2018: The Year of Ryan Coogler

To kick off my series on the people that made significant contributions in cinema for 2018, the first post is the easiest to choose from. In a year filled with many successful tales, Black Panther is undoubtedly THE story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe saga took a superhero not nearly as known as others and the result was a surprising and smashing record breaker.

The man behind it is Ryan Coogler. A 32-year-old Oakland native, Coogler made his directorial debut with 2013’s acclaimed Fruitvale Station. Two years later, he invigorated another franchise with Creed. And in February of this year, Panther was unleashed worldwide. With Chadwick Boseman in the title role, Michael B. Jordan as one of the MCU’s most memorable villains, and Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright providing dynamic support, the film immediately struck a chord with moviegoers and critics. With a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, Panther took in $700 million domestically at the box office.

Let us count the records, shall we? That’s the top hit of the year. It’s the third biggest domestic grosser of all time behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar. Obviously, that designation means it’s Marvel’s #1 earner. One year ago, if anyone had told you this would make more than Avengers: Infinity War (which followed a few weeks later), you wouldn’t have believed it.

For Coogler, he’s made the biggest comic book adaptation ever in a century filled with them. The sky is the limit for him as he’s likely being offered every tent pole project in sight. He’s already struck a deal to direct the Panther sequel. Additionally, this stands an excellent chance to be the first pic of its genre to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

In 2018, Coogler made history by making the #1 picture ever directed by an African-American and introduced a hero already beloved by all. He’s an unquestionable entry in the people that mattered onscreen this year.

Black Panther Movie Review

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is certainly part of the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe. It shares some common themes with its predecessors, most notably the Thor franchise with its gorgeous landscapes and dramatic family dynamics. The story of the title character is picked up after his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

In other ways, Panther does have the feel of a truly stand-alone experience. The other beings in the MCU are largely ignored. Some of the faults of the MCU features aren’t here. That includes the common and deserved quibbling of weak villains. Quite the opposite here and come to think of it – that’s another thing it shares with the Asgardian God and the baddies (especially Loki) he’s battled. Panther is, of course, also noteworthy for its nearly all African-American cast and setting on the fictional African country of Wakanda.

We’ve seen a whole bunch of superhero origin stories over the past few years. Black Panther is easily one of the most satisfying. It excites you about the character’s inclusion in his larger Avengers world while also priming you for further more self-contained adventures. We’re introduced to some memorable supporting players that often outshine the lead. And just as director Coogler reinvigorated the Rocky series with Creed, he puts a unique stamp on this franchise.

Chadwick Boseman is Black Panther/T’Challa. As you may recall, his father was assassinated in Civil War. That development causes T’Challa to become the king. His nation of Wakanda (besides being a triumph of production design) stands alone due to its abundance of vibranium, a precious alien metal. This substance allows Wakanda to have extremely advanced technology and much of it is overseen by T’Challa’s teenage sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). She is essentially the Q to Boseman’s 007 and Wright is an absolute scene stealer in the part.

The presence of vibranium offers T’Challa the powers to be Black Panther. It also offers a conundrum: keep the vibranium local to his land as his forefathers have or use it to do good worldwide. The flip side is it could do lots of bad everywhere. That’s what Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) would prefer. He lives over in the U.S. where he works alongside arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis, having a ball outside of his normal motion capture suit). They want the substance to wreak havoc and Killmonger travels overseas to do so. And the battle begins.

Black Panther is graced with a large cast of recognizable faces. Lupita Nyong’o is T’Challa’s ex who’s also an international spy for Wakanda. Martin Freeman is a CIA agent unexpectedly thrust into this exotic world. Angela Bassett is the Queen and Forest Whitaker plays one of T’Challa’s mentors. Daniel Kaluuya, who made a splash last year with Get Out, is Panther’s best friend who grows suspicious of his leadership abilities.

