Thursday, April 26, 2018

Countdown to Avengers 3: Black Panther

Can you believe that we’re doing a third installment of Countdown to Avengers? It seems like it was only yesterday that we teamed up with Nerd Lunch and Cavalcade of Awesome to tackle all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films (and then some) that lead up to The Avengers. Believe it or not, we’re back, and now we’ve got Jay from Life Vs. Film along for the ride as well. 


And now we've come to the end. We're looking at the last film before Infinity War. That's right, Infinity War is out THIS WEEK so Jay and I are looking at the phenomenal Black Panther. Let's go back to Wakanda! Mandatory spoiler warning!

This is getting pretty ridiculous. The MCU movies are starting to change the fabric of society. I'm sure Marvel would have made four Black Panthers by now if they knew it would have been such a cultural, critical, and financial success. Black Panther serving as the final standalone film before Infinity War is an interesting choice (coincidence?). The isolated Wakanda opening up to the rest of the world is kind of a metaphor for the MCU opening up and connecting its various characters even more than they already have.

? via IMP Awards
Black Panther follows one of the newer recruits of the MCU, King T'Challa, (Chadwick Boseman) as he tries to fill the shoes of his recently departed father. T'Challa's trying to balance everything that's happening in Wakanda and fully take on the mantle of king when his long lost cousin Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Anthony B. Jordan) comes along with plans to start a worldwide revolution.

So there's no way I can say Black Panther is a bad film. Simply due to the talent on display and behind the scenes, Black Panther is a very, very good movie. However, it's not my personal favorite MCU film for various reasons. A reason that springs to mind: the whole maglev vibranium train fight at the end sort of seemed taken out of a crummy X-Men movie.

A broader criticism I have for the film is about its villains. Or rather, how they relate to Black Panther. Kilmonger was killed off - bad move. It'd be like if they killed Loki in the first Thor movie (which I guess they sort of did and brought him back so it's possible Kilmonger could return).

It's revealed that T'Challa's father essentially killed his own brother and left his son on his own in America. I felt like this was a big controversy but wasn't handled as such. T'Challa didn't really seem to want to fix or even address this injustice. After he had essentially killed Kilmonger he thought about saving him. You would have thought there would have been one instance of T'Challa saying, "Hey, what my dad did was wrong, I want to fix this." I also don't get killing off Klaue (Andy Serkis). You killed both awesome Black Panther villains. Why? Also, I was kind of hoping T'Challa would have a cool scene where he had to prove himself and survive after his initial fight with Kilmonger. But M'Baku's (Winston Duke) people just kind of save him. And we don't even see that! They just reveal that he's alive.

Like any MCU film there are connections to other Marvel movies. Even though Black Panther is sort of an insulated film (it's literally taking place in a hidden, isolated country) we have some connective tissue. Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) plays a big role in the movie so that's a bit of a connection to Civil War. We also get to see - in a post credits scene - that Bucky (Sebastian Stan) has come out of his self-imposed cryogenic hibernation at the end of Civil War and seems to be doing better...under the care of Shuri (Letitia Wright), no less.

It's always fun to speculate how a stand alone character will fit in with the rest of the Avengers. In this case, we've already seen Black Panther side by side with a lot of the other Avengers, but it was pretty limited (even though his role was not) and in the context of fighting. I've really tried to avoid trailers for Infinity War but it looks like a large part of the movie is set in Wakanda and Black Panther is taking on a leader role. I'm looking forward to some sort of interaction between Black Panther and Bucky. The last time we saw them together they were trying to kill each other. I think Black Panther has the potential to lead the Avengers in future films. I'm not sure if that's happened before or if it's canon, but that would be cool.

Extra Thoughts from Jay:

Every time I think the title Black Panther, I can't help but flip it in my head to Plaque Bantha, so I keep imagining a film about a giant woolly horned beast from Star Wars desperately needing to see his dentist, but I highly doubt that film would be one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time internationally, which Black Panther now is. In fact, within the MCU it's only currently being beaten by the two Avengers movies, making it the highest grossing standalone character film, which is pretty damn impressive given I'd never even heard of the eponymous character before Captain America: Civil War.

