for people who didn't read these reviews, was this major plot point predictable as you were watching the movie?

Why was Star Trek bashed as racist for the episode Code of Honor with Patrick Stewart and others apologizing, while Black Panther is celebrated for presenting Africans acting in presumably African manner?
Star Trek didn't have characters making gorilla sounds.

Will Andy Serkis win an Oscar as a career award?

I saw this at Alamo. Did other theaters also have Boseman before and after the movie?

Myles said...


DetroitGuy said...

Chauncey Gardner (Chance the Gardner) would make an infinitely better president than Trumplethinskin. With an intellect no more developed than that of a child, Chance’s administration would be a welcome return to civility and intellectualism after the Orange Dotard.

MikeN said...

If you're willing to watch genres you don't like for a well crafted work and engaging story, then I highly recommend Babylon 5. The writing is superb as a work of character even if there is no science fiction.

Unknown said...

m4ufree - I was pretty disappointed in this one, I am usually a sucker for superhero flick. The gadgets/tech ideas were great, but it was downhill from there. While there were a few good acting performances, most were not which was very distracting from the movie. It was really what ruined the movie for me. It also wasn't a great storyline, I can handle that it was pretty predictable, it is a superhero movie. However, it just seemed basic. Just when you thought it might gaining traction and pull you into it, it would just fall flat.

Basically, I rate movies by a couple of things: Does it pull me in - No Did it entertain me - sort of, I looked at my watch a couple times... and I didn't have anywhere to go, but generally it did. Would I buy the movie when it comes out on Blu-ray and would I spend the extra for 4K - no, I might stream as part of my plan, but I would not spend extra money for it....I wish I would have just waited for that option.

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