Sicario 2: Soldado (Review)

Sicario-2--85513d0

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 122 mins

Sicario 2: Soldado is the rather unexpected sequel / spin-off to Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, a film that didn’t particularly show any franchise promise but was one of the most darkest, intense films of its year. Whilst Sicario followed the journey of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macer who was sent to help on the escalating war on drugs by bringing down a cartel leader, this film puts that film’s shadowy side character Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro in the spotlight. This seems only the best move as Del Toro putting in a barnstorming performance in the previous film. Josh Brolin also returns as the sandal-wearing, similarly shady CIA officer, Matt Graver. In this film, both Graver and Alejandro team up to bring down another cartel by falsely kidnapping his daughter and then pinning it on a rival cartel group.

Villenueve doesn’t return for the sequel as he was busy directing Blade Runner 2049 and nor does Blunt. Italian director Stefano Sollima takes the reins, who seems like a good choice after helming the intense Gomorrah. Taylor Sheridan, who continues to go from strength to strength after writing both Sicario and Hell or High Water and also directing Wind River returns to write the script. The late Jóhann Jóhannssson scored the first film which was amazing, and DOP-maestro Roger Deakins shot it but here they are replaced here by Jóhannsson’s protégé and Hildur Guðnadóttir and Ridley Scott regular Dariusz Wolski.

Sicario 2: Soldado is a masterful sequel and whilst its behind-the-camera talent may not, on paper, be quite as strong as its original, as a film I found it to be better paced and maintains its sharp focus throughout. The first film made a jarring shift in its final third, which although was satisfying, did make the film lose focus a little as the rest of the film follows Emily Blunt’s FBI agent constantly. This is an even more grimy and black picture where characters are morally and ethically bankrupt and there are multiple scenes which are very uncomfortable to watch, in particular an early scene that sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with terrorists blowing up a supermarket. Sollima’s sequel has a rousing commentary on American politics with a Trumpian-like President and the lengths and processes people go to to cross the border.

Benicio Del Toro again proves why he is one of cinema’s most underrated actors and his character shows a bit more compassion compared to the first film here but he’s still in ths mission for his own redemption. Del Toro seems to channel Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name towards the films end and his character similarly oozes coolness. The rest of the cast are all excellent as well, Brolin as expected and Isabela Moner is excellent as the kidnapped daughter who gets exposed to the horrific drug and human trafficking underworld.

Although technically, this sequel isn’t quite as strong as its original, Wolski’s cinematography is still excellent and there are some expertly paced, frenetically charged action sequences that are exhilirating. Hildur Guðnadóttir doesn’t try to emulate Jóhannsson’s score and whilst it isn’t as strong, it’s still interesting enough and fits in well with the film and she revisits Jóhannsson’s ‘The Beast’ theme at one point in the film which is well used.

Overall, despite trepidation and the weight of the first film, Sicario 2: Soldado had a tough job to impress. For this to be equal, if not slightly better than the first is an achievemt in and of itself and for virtually the entire film, I was in awe of the film. There is a slightly over-the-top plot device at the film’s end with a certain character that I didn’t initially quite buy and the film does set itself up for another sequel rather obviously, but the film had me in its wake for me to go with it. Sicario 2: Soldado is possibly the best cinemagoing experience of the year so far and a must-see.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Advertisements

Hereditary (Review)

toni

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 127 mins

Although Hereditary‘s strong critical reception has marked it as another horror film that has continued to further the genre in its recent resurgence, Ari Aster’s directorial debut has its fair share of problems. Hereditary follows the increasingly dysfunctional Graham family who are mourning the loss of their grandmother of the family, who has suddenly died. Annie (Toni Colette), her daughter and mother to Peter and Charlie specialises in creating miniatures had a difficult relationship with her mother and tries to raise her two children. Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is a psychiatrist who is clearly uncomfortable with the situation and both children are increasingly disconnected from their parents, Peter, a typical teenager who experiments with drink and drugs. Charlie, however, has an air of strangeness about her who makes uncomfortable clucking sounds and fashions unconventional totems.