That’s a lot of cast to keep up with, but the film manages it rather effortlessly. Boseman is a sturdy anchor, but you may be chatting more about Wright and Jordan after the first credits and mid credits and final credits roll. Jordan’s Killmonger, when his full motivations are revealed, turns out to be one of the strongest comic book villains we’ve seen in some time. He’s not just a tyrant seeking earthly destruction (though he is). There’s a worthwhile back story he’s granted and it ratchets the action up a notch.

Coogler’s Panther is filled with impressive performances and most of the action sequences deliver. Most importantly, its storyline doesn’t feel cookie cutter at all. This is one of the most original MCU tales in many ways while still keeping to the age-old themes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decades ago. Fresh with familiarity mixed in proves to be an enticing recipe here.

***1/2 (out of four)

Black Panther Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note Part II (02/15): For the second time today, my Panther prediction is going up. Now at $193.8M

Blogger’s Note (02/15): On the eve of its premiere, I am revising my Panther estimate up by $10 million – from $168.8M to $178.8M

Marvel Studios is back in business next Friday and it’s likely to be a massive cause of celebration for the studio when Black Panther opens. Rolling out over the four-day Presidents Day holiday weekend, Chadwick Boseman plays the title character who we first saw in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Ryan Coogler, who helmed the acclaimed Creed, directs. Costars include Creed himself, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, and Andy Serkis.

The reported $200 million has been garnering buzz for some time and it’s reaching a fever pitch. Reviews were released today and it sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Earlier today, I wrote a post about its chances at Oscar attention, which I believe to be quite real (even considering the extremely early release date on the calendar):

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/06/oscar-watch-black-panther/

Two years ago on this same weekend, Deadpool rode a similar wave of sizzling word of mouth to a $152 million opening, which is the current record for February. Black Panther could be poised to top it with a more friendly PG-13 rating and the vaunted Disney marketing machine behind it.

I’ll project Panther sprints to a new record for the month and jump starts yet another franchise bonanza for the MCU.

Black Panther opening weekend prediction: $193.8 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Early Man prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/08/early-man-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Black Panther

The drumbeat began sounding loudly within recent weeks and today’s critical reaction to Marvel’s Black Panther is deafening. The Ryan Coogler directed superhero pic (out next Friday) with Chadwick Boseman in the title role sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews thus far.

As you may have noticed, it’s only February. Prognosticating the movies that may get honored for next year’s Oscars is a tricky proposition at best. Yet Black Panther is worth the speculation for a variety of reasons. When it comes to drumbeats, there’s been a ramp up that a comic book adaptation (which have dominated the box office charts all century) has to get Best Picture notice soon. Ten years ago, The Dark Knight came close. In 2016, Deadpool emerged as a late contender. Last year, the same applied for Wonder Woman. And 2017’s Logan is the first superhero flick to get a Screenplay nod. None were nominated for the big prize.

It’s unknown what will transpire over the next year before the next Oscar nominations come out, but I feel confident with this prediction: Panther will be in the mix and not on the back burner for discussion. Already it appears that it will be one of the most critically acclaimed titles in its genre and it will almost certainly become a box office juggernaut.

If Panther manages a Picture nod, the love could extend to director Coogler and its Adapted Screenplay. The film seems to be a decent bet for a variety of tech nods, including Visual Effects, the Sound categories, and Makeup and Hairstyling.

Bottom line: the acclaim for Panther is here and may not go away come Academy voting time.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand in often thrilling and impressive ways in Captain America: Civil War, which is by all intents and purposes a third Avengers pic where Hulk and Thor are apparently on a well-deserved vacation. It walks the tightrope of introducing new characters and finding new dynamics for the old ones without seeming gimmicky or overloading the audience with all its activity. To that end, director Joel and Anthony Russo are to be commended for mostly succeeding in this latest effort where our heroes are often unmasked and sometimes emasculated.

Civil War presents a chasm in the MCU that centers on Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) aka The Winter Solider from this trilogy’s slightly better second movie. His history with Captain America (Chris Evans) garners understandable sympathy from our title character. That isn’t the case with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) when it appears Bucky may be responsible for an attack on the United Nations.

