Review: Black Panther

At this point, I think it’s well known that I don’t think that much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movies I’ve seen were all mediocre at best. But Black Panther did look to have some interesting visuals, and my friends kept pestering me about it, and I figured paying for a movie with this many black people was a good way to irritate racists, so…

An action scene from Black PantherSince I’m pretty much the last person in the Western Hemisphere to see Black Panther, it’s probably not worth bothering to summarize the story. I figure you already know.

I will say this much: Black Panther is easily the best MCU movie I’ve seen yet.

The thing I really like about it is it’s not really an origin story the way these usually are. T’Challa is already pretty comfortable with his powers and feels pretty well-established as a character. Maybe they already covered his origin in one of the many Marvel movies I skipped. I don’t know. Don’t care.

The important thing is that this allows us to skip the tedious origin story tropes Marvel always seems to cling to, and go straight to the real story. It’s a fairly long movie at nearly two and a half hours, but none of it feels wasted. It’s got a really good balance of character development, world-building, and action.

It’s a visual treat, too. While it’s not stated in so many words, the conceit seems to be that Wakanda’s isolation has allowed technology to develop in entirely different directions from the rest of the world, leading to some very unique and interesting gadgetry, such as vibranium-infused cloaks that can conjure force fields at will.

It doesn’t really affect the plot, but it does lead to some very creative art design.

It leaves me wistful for all the cultures and mythologies, all the stories and artistry, that have been strangled by colonialism. Western culture is full of beauty, too, but its aggressive dominance has cost the world so much…

The cast of Black Panther.Anyway.

Black Panther is also helped along by a very strong supporting cast — with the notable exception of T’Challa’s insufferable kid sister. My personal favourite was Danai Gurira as the badass, honour-bound General Okoye. Any chance she can get a solo movie?

I also quite liked Lupita Nyong’o’s character, though it’s a bit of a shame she was relegated to be little more than a generic love interest.

That’s not so say I loved everything about Black Panther. It leans less heavily on Marvel’s bad habits than I would have expected, but they’re still there. The humour is cheesy and often feels forced. The ending is a little too quick, too neat and tidy. And the cyber rhinos were a bit much.

The themes of the movie are pretty muddled, too. It seems to want to provide an aspirational tale for people of African descent — a most noble goal — but this is somewhat undercut by the fact that Wakanda is, at its heart, a pretty terrible country, being rife with xenophobia and controlled by archaic and oppressive forms of governance.

Perhaps the idea was to offer nuance — to make Wakanda not entirely good or entirely bad — but when it’s presented as an enlightened paradise half the time and corrupt and brutal the other half the time, the end result is only confusion.

Mind you, I’m not exactly the target audience for Black Panther’s messages, and it does seem to have been very inspirational to a lot of people, which I respect.

Either way, I didn’t go to a MCU movie for intelligent social commentary, and I will at least give it credit for tackling racial politics and the dark legacy of colonialism in a very blunt and brave way. That’s more than I expected.

So I wouldn’t say Black Panther is a masterpiece or anything, but it’s the first MCU film I don’t feel any regret over watching.

Overall rating: 7.7/10

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Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It is by now well established that I am not much of a Star Wars fan, my time in SWTOR notwithstanding. But I did see the last movie, so now I’m kind of invested in the new trilogy, and it’s such a huge franchise I kind of feel like I have to keep watching, if only so I can enjoy the inevitable memes and parodies.

So, okay, let’s do this.

A promotional image for Star Wars: The Last JediI found The Force Awakens hard to rate, and The Last Jedi is harder still. I can see why the reviews are so mixed. This is a weird, inconsistent movie.

For one thing, there are, like, three climaxes. More than once you’ll think you’re watching the end of the movie, and then it will keep going for another hour. They’re all pretty powerful “endings,” but it does get a little overwhelming after a while.

This being Star Wars, logic is often left by the wayside. This time the most egregious act of dumbery is the fact that the First Order has somehow overthrown the Galactic Republic overnight, reducing its entire military is down to just four hundred people.

What.

The writers also still have no concept of linear time. Rey’s story appears to be take place over the course of many days, perhaps even weeks, while all the other action — which is clearly happening concurrently — is explicitly established to be taking place over the course of about twenty-four hours.

I really wish it didn’t have problems like this, because in a lot of other ways this is closer to a good movie than Star Wars has ever been, but it’s just so hard to get into the story when the bedrock of it just fundamentally doesn’t make sense.

Finn battles the First Order in Star Wars: The Last JediIt’s just simple laziness. These problems would have been so easy to fix. Give me a short montage of the Republic falling, a little exposition on how the First Order got so big so fast, and a few dialogue tweaks so the timeline actually works, and it would have been a much better movie.

I also would have liked to see more of Rey. She was by far the best thing about Force Awakens — really she was the only thing that saved that movie — but here she’s just a vector for Kylo Ren’s story. She’s in a decent number of scenes, but she doesn’t actually do much of anything.

Also, Poe is now suddenly a complete asshole for some reason.

On the other hand, there is a fair bit that I did like.

My favourite thing about The Last Jedi is that it surprised me, more than once. It’s not a predictable movie, and it’s not just a retread of what’s come before. It’s charting its own course, telling a new story, and offering some genuine and enjoyable twists.

Surprisingly — unbelievably — Kylo Ren turned out to be a highlight of the movie. He’s been fleshed out a lot more and now has a reasonable and compelling motivation beyond just “rawr evil.” Frankly I think he’s probably seeing things clearer than any of the other characters, though his methods for achieving his goals are still… less than ideal.

Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last JediI suppose in a way he has taken the Sith Code to its ultimate conclusion, its purest form. “The Force shall set me free.”

It’s hard to get past his prior portrayal, though. I love the story they’ve given Kylo Ren, but I’d love it much more if they’d given it to a better character. The fact remains he spent all of the last movie acting like a spoiled emo child, and it’s hard to take him seriously in the face of that, even with his portrayal so much improved.

Meanwhile, Finn continues to be a lot of fun, and this time he managed to find a balance where he has a lot of personality, but is no longer so hammy about it. His new companion, Rose, is also a real delight.

I was happy to see a film finally acknowledge the failures of the Jedi, but I don’t think it did enough in that regard. Too much time was spent on Luke’s personal regrets and not enough on how fundamentally flawed the entire Jedi system is.

And of course, this is an absolutely gorgeous movie. Not just in the quality of the special effects, but they’re used with some real artistry, too. That moonlit chase scene was breathtaking, as were the bright colours of the final battle.

Oh, man, how I wish SWTOR could capture just some of the beauty and spectacle of the movies. Or the movies could be half as smart as SWTOR.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Last JediThey’re such opposite extremes. The Last Jedi was — at least for me — the most powerful Star Wars movie to date by far, but it’s still nothing compared to confronting the Star Cabal or the showdown with Valkorion at the Eternal Throne.

On the other hand, SWTOR is ugly to look at and bland to play. It has no sense of spectacle. It’s emotional, it’s thoughtful, and it’s smart, but it has no flair, no style.

If I have to choose, I’ll still prefer The Old Republic. It has twice the heart and a thousand times more brains than the Star Wars films. But boy I wish there could be a happy medium.

But back on topic, The Last Jedi is, like its predecessor, a mixed movie with a lot to like, but also serious flaws. I’m a big defender of numbered reviews, but this is one case where just slapping a number on something is never going to capture the complexity of it all.

However, for consistency’s sake…

Overall rating: 7/10