Hereditary is exemplary for its first half as there is a growing sense of dread as Aster ramps up the intensity. The characters are all wonderfully developed and the film is totally investing in the events that transpire on-screen. There are also (some more obvious than others) attempts at stuffing the film with multiple meanings and interpretations, in particular the opening shot of the film which zooms in on one of Annie’s doll houses suggesting that what we are watching is perhaps artificial and all of the characters are being controlled, like puppets. There is also one of the most shocking sequences I have seen in a film in a while part-way into the film which instantly changes the course of the narrative.

Unfortunately, these promising set-ups are poorly executed in their pay-off’s as the film loses credibility about half-way through and goes down the route of a conventional supernatural horror film which I could never quite buy. The film, particularly in its climax is increasingly silly and a lot of the wonderful development that happens in the first half of the film is all for nothing.

That said, since watching Hereditary, there appears to be a lot of hidden meanings and metaphors in the film that are not apparent on first viewing, so a definite rewatch is required but I still can’t quite forgive the narrative diversion the film takes.

However, despite the frustrating experience Hereditary ultimately proves to be, the film demonstrates a great potential of talent. Aster proves he is a fine director and excels partly in creating an atmosphere of dread and knows how to develop characters. The film is expertly shot by Pawel Pogorzelski and there are many haunting moments in the cinematography. Colin Stetson’s score also works well in parts and successfully builds tension. I’d be very interested to see what they make next as technically, Hereditary is a marvel. But, I cannot quite forgive Hereditary for the disappointing second half which fails to pay off the set-up of the first half.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Deadpool 2 (Review)

deadpool-six-pack-first-look

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Leitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 119 mins

Deadpool 2 is the fast-tracked sequel to the 2016 hit film which proved very popular with audiences and at the box office. It also represented a turning point in the prosperous superhero genre, proving that R / 15 rated comic book films could be successful and that these films could appeal to a more adult audience. I have issues with the first film and my review of it was and continues to be, lukewarm. I found it tonally obnoxious, its humour obvious and its story conventional. After the success of the first film, star Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller conflicted as to the direction in which a sequel should go, Reynolds ultimately prevailing and Miller exiting the project. David Leitch replaces him in the director’s chair, who co-directed John Wick and Atomic Blonde. Leitch excels in crafting memorable action sequences so he seems a good match for the material and whilst all of the marketing for the film suggests a better film, the false promise of the result of the film made me rather trepidatious.

What a relief it is that Deadpool 2 manages to successfully expand on its predecessor and wind up being a far superior film. The jokes land far more consistently than the first film and it’s a far more engaging narrative which successfully subverts the genre and develops the now familiar character. The first film failed to do this with its obvious jokes and its formulaic narrative. Ryan Reynolds once again, completely inhabits the titular role. Leitch slickly directs this sequel and as expected, the action sequences are creative and visually pleasing. The laughs fly in frequently to the point where I couldn’t stop laughing and missed the next one. This is definitely a film which requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate this film.

That said, despite how much I like Deadpool 2, in retrospect, the film’s construction is rather shambolic. This is not aimed in a disparaging way but the film does border on the incoherent. The narrative erratically veers left, right and centre and this makes the film feel rather disjointed as scenes often don’t flow into each other. It all just about comes together by the film’s climax but the story the writers have chosen to tell is rather oddly constructed.

Overall, Deadpool 2 is a superior sequel and is an absolute blast to watch. The change in director has done the film the world of good, with Leitch bringing a more professional finesse with his visual qualities. It’s consistently funny yet boasts a strong narrative and further develops its characters from the first film. That said, it’s slightly short of being excellent through its shambolic filmic structure. If you can forgive the film for this and take it for what it is, there is a lot of outrageous fun to be had here.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Avengers: Infinity War (Review)

ny-1528858423-ow6rjm1lkb-snap-image

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 149 mins

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of the successful nineteen Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far and the anticipation for it has been unprecedented. The titular Avengers now face Josh Brolin’s mad titan, Thanos, who has been teased for a rather long time in previous films, whose aim is to recover all of the Infinity Stones to wield the Infinity Gauntlet. Avengers: Infinity War is directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who have carved quite the reputation after directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. Although both films have their problems, both were very positively recieved and the directors particularly excel in their attention to narrative continuity and the construction of realistic action sequences.

