Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman

Director:  Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: Following the passing of King T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda finds itself increasingly isolated and weakened as it faces a new threat in the form of Namor, the leader of an all-powerful underwater nation…

Review: It would be something of an understatement to say making a film is a massive undertaking which requires a herculean amount of effort from a troop of people both in front of and behind the camera, especially for a tentpole blockbuster. However, for the sequel to 2018’s phenomenally successful Black Panther, the typical challenges facing the cast and crew were compounded by the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. The passing of the man who brought so much to a role which meant so much to millions of fans across the world, it begged the question as to how on earth could director Ryan Coogler and his crew overcome such a heart-breaking loss? It is therefore to their immense credit they have overcome the most devastating of obstacles to produce a film which not only beautifully honours Boseman’s legacy but delivers a worthy sequel to one of the best films in the MCU.

The nation of Wakanda finds itself in mourning following after their beloved King T’Challa dies from a mysterious illness. One year later, after a funeral and a beautiful celebration of his life, his sister Shuri (Wright) is struggling to come to terms with her loss and chooses to keep herself occupied with the Wakandan technology she pioneered. However, Wakanda finds itself under increasing scrutiny from the rest of the world which wants to see the country share its resources, most notably vibranium, putting pressure on Ramonda (Bassett) who has become Queen following T’Challa’s passing. However, the Wakandans face a further challenge when they encounter the ruthless Namor (Huerta), the leader of the underwater nation of Talokan, who is determined to wage war on all of the countries on the surface.

The task facing Coogler and his fellow screenwriter Joe Robert Cole to honour the legacy of Boseman in this sequel was an unenviable one, to say the least. Death is something we as human beings will all have to grapple with at some point in our lives. The grief and personal pain we experience when someone we love departs this world varies from person to person, and the screenplay offers a profoundly moving story which analyses how the grief and pain we endure manifests itself in individuals, whilst simultaneously illustrating the power of communities coming together to pay their respects to those who have passed on. It enables the performances of the characters, especially those of Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett, to flourish as their grief over the loss of their brother and son is raw, powerful and extremely emotional. We, as the audience, are grieving for them, and with them. As a result, their stories understandably take centre stage, but it does mean returning characters such as Nakia (Nyong’o), Okoye (Guiria) and M’Baku (Duke) feel somewhat underutilised.

Aside from the deeply personal tragedies facing its characters, in the same vein as its predecessor, Wakanda Forever also brilliantly factors geopolitical issues into its story. The first film grappled with Wakanda’s decision to hide itself and its resources away from the rest of the world. However, without their ruler and protector, the Wakandans are much more vulnerable, and this is something the rest of the world is keen to exploit. Consequently, this only causes Wakanda to find itself increasingly more isolated, which is where Namor, the leader of the underwater nation of Talokan comes in. In the same vein as Killmonger, Namor is a compelling villain, with a fascinating backstory. He too leads a nation which is isolated from the rest of the world, but one which is also steeped with resources and considerable military strength, which makes for a fascinating dynamic between Namor and the Wakandans, and Huerta’s performance is extremely captivating.

Returning costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler once again do a magnificent job of bringing Wakanda and Talokan to life, and while the first film’s cinematographer Rachel Morrison does not return for the sequel, Loki cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw steps up to the plate magnificently. The film can feel a little long in places and certain aspects of the film could arguably have been left on the cutting room floor. However, after the last few MCU films have been grappling with the concept of the multiverse and lots of big CGI battles, it is a refreshing change of pace to see Wakanda Forever dial this back to allow the characters and their journeys to take centre stage. This isn’t to say that there is no CGI battle, because it would not be an MCU film without one, and Coogler’s direction remains marvellous and the visual effects have considerably improved this time around.

It is next to impossible to imagine how tough it must have been for the cast and crew every day during production. However, in the face of such devastating tragedy, they have ensured Phase 4 of the MCU closes with one of its best films and serves as a fitting dedication to the legacy of Chadwick Boseman, who through his immense body of work, will live on in the hearts and minds of millions of fans forever.

