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Black Panther

Dir. Ryan Coogler

Around the time of the abysmal Suicide Squad, I began to suffer from full-on comic book-itis. When Wonder Woman came out, it was hailed as a ‘masterpiece’ of sorts, emblazoned with the hyperbole of “The best comic book movie since The Dark Knight!” I don’t mean to diminish the artistry of these films, but a hard fact has been nagging at me after seeing the various installments in the Marvel/DC catalogue: Aren’t these movies all basically the same? They involve some kind of ridiculous backstory, an arch nemesis/foe- or the plural forms of these- and increasingly loooong fight sequences that extend the running time well past the 2-hour mark, and in some cases, close to 3 hours.

Comic books were a welcome refuge as a kid, and the original Batman (1989) began my obsessive quest into all things Wayne-related. Tim Burton’s vision (despite not being a comic fan himself, ironically) hit all the right marks in terms of what makes going to the movies fun- his blend of darkness, absurdity, and bright visuals made a perfect fit for the rhythm of the comics. While I also liked Nolan’s trilogy, they were so serrrrrious, weighty, and somber, with running times that expanded increasingly past the 2/2.5 hour mark.

I was excited by Panther‘s first half- especially the setup and a few great visual sequences; overall, the movie looks great. However, the last half turns into a floppy mess, with the aforementioned never-ending action scenes, and Michael B. Jordan’s ‘come at me brah!’ Killmonger, suffering from some serious ‘roid rage. While the movie exists as a self-contained storyline split between Wakanda and Oakland, CA, its weakness is also following the same format of other Marvel properties.

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Black Panther is certainly a cultural landmark, in that it is the first blockbuster-type action film that features a nearly all-black cast and production team; really, it’s the only big-budget movie with such a distinction thus far. When movies by/for minority groups are made, they are typically insulting and for niche markets (Tyler Perry, romantic comedies, and so on). Ryan Coogler is a young, talented writer/director that has already made two very solid films (Fruitvale Station and Creed), so I’m sure the movie’s unwieldy success will allow him the opportunity to make anything he wants from now on.

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Red Sparrow

Dir. Francis Lawrence

Spy movies tend to fluctuate between ditchwater dull (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) or pulse-pounding, exciting, topical action thrillers (The Bourne franchise); unfortunately, the joyless Red Sparrow fits into the former. Not that these types of movies have any obligation to hold our attention span for stretches of time, but every actor in this (and it’s got a stellar cast that includes Jeremy Irons and Matthias Schoenaerts) seems to be punching a timecard and checking their watch. I stopped following the storyline at a certain point, because I just didn’t care. The Bourne movies tend to succeed because of a central plot device as opposed to one that gets fractured and split into multiple pieces.

Much has been made of its nudity/sexuality, but even that is gratuitous and borderline exploitative. The sex scenes aren’t necessary for titillation, but to humiliate and degrade. Two attempted rape scenes- really? This should have been sent straight to a Steven Seagal DVD collection.

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