Review – Here, Kitty, Kitty (“Black Panther”)

This movie represents quite a milestone: a film about an African-American superhero based on a comic book. Sure, there have been lame ones before (Blankman, Meteor-Man, Steel) and some really good ones (Hancock, Luke Cage, Blade), but none that generated THIS kind of buzz and have been part of the all-mighty MCU juggernaut.

During the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, we were introduced to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), aka Prince T’Challa of Wakanda, an African country hidden away from prying eyes that boasts amazing technology that far excels anything else on Earth. We pick up with the prince being made king in a country that has five local African tribes that sit at the Royal Council. After a brief challenge to the throne by M’Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the gorilla-like Jabari Tribe, King T’Challa assumes his rightful place, even though some, like warrior W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), thinks his lackadaisical ruling of Wakanda is way too soft.

Meanwhile, an old adversary of Wakanda has arisen to steal a precious artifact of theirs. He’s Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis–and NOT in mo-cap this time!), a South African black-market arms dealer, smuggler, and evil gangster who not only knows all about Wakanda, but also their mineral-rich deposits of Vibranium, the single most powerful element on Earth. He’s even fashioned a weaponized Vibranium right arm! Going after him in South Korea is top priority, so off goes T’Challa, his ex-girlfriend and special-op’s spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Okoye (Danai Gurira), leader of the bald, all-female Wakandan spear-wielding, kick-ass guards.

Also meeting there is CIA operative, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who gets more than he bargained for trying to apprehend the vicious Klaue. Soon they all find out that Klaue’s got rather lethal friends, led by a mysterious masked young man. Back in Wakanda with an injured Ross, T’Challa gets a huge shock: that mysterious masked man shows up there and turns out to be long-lost Wakandan heir to the throne, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan), aka Killmonger. A challenge to the throne is made and Killmonger defeats the king.

As Killmonger assumes the throne and becomes the new Black Panther, he (naturally) plots to take over the world. T’Challa’s brilliant techno-savvy teenage sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Romonda (Angela Bassett), Nakia, Ross, and Okoye high-tail it for the mountains to seek help. But will they find help? Will T’Challa be able to beat that nasty Killmonger? Will Ross (as the token white guy) lend a hand and do some good? And what about those CGI rhinos?

Written by newbie Joe Robert Cole (two episodes of American Crime Story) and director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), it’s clear neither one had a clear grasp on the ‘superhero’ genre as they were writing this. Based on the comic books, and tied into the Mighty MCU, this 134 minute richly steeped in African tradition is filled with enough clichéd and telegraphed scenes to shake a Wakandan spear at. For an entry film, I was expecting SO much more and got so much less. The story, although textured beautifully,  is mediocre, predictable, and the characters are barely fleshed-out; it’s like a James Bond meets King Arthur movie with quite a bit of CG razzle-dazzle thrown in.

And it needs all that CG hocus-pocus too, ’cause that hokey dialogue isn’t going to win any awards anytime soon, that’s for sure… it even borders on trite fan-fiction sometimes. Coogler, who directed the wonderful boxing movie Creed, either filmed scenes in the dark or shot his fight scenes with sloppy camerawork, so you couldn’t see what was going on. Coogler, take a tip and watch movies by the Wachowski’s, David Leitch, or Paul Greengrass on HOW to film a fight scene! The one thing this movie has going for it (apart from the actors) is the sumptuous production design and exquisite costuming. Those are truly spectacular.

Boseman carries the movie with suave and sophistication, unlike any other previous Marvel superhero. He would be a great 007, since he already has a “Q” (Shuri) in the movie, and Wright fits that role perfectly as the sassy brainiac. Black Panther may be the superhero here, but for sheer bad-assery (is that even a word?), look no further than Nyong’o and Gurira. You do NOT want to get on the bad side of these two beautiful women, trust me, you do NOT! They are a SUCH a force to be reckoned with that they steal every scene they’re in. And Stan Lee makes his requisite cameo, of course.

P.S. There are mid-credit and post credit extra scenes, so if you stay after the movie is over, you won’t be disappointed as they tie into the upcoming Avengers: Infinity Wars.                  


The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Kings on the throne being usurped by others is a tale as old as time, and this classic Alexandre Dumas story gets the royal treatment with a cavalcade of Hollywood stars including Leonardo DeCaprio, Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Bryne, John Malkovich, and more.
Taking his Three Musketeers out for another romp later in their lives, Dumas fashioned this harrowing yarn about France’s lascivious and wicked King Louis XIV (DeCaprio) who, despite the his countries poverty and hard times, lives in obscene splendor and womanizes like Hugh Hefner gone wild. And the King’s trusted Musketeers from the previous movies? Only D’Artagnan (Bryne) remains loyal; the rest have gone their separate ways: Aramis (Irons) is an aging priest, Athos (Malkovich) retired to the country, and Porthos (Depardieu) became a farting drunk.
Now Louis, being King and all, lusts after the sweet Christine Bellefort (Judith Godreche), but she’s engaged to Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard), the son of Athos. Louis immediately plots to seduce Christine by having Raoul sent to the battlefront (and sure death), while D’Artagnan catches wind of this plot. Athos angrily warns D’Artagnan that if Raoul is harmed, then Louis will become his enemy. D’Artagnan tells Athos he will personally speak to Louis about Raoul AND the growing food shortage the people are yelling for. Does that help? Nope! Louis could care less and, not only sends Raoul off to the front and to his death, but gives the starving people rotten food to eat!
Well, that does it! The Musketeers unite (except for D’Artagnan) once again and plot to usurp the throne… but how? Luckily, Aramis reveals a little known secret: Louis has an identical twin brother named Philippe who’s languishing in a remote prison, wearing an iron mask to keep him from being revealed! How convenient! Aramis’ plan is to save France by replacing Louis with Philippe, and the Musketeers begin training Philippe to act and behave like Louis. They pull the ol’ switcheroo at a masquerade ball where D’Artagnan discovers the ruse.
Philippe is taken to the dungeons, confronting the Musketeers before they can take Louis to the Bastille. They trade twins, but Philippe is captured before the Musketeers escape. D’Artagnan is shocked to learn who Philippe is and begs Louis not to kill him, but Louis refuses. Then Philippe pleads with Louis to kill him rather than put him back in the mask, which convinces Louis to send Philippe to the Bastille. Geez, is this guy a piece of work or what? But the Musketeers will have none of that after all their hard work and the inevitable fight breaks out. Brother against brother, Musketeer against Musketeer, and all for the glory of France!
Before he won his Best Screenplay Oscar for Braveheart, Randall Wallace wrote, produced, and directed this adaptation that tanked big time at the box office. I guess they all can’t be winners, huh? With really dumb dialogue and boring direction, this humdrum version does boast lavish costuming and set design, but that casting! Yikes! DiCaprio is woefully miscast as Louis/Philippe, as is Godreche & Sarsgaard (who can’t act at all). At least the others (Bryne, Depardieu, and Malkovich) TRY to bring some semblance of realism and honesty to this piece of garbage. Even Disney’s ridiculous and uneven comedy, The Three Musketeers, was better.

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