Avengers: Infinity War begins very strongly with some bold choices in its narrative. The Russo’s manage to juggle all the character arcs well and manage to craft a coherent, unified narrative that doesn’t feel overstuffed. Unfortunately, the film runs into problems as it then starts to involve too many characters which impact the film tonally and then makes a cheap, poor choice in its conclusion which was really frustrating.

There is always the risk in these kind of tentpole films to lose focus when there is a whole roster of characters to follow and whilst each superhero does get their moment to shine, some inevitably do get more screentime than others. That said, the Russo’s clearly have tried their best and the choices they have made are generally sound in terms of characterisations.

The Russo’s have also admirably attempted to adapt the character of Thanos to the big screen, with Josh Brolin putting in a scene-stealing performance. The idea they had that this film was going to be from his perspective is an interesting one and this would have really worked well and made the film more fresh if they had actually gone in this direction and focussed on him more. There are a number of scenes from his perspective where his motivations are made clear and Brolin’s villain is one that can be empathised with. Thanos has to make a number of key decisions, some that bring a lot of emotional pain and this is dealt with really well.

It’s just a shame that what the film amounts to in its climax is cheapened by some poor judgements, particularly by the promise of death from Marvel. Without going into spoilers, the ending clearly paves the way for the second part of this story but I think the misstep costs my personal excitement in the sequel as the ending is so cheaply thought out and undoes all the good work the film, despite being tonally imbalanced at times, generally does.

Ultimately, there is a lot to like in Avengers: Infinity War if you can forgive its ending. The Russo’s have somewhat managed to achieve success in a lofty job and for the most part, the film is thrilling and it’s satisfying to see all of these characters that we have got to know on-screen over the last ten years interact together. It’s going to be difficult for the Russo’s to rescue the ending in the upcoming sequel, which I think is a major mistake, but I will watch it with an open mind. An increased focus on Josh Brolin’s villain will also help to save the sequel. As for Infinity War, it’s a frequently strong film that is marred by an unsatisfactory ending.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

A Quiet Place (Review)

https---blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com-uploads-card-image-749332-e137dee6-8fa8-472d-8530-4ba865ea2bc0

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 90 mins

A Quiet Place is an efficient, taut sci-fi horror that has multiple moments of brilliance. Actor-director John Krasinski’s third effort behind the camera follows a family in post-apocalyptic rural America who have to resort to sign language to communicate otherwise they will be murdered by blind yet hyper-sensitive creatures. It’s a simple premise but one that Krasinski economises on with some particularly effective set pieces as members of the family attempt to protect their lives. There is one scene of Hitchcockian suspense where a character tries their best not to make a sound despite it being an involuntary response and other characters trying to lure the creatures away – it’s just genius. This is further heightened by Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s bleak cinematography and a clever mixture of shots to make the familiar surroundings seem fresh.  Marco Beltrami’s neck-prickling, pulse-raising score also does a lot of heavy lifting to make up for the film’s silence but the more emotive moments of the score are rather manipulative.

Despite the near unanimous praise, A Quiet Place faulters in its logic. One really has to suspend any manner of disbelief as a key choice that the family have made is extremely questionable and the rest of the film hinges on it. The climax also is rather unsatisfactory and feels like a cheap get-out-of-jail card to satisfy moviegoers. If you can give the film a pass on these two aspects, it’s a riveting film but this does lessen the effect of Krasinski’s aims.

There’s certainly a lot to like in A Quiet Place and it’s good to see filmmakers try to push the boundaries of the horror genre which has been going from strength to strength recently. It most closely parallels the exemplary 10 Cloverfield Lane in tone and its subject matter, although the latter is a far superior film. Although A Quiet Place has moments of brilliance and Krasinski has strong intentions, whilst an admirable effort, it is ultimately flawed.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

You Were Never Really Here (Review)

you-were-never-really-here-jpg

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 90 mins

You Were Never Really Here is a rather frustrating experience, especially given the long wait for director Lynne Ramsay to pick a new project, having last made We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2011. Although her latest feature is certainly frequently disorienting and atmospheric, it is completely empty of any character empathy or development and strips back on narrative. This is a conscious choice made by Ramsay, instead deciding to focus on sound and images rather than get bogged down in a narrative.