It's clear from the Infinity War trailers that the events - or at least, the locations - of Black Panther are integral to the future of the Avengers, with Wakanda presumably being the location of the Soul Stone. This decision must have been made prior to Black Panther's release, so I'm guessing Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel team are all giving themselves pretty smug pats on the back given how successful Black Panther was, and how many guaranteed ticket sales that'll grant them for Infinity War. Those back-pats are entirely deserved though, as BP is an awesome movie. It features many of the best antagonists of the franchise so far in the forms of Andy Serkis' Klaue, Winston Duke's M'Baku and of course Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger, has some awesome action - I cannot wait to see the casino fight and ensuing chase again - incredible production design, supporting characters, music, visuals, dammit, everything is just great. To date it's the only Marvel film that I've only seen once, but that's going to change pretty damn soon, I assure you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Countdown to Avengers 3: Doctor Strange

Can you believe that we’re doing a third installment of Countdown to Avengers? It seems like it was only yesterday that we teamed up with Nerd Lunch and Cavalcade of Awesome to tackle all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films (and then some) that lead up to The Avengers. Believe it or not, we’re back, and now we’ve got Jay from Life Vs. Film along for the ride as well.

Whereas that first series of ours was special, this one will be even more epic. It heralds the end - or, at least, the beginning of the end - of this current manifestation of the MCU. Infinity War releases in a matter of days so, without further adieu...2016’s Doctor Strange. Mandatory spoiler warning!

“...Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who’s a threat to Hydra!” - Jasper Sitwell, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

With this mention in an excellent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the MCU's Doctor Strange was born. The character was and is exciting for me because he's among the crop of new Avengers (who doesn't want to see a New Avengers Movie featuring Ant-Man and The Wasp, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and others?). I also was (and am) a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, so I was happy with the casting.

Paul Shipper via IMP Awards

Going into Doctor Strange, I thought quite a bit about the 2007 cartoon movie, Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme, which explored the character's origin story. That movie really showed me that a superhero's beginning could still be fun. Interestingly, something the live action film didn't touch on was the death of Strange's sister and how it affected him. Although I'm not sure if that's canon and it may have made the film too sad.

The plot in a nutshell: Cumberbatch's Strange is an arrogant and talented surgeon who loses his skills after a car accident essentially destroys his hands. He ultimately travels the globe and to Kamar-Taj to try to fix his hands. He winds up embroiled in a war of sorcery, however.

I do like what they tried to do with Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo vis-à-vis making him more of a heroic character, but ultimately he’s a villain and I think he’ll be the main antagonist in the sequel. Maybe they'll go with a sort of reluctant villain as opposed to a mustache twirling incarnation, but the post credits sequence would not suggest that. Put simply, he loses his mind. He just seems disillusioned and heartbroken the last time we see him in the main film, but then when we see him in the post credits scene he's essentially murderous and maniacal.

The film mostly delivered on Strange's potential. The movie in general may be a bit of a "style over substance" situation for me. It had a cool look (one of the Crown Jewels in the film has to be the sequence where The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) sends Strange on a trip through space, which is his first glimpse of magic in the film) but generic villains, for instance.

Like any MCU film, Strange is rife with connections to other Marvel films. There's a theory about the phone call Strange has just before his accident and the fact that the injuries listed might be mentions of other heroes, particularly Captain Marvel (I have a feeling this isn't the case, however). Wong mentions The Avengers and that's huge, of course. Towards the end Wong also mentions that The Eye of Agamotto is an Infinity Stone, which may be the biggest mention, particularly since Strange later meets Thor, who's been on a journey to find the stones. This scene where Strange meets Thor is great fun and would go on to become part of the immensely successful and popular Thor: Ragnarok. There was some speculation at one point that he would even join Thor and Hulk on the main adventure.

I'm really looking forward to Strange meeting the other Avengers. He wasn't in Civil War and he's only met Thor. We know via the trailers he meets Bruce Banner and Tony Stark and the three of them, along with Wong, gear up to fight someone. We see him interacting with Peter Parker (Spider-Man if you use his made-up name) and Star-Lord. It will be interesting if we get a Sherlock reference between Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. We see him being tortured a bit in the trailer and I wonder if that leads to a cool rescue mission on his behalf. See my comments below for some very spoilers thoughts on how Doctor Strange and elements from his films might factor into Infinity War and other MCU films.

