Tag Archives: Winston Duke

Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: Infinity War invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses  one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s Iron Man, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!

All of this runs the risk of Infinity War coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and Civil War, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads Infinity War to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.

What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in Civil War two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.

Delving too far into what happens in Infinity War would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.

The conclusion of Infinity War leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.

***1/2 (out of four)

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…