BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Prolonged Sequences of Action Violence, and a brief Rude Gesture

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole

(based on the BLACK PANTHER comics by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker & Andy Serkis

BLACK PANTHER is the eighteenth(!) entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and final installment before the hotly anticipated INFINITY WAR hits in May. Superhero fans previously got a glimpse of Black Panther a couple of years ago when he showed up in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (which is easily in the top 5 best MCU films). Now, Black Panther has finally received an origin film…sort of? I mean, he was already Black Panther in CIVIL WAR, but he really becomes Black Panther in this film I think. It’s hard to explain, because even though BLACK PANTHER isn’t technically another Marvel superhero origin film…it certainly has the feeling of one. That’s not necessarily a compliment either.

In the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda (which is highly advanced thanks to an endless mine of vibranium – the strongest metal on earth), warrior T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has returned to take his rightful place on his deceased father’s throne. However, T’Challa/Black Panther also finds himself hot on the trail of international terrorist Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). T’Challa’s problems don’t stop there, because the newly crowned king encounters leadership difficulties and uncovers long-hidden secrets. To boot, a mysterious violent-prone villain Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) has somehow made his way into the Wakanda and intends to take it over. Things are hitting the fan and it’s up to Black Panther to save the day!

Even though it suffers from a motherload of superhero clichés, BLACK PANTHER benefits from an imaginative setting and really cool action scenes. Aside from a couple of baffling bits of shaky-cam (which seems to be a recurring issue in pretty much every Marvel film), BLACK PANTHER’s action sequences are terrifically exciting. My favorite scene is easily a car chase through the streets of South Korea and that’s preceded by a series of violent confrontations in an underground casino. One-on-one fights are also well choreographed, while an inevitable climactic showdown/battle nails its spectacle in crowd-pleasing ways.

Though he was a small part of CIVIL WAR, Chadwick Boseman really gets to shine as Black Panther here. Boseman’s protagonist is given some development and has a natural arc to follow. There is effort put into scenes that portray him speaking with his ancestors. The film does something similar to a lesser effect with the villain Killmonger. Although some people have praised Killmonger as one of the best Marvel villains so far, I’m a bit baffled by this reaction towards him. I felt like Killmonger could have been an awesome villain, but he just wasn’t given enough time to make a strong impression. His motives are sympathetic and his methods are monstrous. However, he only really gets 10 minutes of remarkable screen time in a movie that runs over two hours. I actually thought that Andy Serkis’s one-armed Klaue left more of an impression.

BLACK PANTHER contains a fair share of strong supporting characters with big talent backing them up. Angela Bassett, Forrest Whitaker, and Martin Freeman all have roles to fill. Freeman reprises his CIA agent from CIVIL WAR, but gets more to do in this outing. Meanwhile, Letitia Wright serves as hit-or-miss comic relief. Some of her jokes earn laughs and other bits feel like she’s just referencing memes for the sake of referencing memes (including a cringy “what are those!?!” line). Lupita Nyong’o fills the role of obligatory love-interest/former flame. However, Danai Gurira is a complete bad-ass as the head of an all-female secret service and is a definite highlight of the action scenes.

Not all is good in BLACK PANTHER though. I already mentioned the forgettable villain, who felt like the victim of wasted potential. However, BLACK PANTHER’s story is very basic for lack of a better word. If you’ve seen five superhero films (it doesn’t matter which five), you’ll likely be able to predict every single scene, revelation, and beat of the film before it happens. The script sloppily sets up obvious plot points and feels like it’s spoon-feeding the viewer. In other words, it’s treating the audience like a bunch of morons. This is especially true of a 20-minute chunk where Black Panther takes a backseat in his own movie, while the supporting characters drive the film forward. This reminded me of how Ultron was railroaded for about half of his AGE in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

At the end of the day, the mind-blowing amount of critical acclaim for BLACK PANTHER seems unwarranted. There are positive qualities. Chadwick Boseman and most of the cast put in strong performances. The action scenes are mostly fantastic, with some annoying shaky-cam aside. The villain has a cool backstory and motivation, but unfortunately feels underdeveloped and wasted. Mostly, BLACK PANTHER suffers from being too damn predictable and generic. This is an entertaining movie, but you’ve seen this plot many times before. BLACK PANTHER Is a fun superhero story, but let’s hope that Marvel does better in their upcoming entries.