Extra Thoughts from CT:

The first time I saw this movie, I came away not overly impressed. But a second viewing really turned it around for me. Not a character I ever connected much with when reading the comics, but one I still liked when he would guest star in books I read.

Strange was mentioned in a throwaway reference during Captain America: Winter Solider which in retrospect, now seems a little odd that a surgeon would be mentioned of all people. I mean, there might be famous surgeons out there, but when you list a set of random high profile people, I would guess a surgeon would not be on your list. Still, despite his arrogance, even then, Hydra had pegged him as a threat. They saw something in him that no one else did for a few years.

As we move closer to Avengers: Infinity War and the conclusion of this phase, we know that the Time stone will certainly play a role. Speculation has suggested we will see some major time travel as a part of the plot for these next Avengers movies. I have not delved into that territory more than what I just mentioned though. Still, it wouldn't surprise me. Time travel is a major plot device that has yet to really be explored in the MCU. Dr. Strange just barely scratched the surface of it.

Also worth noting that even though we see this movie set up plot points for eventual sequels, there is no confirmation of a Dr. Strange 2 yet. Which is surprising to me, but also puts Strange on the potential chopping block as a character to get killed. Personally, I hope not. I think a nice set of three or so Dr. Strange movies would be good. I would love for him to still be active when the FF characters get grafted in (I'm speaking very hopefully) and we see the Real Defenders in a movie together: Dr. Strange, Hulk and Silver Surfer (Namor being the other prominent member but who knows what's up with him).

Spoiler Thoughts:

The Time Stone might come into play in having something to do with Captain America. Also, and I thought this was confirmed, but I think Doctor Strange will wind up being another mentor for Peter in Spider-Man: Homecoming 2.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Favorite Scene Friday! Bullitt: Just Keep Driving

Steve McQueen is the actor-of-the-month over at the LAMB, so I'm taking a moment to celebrate one of the best moments from one of his less good movies. Bullitt isn't terrible, but if it wasn't for the central chase sequence I don't think many people would discuss it today, so you can be damn sure that's the scene in question this week.
Bullitt painting by Arthur Benjamins
If you're unfamiliar with the plot, I'll take a stab at it: Steve McQueen plays Lt. Frank Bullitt of the San Francisco Police Department. He is tasked with protecting a star witness over the weekend, but events occur that require said witness to be hidden somewhere, with only Frank and his team knowing the location. As such, a couple of men (seen in the clip, known to me as "Stern Face" and "Glasses") are sent to follow Frank to see where he goes, in the hope that it'll lead to the witness' whereabouts. This is what happens next:

I only really want to follow on that first segment as being the best scene, as the entire chase goes on for at least another 7 minutes, but for the sake of not depriving you here's the rest of it too:

OK, now you've got that out of your system (did you count the hub-caps? Go back and count the hub-caps) let's get back to that first segment. The key moment occurs at 2:14, when Frank, having quite easily slipped his tail, appears in their rear-view mirror, turning the tables and making the hunters the hunted. It's an ingenious and wonderful manoeuvre, and is filmed beautifully, with the camera in the back seat of the villains' car, the mirror nonchalantly positioned in the centre - because that's where it would be anyway, given we're looking out the windscreen with them for Frank's car - and then it just appears in the mirror, popping up and saying "Gotcha!". I think the zoom in goes a little too far to accentuate the reveal, but only a little.

The whole chase uses the streets and hills of San Francisco perfectly, weaving in and out of traffic, utilising the sharp right angle corners to crash and screech all over the road, all the while tormenting those roaring, guttural engines and trashing the chassis on the bumps. The entire scene has no dialogue, it's all about the concentrated expressions and wheelmanship on display.

I'd argue it amongst the best car chases of all time - I previously looked at another contender from The French Connection - but this might just beat it, at least in terms of longevity. I like the temporary satisfied smirk Glasses gives to Stern Face when he thinks they've gotten away, when Frank stopped to check a crashed motorcyclist was alright. I love the use of the mirror outside of the reveal too, allowing us to see the face of the driver and/or passenger as well as the road ahead, just perfect.

What's your favorite movie car chase?