Black Panther | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

Not Another Superhero Movie

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Black Panther is not a movie so much as it is a statement. Released in the dead of Black History Month with mountains of hype and molehills of controversy, nothing surrounding it happened by coincidence. At a time when racial and political tensions have hit fever pitches, there are few occasions for synthesis between opposing mindsets as enjoyable as this film. Whether it will succeed in bringing people together is the only question.

If there are any serious issues with this movie, they are more endemic to its genre than anything. Up to this point in its cinematic universe, Marvel Studios has released 17 films. After so many origin stories and sequels, it would seem impossible for its eighteenth to present its viewers with anything they haven’t seen before. And while this film is essentially a retread of Hamlet’s plot, it executes its trajectory with enough style and substance to allow the audience to see past its predictability. In any case, I’d rather be introduced to a new character by a version of Hamlet and The Lion King over another Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor-style backstory.

The style that makes The Black Panther so striking is perhaps director Ryan Coogler’s most outstanding achievement. The soundtrack indicatively switches between vibrant streaks of African tribal music and American hip hop as its central characters rise to prominence; and even combines the two in the heat of their climactic battle.

As much as the auditory elements play into the story, the visual components are what truly stand out. Afrofuturism is on heavy display, from smaller artistic choices in costumes and sets to more easily apparent influences in the Vibranium technology and insanely detailed capital city of Wakanda. Certain scenes in the movie feel like small celebrations of African culture, and the blend between tribal ways of life and science fiction creates a feel for the movie that is wholly unique unto itself. The style ends up seeming like Blade Runner, but with more soul and less bleakness. Considering how Blade Runner set trends for the cyberpunk aesthetic, hopefully this movie inspires more Afrofuturism in subsequent films.

Beyond the style that Coogler sets out to create, The Black Panther also benefits from characterization that one wouldn’t expect from a Marvel movie. Aside from its stars, the supporting cast is deep and talented. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett form a quartet of powerful women that give tinges of feminine triumph to the film. Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown give quietly colorful performances as characters that are far more complex than their limited screen time lets on.  Martin Freeman does well as the lost CIA agent, constantly getting one-upped by Wright’s character to humorous effect, and even gets us to care for his starkly contrasted character as he finds redemption in the final act. The most impactful supporting performance, however, belongs to Andy Serkis’s villain who is equal parts manic, threatening, and pure fun to watch.

This movie succeeds on so many levels, but the real heart of it is its leading actors, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. Boseman is unassuming as the eponymous Black Panther a.k.a. King T’Challa, feeling like someone who hasn’t truly found his identity after the death of his father. As the film goes on and T’Challa comes to grips with the reality that his isolationist nation and imperfect father has set upon him, this identity convincingly develops into that of a confident and beneficent ruler. The conflict within Wakanda’s king is one of the movie’s most fascinating subplots, creating a personal burden of both country and race that presents an impossible choice.

The character that represents the flip side to the noble king is Michael B. Jordan’s cocksure villain, Erik Killmonger. Very seldom do movies give true justifications for the actions of its villain, but The Black Panther instead revels in relaying such complexity at the center of its plot. In effect, Killmonger only seems like the bad guy to T’Challa’s good guy the way Malcom X is against Martin Luther King, Jr. The parallels are definite: Malcom X and Killmonger both seek to stand up and retaliate against their people’s oppression while King, Jr. and T’Challa prefer a more peaceful and patient approach. Nobody is actually right or wrong here. The wrongs have already been done and these two characters simply have different approaches to dealing with them.

If it isn’t what Killmonger represents that makes him such an important character and the Marvel Universe’s best villain, it’s what the movie itself illustrates. This isn’t a superhero movie. It’s a hypothetical situation regarding how an oppressed race could better itself if given the resources to do so. The protagonist takes the high road and the antagonist takes the same road that the ones who transgressed in the first place took. By creating this disparity and placing the binary star system that is Boseman and Jordan in the middle of it, The Black Panther transcends what a superhero movie, or even a film in general, can be and asks the audience this impossible question. That it looks like a superhero movie is only so that lots of people can watch it and have this question asked to them. The underlying reality exists after leaving the theater, even if the solution to it (still waiting on that Vibranium meteorite) does not.