Through unimaginably difficult circumstances, Wakanda Forever is a moving sequel, delivering a poignant reflection on grief and tragedy while serving as a beautiful and emotional tribute to the wonderful legacy of Chadwick Boseman. 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

Mangrove (2020)

Image is property of BBC Studios, EMU Films and Turbine Studios

Mangrove – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Gary Beadle, Jack Lowden , Alex Jennings, Llewella Gideon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, Sam Spruell, Joseph Quinn, Derek Griffiths

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine who after protesting against a series of racially motivated Metropolitan Police raids, were put on trial at the Old Bailey…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that a watershed moment for the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement happened in 2020. A movement of people across the world demanding equality for black communities, garnered seismic momentum following a handful of appalling acts of blatant racial prejudice, amidst the backdrop of a society that is deeply entrenched in racism and segregation. In the same year that a fiercely powerful and furiously relevant piece of filmmaking from Spike Lee reminded the world of the challenges the black communities face in the USA. It’s important to remember, that it’s not just confined to the USA where black communities have, for far too long, been dealing with the ugly nature of racism. Steve McQueen continues that trend, as Mangrove, the first of his Small Axe anthology films, brings into sharp focus that like the USA, Britain has been dealing with institutionalised racism for decades.

Set in 1960s London, Frank Crichlow (Parkes) runs the Mangrove restaurant, serving the finest Caribbean cuisine for the Notting Hill community. Yet despite no wrongdoing whatsoever, the restaurant is constantly being watched, and raided by the Police who are supposedly searching the business for drugs. Having become utterly and justifiably fed up of the constant and deliberately racially charged assault on the business, the black community protest against the Metropolitan Police and their appalling prejudice and bigotry. However, after the peaceful protest escalates into violence (due to the heavy handling of the demonstration by the police), the leaders of this new resistance find themselves in legal peril. Incredulously, they, not the police, are facing hefty criminal charges that could lead to substantial prison sentences.

Within the first few minutes of the film, McQueen establishes the Mangrove restaurant as a vibrant place to experience some excellent cuisine and enjoy the wonderful culture. With a thriving black community living in the area, for many people, the Mangrove restaurant represents their home away from home. Yet McQueen makes it disturbingly clear that not everyone in the community shares the love for the restaurant, its manager or its patrons. The first half of the film is an unflinching look at the institutionalised racism that the Metropolitan police bring down on this community, using blatantly fictitious excuses to carry out raids and stopping people in this community for no justifiable reason, purely down to the colour of their skin.

When the second half and the much publicised trial begins, it’s at this point that the film gets even better, and becomes considerably more tense. Every single one of these performances shine, but special mention must go to Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby. As the man who’s at the centre of this battleground, Parkes’s performance as Frank is initially quiet and reserved. He’s a man who just wants to run his business peacefully. Though understandably, when it comes under constant attack, he gets very animated when it comes to defending his business and his customers. Letitia Wright’s work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered her popularity across the world. However with this heart-breaking performance as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, the leader of the British Black Panther movement and a figurehead for those standing up against a system that is rigged against them, she gives the performance of her career. Likewise for Malachi Kirby’s Darcus Howe, a prominent Black Panther activist.

It’s hard to watch the trial unfold and and not be thoroughly disgusted at the blatant racism being depicted. From the treatment of the Mangrove restaurant to certain decisions made during the trial, as well the behaviour of some individuals during the trial. It’s indicative of the appalling nature of the crooked and corrupt system that they were up against. As events in 2020 have demonstrated, the issue of racism and equality for black and ethnic minority communities is one that feels more timely than ever. At one point a character utters the memorable line “Together we become stronger.” In this one of the most turbulent of years in living memory, this line of dialogue speaks volumes of the power of unity and togetherness, one that we as humanity, the single species that we are, must continuously unite behind.

Flawlessly acted, with a powerful and timely message at its heart, Mangrove shines an urgent spotlight on the deep rooted institutional racism that’s sadly still relevant in modern society.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shuri. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Fruitvale Station, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!