Grade: B

My Bottom 10 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

During the past two years that I’ve run this website, I have created a “Best of” list at the end of each December. I neglected to make a “Worst of” list because of my misguided belief that I shouldn’t further shame the films that I’ve already ridiculed with negative reviews. In 2015, things have changed and I’ve decided (at least for this year) to make a Bottom Films list to go along with my Top Films list. 2015 was a great year for films overall, but also had more than its fair share of flops. The following movies made me want to pull my hair out in frustration and weep quietly in the theater for having wasted money. Before I post my Top Films of 2015, I decided it would only be appropriate to get my picks for Bottom Films of 2015 out of the way first.

There were ten movies this year that wasted precious hours of my life that I’ll never be able to get back. Before getting into those, I’ll begin with a few dishonorable mentions. 2015 brought me two very shitty found footage horror flicks in AREA 51 and THE GALLOWS. Though it was marginally better than its predecessor, INSURGENT was still a hot mess of every recent young adult novel combined. THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED came off like just another bland, generic action flick, making the Statham predecessors look like DIE HARD in comparison. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 was a piss-poor follow-up to one of my favorite comedies of this past decade. Finally, PAN was a letdown on pretty much every level. I mean, Blackbeard sings Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Captain Hook fights a kung-fu warrior. Enough said. None of those aforementioned films are on my bottom ten though. So, without further ado, let’s move onto my picks for ten worst films of 2015:

10. Blackhat

10. BLACKHAT: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time, Michael Mann made masterful films like MANHUNTER (the first adaptation of RED DRAGON), HEAT (the awesome pairing of De Niro and Pacino), and COLLATERAL (one of my all-time favorite thrillers). Mann’s latest thriller, about an international hunt for a dangerous hacker, seemed like it could be a relevant and exciting fun time at the movies. However, I was fighting to stay awake when I sat through this endurance test in an auditorium populated by a total of six other attendees. BLACKHAT is boring and when it’s not boring, it’s stupid beyond belief. One of the dumbest scenes of the year occurs in the final third of this film in which Hemsworth duct tapes magazines around his chest to create a make-shift bullet-proof vest. I think that scene speaks volumes for the film by itself.

9. Hellions

9. HELLIONS: I managed to catch three movies at this year’s Sundance film festival. Two of those were quality horror films and nestled in-between them was this abomination. The initial set-up sounds like a feature-length version of the final segment from TRICK ‘R TREAT. A girl is terrorized by demonic trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. I was hoping for something weird and spooky, seeing as the director behind this film created the unconventional zombie flick PONTYPOOL. HELLIONS is definitely weird, but not in a good way. A misguided attempt to shoot in infrared makes everything appear pink. The acting is wooden. The story goes nowhere and becomes incomprehensible after the first 20 minutes. At the very least, the film is so bad that it’s funny, but not enough to recommend this low-budget disappointment.

8. Lazarus Effect

8. THE LAZARUS EFFECT: For some reason, half of the movies on this list are horror films. That wasn’t intentional, especially since it’s been a pretty good year for the genre. However, THE LAZARUS EFFECT is about as generic and confused as a genre film can get. The premise is cool and sounds like a modern-day take on FLATLINERS. However, the screenplay just cannot decide which direction it wants to take with the material. Is this movie about hell and demons? Is it supposed to be a Frankenstein-like science gone wrong tale? Is the main villainess supposed to be the horror equivalent of Lucy from LUCY? Apparently, it’s all of these things…plus a string of cheap jump scares and a group of insufferably annoying characters.

WOMAN IN BLACK 2

7. THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH: The first of four sequels on this list, WOMAN IN BLACK 2 was the first official wide release of 2015…and what a crappy release it was. I actually dug 2012’s WOMAN IN BLACK  as a spooky little ghost movie and hoped that this sequel would be more of the same. The ghost who kills children is practically handed a plate of potential victims and then does nothing remotely interesting with them. The visuals give a look of an atmospheric ghost story, but cheap jump scares and a bland script make this the epitome of everything wrong with modern big-budget horror movies.

6. Joe Dirt 2

6. JOE DIRT 2: BEAUTIFUL LOSER: Confession time. I like the first JOE DIRT. I really do. It’s a stupid, crude and moronic flick, but I enjoy it as a fun guilty pleasure. For whatever reason, I was sort of looking forward to this straight-to-Crackle sequel. Aside from three decent chuckles, the film is a long laughless slog of a sequel. It seems content to merely reference the original film, instead of tell its own white-trash story. The film moves from bad set-piece to bad set-piece for nearly two hours(!) before ending in the biggest cop-out conclusion imaginable. Not even an endless supply of buffalo wings and beer could make this film enjoyable.