The Black Panther certainly stands apart from rest the Marvel Universe, which is infused with attempts to fill our eyes while leaving our stomachs empty. The Black Panther gives us a balanced diet of eye candy and food for thought, enough to leave you satisfied well after your two-and-a-half hours in the theater are up. As a result, the only thing I want more than for Wakanda to actually exist is for future movies to follow suit and realize that pleasing the masses doesn’t have to be an exercise in killing brain cells.

Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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Get Out | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Risen Place

by REGGIE WOLTZ

*SPOILERS*

When you have seen enough movies, it gets easier to tell the difference between gold and pyrite. Sure, the quality of a film is hard to define from the ground-up. Because of the bevy of base components that movies have to work with (from sensory elements like visuals and audio to more cerebral tools such as story complexity, character performance and development, and creative narrative devices), they do not always operate on the same plane. But there has to be a way to equalize these works despite their differences in material and style. One of the methods that I use to achieve this end is to judge the intentionality in the films that I watch.

Get Out is an incredibly intentional movie. It has a sense of being obsessively well thought out thanks to the ample servings of detail in each scene. The re-watchable factor is strong here; the twists in the story beg you to go back and analyze the characters in a new light that completely transforms entire portions of the film.

Perhaps the best focal point for the second time around is Allison Williams’ Rose Armitage. She is the physical embodiment of a plot twist, so all of her scenes in the first half of the film become inherently significant. One example is when she stops the policeman from looking at her boyfriend’s I.D.—she isn’t doing it to stick up for him, but rather so that there would be no trail of evidence. It is little scenes like this, with definable double meanings, that elevate the story beyond the linear and noncreative narratives of its counterparts.

The fact that this movie holds up to reexamination without creating plot holes is great, but Get Out doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t want to be watched just twice, but as many times as possible before you start to feel like you’ve entered the sunken place. What keeps you coming back for that third time is the real strength of this film, its allegorical focus and clarity.

Director Jordan Peele isn’t exactly subtle in his approach to tackling the issue of race. He sets his tone from the opening scene, in which he turns what would be an innocuous setting for many viewers, an affluent suburb, into an unsettling labyrinth where only white people are safe. It is also here that he sets up his most potent thematic element with the diegetic song, “Run Rabbit Run.”

With the overhanging discomfort that comes from the interaction between Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose’s family and friends, it could be hard to create an undercurrent that deals with the race more poignantly. And yet, Peele does exactly this by juxtaposing the idea that black people are nothing but wild game to the whites with Chris’s sense of guilt over his inaction with the death of his mother.

This interplay is evident in a number of scenes, the most obvious of them being when Chris empathizes with the dying deer, the surgery pre-op, and when Chris hits the family maid (Rose’s grandmother) with a car and then decides to save her. These scenes ground Chris in the reality that the Armitages see him as prey, which he then transcends by dealing with his internal problems and finding the resolve to both kill and save—proving he is more than an animal. As such, Get Out gives proper trajectories to both the theme and Chris’s character and allows itself to end with a more direct message than just “White people are f****** crazy!”

For any director, let alone a first-timer, what Peele has pulled off is remarkable. Cutting through all of the noise with a definitive point is something that few movies attempt and even fewer accomplish. Furthermore, there are so many Easter eggs and smaller motifs in the movie that a viewer will be able to pick up on new things even after having seen it three times.

I really can’t say enough about this movie. Get Out blends suspense, comedy, and horror like none other. Peele gives his actors and actresses plenty to work with and draws great performances from each of them. The story is tight and yet filled with enough detail to make you actually want to re-watch it. And while the film may not have done much to reconcile the complex relationship between blacks and whites in America, it still did the impossible: gave us a reason to like TSA agents.

 

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.

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