“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.
This week I conducted a poll through my Katz Reviews Facebook and Twitter pages to determine which film I would review for you today. The choices were between Oscar-nominated ‘Call Me by Your Name’ and the new Marvel Comics blockbuster, ‘Black Panther.’ Though ‘Call me by Your Name’ held a slight edge in Facebook voting, ‘Black Panther’ won on Twitter and overall. So today’s review is of ‘Black Panther.’
This new film is a huge smash hit, and that was in evidence at the sold out screening I just attended. Being I am a marketing consultant by profession I found it fascinating to note the demographic make-up of the audience. Though the film is made up of an almost all black cast (only two white actors have any real speaking parts) the film audience I saw was over 90% white, so it is clear this film’s appeal is broad.
Perhaps a large part of that is because the film works on several levels. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the story is smart; it traces the people of Wakanda, a hidden nation in Africa with a secret resource- a kind of super metal called vibranium- that holds many magical powers.
And vibranium has helped Wakanda develop through a unique blend of tribal ancestral customs and designs along with futuristic technology. The ways those are integrated in the story are fun to see.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, becomes king when his father dies. He drinks a mixture from magic plants and- presto- he acquires some super powers and becomes Black Panther. (It actually works better on the screen than my telling it.)
We see T’Challa grapple with leadership questions: How should Wakanda use their power? Should they help the world with their vibranium? After all, so many African nations are poor and suffering. But that would mean they have to reveal their secrets- and T’Challa recognizes that could bring war to his nation, to have to defend their vibranium from hostile nations.
But another threat emerges. As played by Michael B. Jordan, Erik Killmonger (yes, his name is a dead giveaway, pardon the pun) is the charismatic bad guy who’s more entertaining to watch than Boseman’s good guy, T’Challa.
Erik uses all sorts of double crosses and dirty tricks to rise to power and then, ultimately, he defeats T’Challa to become the new leader, though, as an outsider, he causes much controversy. And his harsh leadership style polarizes the nation as he begins asserting his powers- um, we’re still talking about Wakanda (or are we?). Quickly, Erik’s aggressive reign puts Wakanda on the brink of civil war.
Lupita Nyong’o; image: comicbook.com
As I said there are only two white actors. Martin Freeman, as a U.S. CIA Agent, is a good guy, risking his life to help T’Challa and Wakanda. The other, played by Andy Serkis, is pure evil. In one scene, set in an exotic casino that looks like it came straight from a James Bond movie- seriously, it looks like they copied it- there is a predictable shoot out where Serkis escapes capture. Along the Bond theme, Lupita Nyong’o is great in a Q-like role.
The action sequences- basically the fight scenes- are mostly a disappointing special effects mélange of masses of martial arts warriors kicking and swinging blades- along with annoyingly choppy and chaotic direction. I suppose that’s to be expected from comic book hero movies but I hate being so easily able to notice all the special effects.
Still, that’s my worst criticism of ‘Black Panther.’ Ironically, the scenes that work best- besides the way the tribal is integrated with the high tech- are the quiet discussions between the characters . There is clever thought and wit behind the carefully constructed story and dialogue and I give ‘Black Panther’ 4 stars out of 5- it’s escapist fun, with a bite of politics!
Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”