Whilst this technique worked for her previous films, there just isn’t much meat on the bone of this film to gnaw on which makes the film rather anti-climatic. Ramsay’s second feature, Morvern Callar is also a problematic film but at least the characterisations were convincing, regardless of the strange decisions they made. Joaquin Phoenix is a strong actor, so perhaps he just didn’t really understand his character here either. I just couldn’t connect with him whatsoever.

Perhaps You Were Never Really Here is a film that simply requires multiple rewatches to truly unpack what Ramsay is trying to aim for here. Tonally, the film is very bleak and has several memorable images. There are some strong, creative moments here particularly in the depiction of violence, particularly what is shown on-screen and off-screen. The score by Jonny Greenwood is also quite interesting, with hints of indie rock, electronic and classical cues that make for an eclectic mix.  I just couldn’t become engrossed in the way Ramsay interweaves these textual elements together, which perhaps a rewatch might help with.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Red Sparrow (Review)

Red-Sparrow

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Thekla Reuten, Jeremy Irons
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 140 mins

Red Sparrow is the latest in Jennifer Lawrence’s post-Hunger Games career, who consistently proves to pick courageous yet controversial projects. Recently, Lawrence starred in Passengers, a film that many reacted badly too due to a central element in the plot which I managed to get on board with. More obviously controversial was Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, a film designed to shock which also recieved a mixed response. For Lawrence to pick a project filled with sexual and bloody violence is certainly brave. Lawrence reunites with her Hunger Games director, Francis Lawrence, in this spy thriller about a girl who is entrapped by her Uncle to work as a ‘Sparrow’ for the Russian government. Her mission is to uncover the identity of a Russian mole working for the Americans. The spy / action thriller genre has been at a high recently and particularly pertinent following hot off the heels from Atomic Blonde with a female lead character.

Red Sparrow is a slow-burn which might infuriate viewers but I found it to be consistently entertaining if not a little meandering both in narrative and in pace. It boasts some intelligent twists up its sleeve but they are a little late in the game. The film has a lengthy 140 minute run time and whilst it is atmospheric in parts, it also trudges through some of its narrative and isn’t consistently gripping.

The cast are all sound here but like with a lot of Russian spy films, there are some wonky accents on display here. Lawrence fares well, proving yet again to be a charismatic lead who is empathetic. Schoenaerts makes for a very sinister yet calm and calculated character, proving again why he is a top talent. Whilst Joel Edgerton is one of the finest actors (and director) we have, his character is a little underwritten but he does the best with what he has. As fine actors as Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling are, their accents are all over the place and seem to only be in this for the cheque.

The film is very grim for a 15 rating, with some particularly disturbing and nasty sequences of violence, torture and sexual violence. The film pulls no punches and I was surprised for a 15 just how much it pushed the boundary. This is a good thing and puts a different spin on the spy thriller genre and all of this violence has meaning to elevate the plot.

Red Sparrow isn’t quite the knockout it should be, considering the talent on-board but it is consistently entertaining and does pull some unexpected punches up its sleeve. For a mainstream film, it is very daring in its violence which is a good thing but for those watching simply as fans of Jennifer Lawrence, the film will definitely be a surprise. With a tighter plot and pacing, Red Sparrow has all the ingredients of a great film but is ultimately flawed.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Game Night (Review)

image

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

Game Night is the sophomore effort from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein after directing the horrible Vacation and most recently writing Spider-Man: Homecoming, a pretty spotty record in all. They have also been tapped to direct the DCEU Flashpoint film, so a lot rides on this film to display their talent. Game Night certainly boasts a fresh premise – a comedy that follows some friends who often hold game nights where they play board games competitively. Board games have united Max and Anna, who are married and often host these nights with their friends. When Max’s brother, Brooks, comes to visit, he tries to one-up the couple whose game night turns into a very real murder mystery.  Game Night has an impressive cast, featurng Jason Bateman, (playing to type) and Rachel McAdams (playing against type) as the central character, with Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons also in the film.