There’s also the question of whether The Avengers actions across the globe are worth the collateral damage that sometimes comes with it. The U.S. government proposes to put some serious checks on their powers. Tony agrees. Cap does not. And the rest of the crew (minus Hulk/Thor sipping Mai tai’s somewhere) must choose which side to join. This include Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (who comes out retirement from his boring home life Age of Ultron subplot), Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. We also have Paul Rudd in the mix less than a year after his debut in Ant-Man, which was the other underwhelming MCU summer 2015 experience (along with Ultron). And then there’s the two newbies introduced who will soon have their own stand-alone features: Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Spidey is good for some solid one-liners and I enjoyed Holland’s take on Peter Parker. This budding franchise should hopefully eclipse what we saw the last time around with Andrew Garfield and company. That said, I actually found Black Panther’s plot line to be a bit more interesting here and I equally anticipate that solo pic.

Civil War also continues the tradition of rather forgettable central villains, with the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Here it’s Daniel Bruhl as Zemo, whose motives are murky for most of the running time and who stands as just another baddie in a world where the heroes are the focal point. This entry isn’t really about a main villain, however. Rather it’s about deciding if you’re on Team Cap or Team Iron Man and the screenplay is smartly written enough that the answer isn’t automatic.

The MCU continues to build on itself and this one does so in the most entertaining way since Winter Soldier. By the time we get to the final Avengers pictures, Hulk and Thor will return. Guardians of Galaxies will be in the mix. And with the Mouse Factory behind this with their extensive array of characters, who knows who else we shall see? Will Rey and Finn cross star systems to appear? Which team will Mowgli align with? Will Kermit and Miss Piggy agree to follow Cap or Tony or split? As long as it’s satisfying like Civil War, I’m still curious to find out.

*** (out of four)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Box Office Prediction

Tina Fey headlines the war comedy Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, out next weekend and the 30 Rock star hopes to capitalize on the goodwill audiences gave with her Christmas time hit Sisters. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Focus, are behind the camera with Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alfred Molina amongst the supporting players.

The Afghanistan set pic could benefit with solid reviews (they’re not out yet). Even if Foxtrot receives them, it likely faces an uphill battle to open big out of the gate. Sisters started rather slow at $13.9 million, but eventually grossed nearly $90M domestically (it did open against something called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to be fair). However, that film had Fey’s partner in hilarity Amy Poehler alongside her.

I believe this should manage to open higher than Fey’s Admission, which flunked out with a $6.1M opening three years ago. Whether it reaches double digits is a legit question and I’ll predict it falls a bit under that.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opening weekend prediction: $8.4 million

For my Zootopia prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/02/25/zootopia-box-office-prediction/

For my London Has Fallen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/02/25/london-has-fallen-box-office-prediction/

For my The Other Side of the Door prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/02/25/the-other-side-of-the-door-box-office-prediction/

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Box Office Prediction

Over a decade after he wrapped up his historic and Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson wraps up his Hobbit trilogy with The Battle of the Five Armies, out Wednesday.

Moviegoers have been treated to a Hobbit pic around Christmas time for the last three years. 2012’s An Unexpected Journey opened to $84 million on its way to a $303M domestic haul. Last year’s The Desolation of Smaug couldn’t match that number. It debuted to $73 million with an eventual $258M gross. There is some reason to believe Armies could outdo at least Smaug.

For starters, it’s the last of the series which could pique interest for some audience members wishing to bid the franchise a farewell. Reviews have been pretty solid and it sits at 71% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Many high profile critics have gone out of their way to proclaim it the best and most exciting of the trilogy.

Unlike its predecessors, Armies premieres on a Wednesday so a five day prediction is in order. I’ll predict that its five day haul gets over what Journey managed in three days while its Friday to Sunday gross marks the lowest of the franchise due to the expanded rollout.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opening weekend prediction: $67.1 million (Friday to Sunday), $93.6 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my prediction on Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/12/13/night-at-the-museum-secret-of-the-tomb-box-office-prediction/

For my prediction on Annie, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/12/14/annie-box-office-prediction/

For my prediction on Wild, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/12/15/wild-box-office-prediction/