5. Contracted 2

5. CONTRACTED: PHASE 2: A follow-up to 2013’s better-than-expected body-horror flick, this sequel was clearly made as a cheap cash-in for the small audience that enjoyed the original. CONTRACTED 2 is shoddily written and badly directed by people who clearly had no interest in the original film and it shows. Despite running at only 78 minutes, the experience feels agonizingly long. The first CONTRACTED was an interesting body-horror take on an overpopulated subgenre, while this sequel is just another terrible low-budget zombie flick. CONTRACTED 2 also has the balls to put in two end credits scenes that are clearly setting up for PHASE 3. Count me out!

4. Seventh Son

4. SEVENTH SON: Studio delays and February release date aside, I was hoping that SEVENTH SON would be entertaining. I wasn’t expecting high art, but I was expecting something watchable. My hopes and middling expectations were bashed to pieces by a lame fantasy that was dull as dirt. This flick stands alongside CIRQUE DU FREAK, ERAGON, and THE SEEKER as one of the worst young-adult adaptations to ever hit the big screen. Jeff Bridges is damn near incomprehensible as the drunk monster-killer, while Oscar winner Julianne Moore should be embarrassed for playing the cheapo looking evil witch. The effects try to be ambitious and cool, but come off as boring and unconvincing. This movie proves that a guy killing monsters can somehow be made boring. Yet another potentially cool young-adult film series bites the dust.

3. Mortdecai

3. MORTDECAI: Johnny Depp has a moustache and goofy teeth. Isn’t that funny?!? No? Well, that’s too bad, because the makers of this film seem to think it’s a riot. Based on a series of British comedic novels, MORTDECAI very well might be the worst film that Johnny Depp has ever starred in…which is quite a feat in and of itself. This bland caper comedy unsuccessfully tries to mimic a PINK PANTHER sense of humor, but doesn’t get any of it right. The laughs are dusty. The performers look like they want their scenes to be over as fast as humanly possible. If the movie had been about Paul Bettany’s bodyguard character, it would have been far funnier and more original. 2015 was a year that featured one of Johnny Depp’s best performances (BLACK MASS) as well this being his worst.

2. Human Centipede 3

2. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3: FINAL SEQUENCE: I didn’t walk into HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 with high expectations. I liked FIRST SEQUENCE and disliked FULL SEQUENCE. The FINAL SEQUENCE of the ass-to-mouth trilogy was set in a prison, starred the main villains from the first two films, and aimed for a comedic meta-approach to the material. It would be nice if we actually got a human centipede before the final 20 minutes of the running time. Up until that point, the viewer is subjected to a various list of on-screen atrocities which include a jar of clitorises being devoured, someone raping a kidney, a graphic castration and the list goes on. I can appreciate shocksploitation (I really enjoyed Eli Roth’s GREEN INFERNO), but HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 executes all of its gory gusto with the production values and “talent” of a basement porno. What could possibly be worse than this film?…

1. Fantastic Four

1. FANTASTIC FOUR: FANTASTIC FOUR is the worst superhero movie that I’ve ever seen. This dark, gritty reboot of the goofy comic series makes the 2005 and 2007 films look like classics in comparison. To be honest, this movie doesn’t feel like a movie at all, but rather a 125 million dollar excuse for Fox to keep the franchise rights away from Marvel Studios…which is appropriate because that’s why this movie was made in the first place. I enjoyed the director’s previous effort (CHRONICLE) and like a number of the performers here (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Toby Kebbell), but there’s no excuse for the unbelievably terrible quality of this film. FANTASTIC FOUR is a complete and total failure. I’d rather sit through BATMAN & ROBIN, ELEKTRA, and CATWOMAN in a marathon from hell than ever endure a repeat viewing of this movie ever again.

Here’s hoping for less bad movies in 2016…

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, and Language

FFour poster

Directed by: Josh Trank

Written by: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater & Josh Trank

(based on the FANTASTIC FOUR comics by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)

Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey & Tim Blake Nelson

Can I just say it? FANTASTIC FOUR seems to be one of Stan Lee’s lesser creations. At least, it really seems to be this way on film. If you don’t believe me, let’s tally up the previous cinematic adaptations. There was a TV movie in the early 90’s that was apparently so embarrassing that it has remained unreleased to this day. Clips of this film online reveal that, yes, it is as bad as they say it is. In 2005, we were treated to a mediocre adaptation that didn’t really do much of anything plot-wise. Somehow, that film was granted a better-but-still-bland sequel in 2007 that also featured the Silver Surfer and a CGI cloud they claimed was Galactus. Now we have a 2015 reboot that has a talented director (his previous film was 2012’s CHRONICLE) and a solid cast. You might think that the end result would be, at the very least, watchable. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the most boring, pointless, and stupid comic book movie that we’ve seen in over a decade.