Game Night often strikes an awkward and obnoxious tone and ultimately, consistently misses its humour.  I laughed perhaps four or five times, but it’s not enough when a film is supposed to be a comedy and most of the jokes don’t land. That said, the film does get certain elements right with its central premise and Daley and Golstein do have the right idea here with this film, as it is well directed but it’s a real shame that it cannot deliver on the comedy front. The narrative is also a complete and utter mess. Fairly quickly into the film, the mystery the characters find themselves in is utterly ludicrous and there are some late twists that make the film needlessly convoluted.

The cast are sound and admirable, but Jesse Plemons really shines here as Max and Anna’s next door neighbour, who has stopped being invited to their game nights. Plemons has consistently proved himself in his career, with excellent performances particularly in Black Mass, The Program and Hostiles, but here he proves a talent for comedy. Despite Game Night not being a particularly great film, if there’s one thing it can leave in its legacy is further audience recognition of this endlessly versatile actor.

Daley and Goldstein prove themselves in their direction as they try to do the best with the material. They clearly know how to shoot an action sequence and coupled with Barry Peterson’s cinematography, makes for some exciting set pieces. There is one moment in particular which is shot in one take which is utterly seamless. There are also repeated animations and images of the suburban street Max and Anna live in, which almost makes the street look like a board game, with characters seemingly moving spaces, further enhanced by Cliff Martinez’ tension-filled score.

Game Night is unfortuantely a disappointment and I don’t really understand the positive reviews as it mostly fails to conjure laughs and has a convoluted and unfocussed narrative. That said, it is mostly an exercise for Daley and Goldstein to prove their talent. If they can be as playful with the material and execution when it comes to a Flashpoint film, like they have displayed here, they would certainly be a good fit. They just need a solid script which scores with the humour, which this film consistently fails to do.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

 

I, Tonya (Review)

ows_151508712319866

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 119 mins

I, Tonya makes for a opportunistic vehicle for some great performances across the board but as a film, it has some major structural problems. The film tells the true story of figure skater, Tonya Harding and the famous scandal she was involved in in the run up to the Olympics, perhaps one of the biggest in sports history. The film virtually screams as an Awards bid for star Margot Robbie, who also produces this film, eager to overturn the quality of her films after the disappointing Suicide Squad and The Legend of Tarzan. Director Craig Gillespie has opted to tell this story through the use of unreliable narrators, various characters in the film reveal their ‘truth’ in this contradictory narrative, regularly breaking the fourth wall.

Unfortunately,  Gillespie doesn’t display as much confidence as director Martin Scorsese who used this technique in The Wolf of Wall Street (which Robbie also starred in) and instead, the film feels a little obnoxious in its storytelling. The film is also too theatrical and the visual effects in the skating sequences are unconvincing.

Of the perforances, Allison Janney is the standout here, deserving of her Academy Awards success for her role here as Tonya’s mother, a cold and calculated figure whose upbringing of her daughter is particularly unconventional and scheming. I was also pleasantly surprised by Sebastian Stan, who I’ve found quite wooden as an actor in the past, but his husband for Tonya is a multi-layered character who is particularly unhinged.

The music choices that permeate the film are also problematic. Whilst Peter Nashel’s score works well, it is only used rarely and instead painfully obvious music choices are implored instead, which got to the point of grating.

Overall, I Tonya isn’t quite the success that was to be expected and walks an awkard line between restrained and obnoxious in tone, director Craig Gillespie not really sure what works and what doesn’t. It’s a good thing the performances are as good as they are because if they weren’t, the film would crumble.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Black Panther (Review)

black-panther-trailer-image-1

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ryan Coogler
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
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 134 mins

Black Panther is the first feature film based on the Wakandan King superhero introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War. Like Wonder Woman last year, Black Panther is an important event in the superhero genre’s history, as it is the first one to feature predominantly black characters. Furthermore, within its own canon, Black Panther is also important as it is the final film before Avengers: Infinity War arrives at the end of April which all of the MCU films have been building up to. After impressing with Fruitvale Station and Creed, Ryan Coogler is on director duties and based on the strength of those two films, he is definitely a good choice.

The film picks up shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War where the recently crowned King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) heads back to his home country of Wakanda. Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation and hidden to the rest of the world, famous for its fictional vibranium, a wonder metal that is exceptionally strong, is lightweight and vibration-absorbent. They have made the difficult decision not to share this with the rest of the world and instead, convincingly pose as a Third World country. In the film, T’Challa finds his kingship challenged and is plummeted into a conflict with potential global consequences.