FFour 1

Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Victor Von Doom have been recruited by a scientist to work on the world’s first teleportation device. This machine doesn’t teleport things across our world. Instead, it’s actually a gateway into another dimension. When the project is completed and human trials are ready to begin, the government tries to take the invention (and credit) away from the team of geniuses. In a drunken stupor and aided by Ben Grimm (Reed’s childhood friend), the team take a quick impromptu voyage to the other dimension with disastrous results. The side effects are super powers. Reed can stretch his body in an elastic-like way. Sue can turn invisible. Johnny can set himself aflame and fly. Meanwhile, Ben has been transformed into an orange rock-monster. Together these friends must come to grips with their newfound abilities and stop the evil Dr. Doom from destroying our world.

FFour 2

My brief synopsis just gave more credit to this film than any of the performances. Not one of the cast members look like they care about the film they are making. The character development is damn near non-existent as well. Miles Teller has been great in the past (e.g. WHIPLASH), but is utterly bland as Richard. Kate Mara has been great in the past as well (e.g. HOUSE OF CARDS), but seems bored out of her mind as Sue. Noticing a pattern here? Michael B. Jordan plays the Human Torch as a pouty child and makes me yearn for the days when pre-CAPTAIN AMERICA Chris Evans played Johnny. Meanwhile, The Thing doesn’t even seem to fit in with the rest of these characters. Tim Blake Nelson also pops in for a quick paycheck as a typical government agent. The only over-acting in this dreary affair comes from Reg E. Cathey as Franklin Storm (Sue and Johnny’s father). His acting was so over-the-top and clichéd that I had to restrain myself from cracking up during serious scenes that featured him.

FFour 3

The special effects in FANTASTIC FOUR are nowhere near as prestigious as a budget of 120 million would suggest. In fact, the CGI quality here looks like it’s from the horrible days of SPAWN and GODZILLA (the 1998 bomb with Broderick). The other dimension doesn’t look convincing in the slightest. When Mr. Fantastic stretches his body out, it appears like a scary abomination from some Asian ghost movie. The problem here is that we’re supposed to like him and think he’s cool. Meanwhile, The Thing appears to be one of last year’s Shrek-like Ninja Turtles covered in orange rocks. He’s still better than the Human Torch, who appears to have been brought to life with unconvincing half-rendered CGI. Honestly, the best special effects involve the Invisible Woman…because she’s invisible (ba dum ching).

FFour 4

You might notice that I’ve yet to describe Doctor Doom (the main villain). That’s because this movie doesn’t utilize him until the final 20 minutes of running time. Toby Kebbel plays Doom and his motivations are seemingly nothing more than being a pompous jerk. I mean, why would you actually want a villain with a clear-cut motivation or personality? Doom’s powers include crappy CGI, blowing up people’s heads SCANNERS style (with less gore, because it’s PG-13), and inconsistently electrocuting one character so they can deliver clichéd motivational last words. The plot seems to be made entirely of set-up and then throws Doom in for the final scenes…because we need a villain. The biggest problem with this film aside from everything else is that this FANTASTIC FOUR sucks the fun and color out of what should have been a goofy, entertaining movie. Nobody is going into FANTASTIC FOUR looking for a serious, intense sci-fi film. The story doesn’t allow for that and a darker tone only makes the whole film depressing and dull.

FFour 5

FANTASTIC FOUR is less than fantastic. From the lack of fun to lazy performances, everything about this movie just feels wrong. It’s a boring, awful failure of a film. This type of epic cinematic disaster seems to exist for internet critics to rip apart scene-by-scene and analyze everything that’s wrong with it. Honestly, I prefer the 2005 and 2007 films over this boring mess. 2015’s FANTASTIC FOUR feels like it’s relying on clichés, bad writing, and cheap special effects from late 90’s superhero bombs. It’s a distinct step backwards for superhero cinema. This FANTASTIC FOUR is easily the worst superhero movie we’ve received since 1997’s BATMAN & ROBIN. Heed my warning.

Grade: F

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