Although Black Panther definitely has some great moments, it is unfortunately very inconsistent, awkwardly paced and overly familiar. It’s not quite the fresh, subversive experience that was promised. The biggest problem is the narrative, which is all over the place and Coogler seems to grapple with how best to pace the film. It’s a film that consistently seems to chop and change in its tone, from moments of wonder in the Afrofuturistic Wakanda to scenes of poverty and hardship in deprived areas. Coogler’s juxtaposition of the two extremes is obvious in the film’s narrative but it just doesn’t gel together and then when a third act storyline kicks in of feudal relations, it’s too little too late. Coogler has clearly been influenced from films such as The Lion King and the James Bond series of which there are odes to in the film, but Black Panther feels like its treading water between them.

Within this narrative, Coogler also frustratingly fails to develop what are some really interesting ideas, such as themes of Afrofuturism, world aid and family. This is particularly true of Michael B. Jordan’s villain, whom many have taken to, considering him to be a multi-layered villain compared to the vast majority of antagonists in the other films. I found the development of this character in particular, problematic. Whilst he is multi-layered and there is an interesting back story to the character, Coogler’s development is very shallow and I didn’t really care about the character. He doesn’t really show up until the film’s second half with perhaps one scene at the beginning and he is then off-screen for about an hour. I forgot he existed in the film and when his storyline does kick in, he makes a poor decision in my opinion and before Coogler can properly explore his character, the film descends into typical, mind-numbing third act action.

At least Coogler gets most of the characters right. Chadwick Boseman as the titular hero is great and it’s refreshing to see a solemn and sincere superhero for a change rather than one who constantly makes wisecracking jokes. Letitia Wright is perhaps the standout of the film as Black Panther’s sister, a little like James Bond’s Q but with more heart. It’s refreshing to see the female characters in this film take centre stage, with Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o also contributing strong performances, as well as Wright. Of the rest of the cast, Andy Serkis clearly seems to be having fun and it’s good to see Daniel Kaluuya in a small role, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Get Out. The cast generally have great chemistry with each other and despite Coogler’s spotty tendency of lack of character development in this film, I would happily watch another film with these characters in it.

However, as well as Michael B. Jordan’s villain, the treatment of Martin Freeman’s CIA agent, Everett Ross, is problematic. He is a character who Coogler treats with zero dignity and some of the situations and lines he is given border on the embarassing.

Unlike Creed, the action sequences in the film aren’t particularly great and the film’s climactic fight succumbs to all the usual problems that plague many superhero films. There are a few moments which are so obviously green-screened, most notably in a recurring ritual setting where we see an audience of characters watching on. It’s surprising and given the fact that most Marvel films are visually stunning, it’s a little baffling why Black Panther isn’t. A big part of the problem is down to the cinematography. The film is shot by Rachel Morrison, who recently created history by being the first female DP ever to be nominated for an Oscar for her work on Mudbound. There are so many cuts in the action, to the point where it is actually hard to see what is going on and there is no sense of pacing in the choreography. This problem is then magnified in the big, overlong climactic battle at the end which I found boring and frustrating because it was so poorly shot.

That’s not to say the film is bad though, not at all. The first half fares quite well and is at times, gripping, particularly a sequence in a casino. Additionally, Coogler’s world building of Wakanda is good and I liked how it was established and developed as a setting. Most of the characters share good chemistry and Ludwig Göransson’s score is quite interesting, infusing traditional African sounds with more contemporary pieces.

Ultimately, Black Panther is a mixed bag and has some severe structural problems that really hinder the film. Coogler fails to develop, what are some really interesting ideas and the action sequences are surprisingly poor. That said, it is mostly entertaining and on the strength of some of the characters, with a firmer grasp of the material, there is potential for the future. At least Coogler has created a film that is very standalone in the canon. Black Panther isn’t concerned with setting up future sequels or constantly referencing other films, which is a good thing as there have been some installments that have fallen down this rabbit hole. That said, I really don’t understand why this film is being heralded as one of the best superhero films of all time. Far from it, in fact and even within its own cinematic universe, it ranks towards the lower end of the scale.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)