BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER movie review

Wakanda Forever a.k.a. Postcolonial Theory: the Movie. The overly long, poorly paced latest installment in the MCU feels disjointed. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever goes on forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, because the movie is overstuffed with subplots to nowhere and one-dimensional (or plot device) characters that serve little substantive purpose except to augment the runtime. About 45-minutes can easily be carved out of the movie, and the action plot would be largely unaffected. Other times, it feels as if entire sequences or scenes are missing, because the editing (montage or assembly) is choppy. The absence of the late Chadwick Boseman is felt from beginning to end, and the movie constantly struggles to find its footing as it moves forward in the MCU. The tributes to Boseman at the beginning and of the movie are tastefully, and reverently crafted. While the writing of the movie is insufferable, the performative element of the mise-en-scene is chiefly supported by the incomparable Angela Bassett. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her receive a Golden Globe nomination for actress in a supporting role next year. There is a good followup to Black Panther somewhere in this nearly 2.75hr movie, but it must’ve been caught up in the snap.

Queen Ramonda (Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with Nakia and Everett Ross to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom.

The command performance by Bassett is the highlight of the movie! Every scene that features her instantly increases in quality and gravitas. With just one look, she steels the scene and convinces you that what she is saying or feeling is incredibly important. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are largely one-dimensional and lack meaningful arcs or characters development. One of the biggest problems is the writers’ refusal to bloody your central character, which holds the other lead and supporting characters back from forming empathetic connections with the audience. Princess Shuri is nearly a deus ex machnina in and of herself. In other words, we have (Star Wars) Rey: Vol.2 featured in Wakanda Forever.

When characters are too perfect, too capable (to an uncanny level), and the writer(s) refuses to bloody the central character, then the characters lacks–well–character (or a believable human dimension). Meaning, there is little doubt the character will succeed, and typically success is paired with a false sense of dread or suspense that the character will undoubtedly achieve that which will make them a de facto superhuman. Simply stated, superhuman (or superhuman-like) characters are neither fun to watch nor do they service the plot in a meaningful way. More like characters as a plot device.

Functioning as an overt attempt at subtext, there is a constant reminder of the narrative’s embrace of the cynical postcolonial theory, which is the overarching idea of the systematic deconstruction of The West in order to save the other, thus erasing universal truths and metanarratives from the world.

The goal of postcolonial theory is to decolonize our world: the systemic undoing of colonialism in all its manifestations and impacts. Powerful, albeit difficult to support with logic, postcolonial theory is concerned with the critique of the affects when a dominant culture interjects its values, beliefs, and cultural norms upon another culture. Twice in the film, Martin Freeman’s character is referred to as a colonizer in a rather pejorative attempt at humor. Not limited to the relationship between Wakanda and the rest of the world (mainly The West), but the same overt parallel is dramatized between another important world in the movie and The West.

This theoretical approach to sociology and scholarly activism advocates that colonized people react violently in order to maintain their increasingly fragile mental health and self-respect. Postcolonialism has formed the radical foundation upon which many marxist politics are built. Objective knowledge (and by extension science, facts, universal truth)—that which is true for everyone, regardless of cultural values—is seen as unobtainable because knowledge is a construct of the dominant group’s worldview, and must be forcibly removed from the world. Which is a large part of the movie–the elimination of The West. This factors into two competing story threads.

But why is this a dangerous theory upon which to build an entire movie? The framework of postcolonial theory urges those that see themselves as oppressed (even if that oppression was decades or centuries ago), to abandon evidence-based, rigorous testing, research, and critical thinking in exchange for assumptions, subjective observations, and hypotheses. Ironically, postcolonial scholar-activists attack systems of power by erecting systems of power. The radical, proactive denial of the existence of universality actually pushes a different universality (hmm…sounds like a metanarrative…but aren’t those supposed to be bad?).

Another cynical theory that is manifested in this movie is feminist theory. Whereas I do not feel the need to spend too much time on this more commonly known theory, it’s important to note that all the lead and chiefly supporting characters are women–powerful–women, and all the villains are men–inept or evil–men. When writers craft a mix of characters, there should be room for both, as that would be more representative of real life. Both the X-Men and The Avengers showcase a great mix of both powerful, cunning, intelligent men and women. Therefore, general audiences can connect with a character(s).

Augmenting the runtime of the movie is both a subplot that ostensibly goes nowhere and a supporting character that is little more than a plot device. Without getting into spoilers, there is a subplot featuring Freeman’s Everett K. Ross that fails to add anything substantive to the movie. Just when you think it’s going to provide a reveal about a rather mysterious characters from other MCU movies and Wanda Vision, nothing happens. If you remove this subplot from the movie, little to nothing changes. Connected with this subplot is a supporting character that is (supposed to be) the MacGuffin. But the writers attempt to give this character gravitas. Unfortunately, but there isn’t enough substance to this character, thus rendered one-dimensional. Furthermore, this character could be removed without changing much. And what little would change, could easily be given to another character of plotting element.

No doubt that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be a huge financial success at the box office, but without the late Chadwick Boseman, the movie feels like a bunch of ideas from a woke writers room that were thrown against the wall, and forcibly connected as coherently as possible. But, the movie does create a way, albeit of little to no surprise, for the Black Panther to continue protecting Wakanda.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS movie review

Plot sacrificed for visual FX. While Raimi’s horror adjacent direction gives Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a unique aesthetic when compared to the typical superhero movie (with the exception of Batman Returns, which has long sense been praised for its otherworldly horror-adjacency), it isn’t enough to carry the story. Better brush up on End Game and Wanda Vision because you may be slightly lost the whole time. So full disclosure, I’ve only seen End Game once and do not subscribe to Disney+. Unfortunately, this movie does not sufficiently provide exposition for those of us that do not eat, sleep, breathe the MCU because Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s motivation for her antihero behavior cannot be fully realized and understood without the events of Wanda Vision (from what I’ve been told about the show). That’s the problem with the ever-expanding MCU–but–it’s also a brilliant marketing and merchandising move. Simply because, if you want to be able to understand the motivations of the characters in the movies, you have to watch the TV shows and every single movie (main line and side line). Specific to this movie itself, there is clearly a thoughtful story, but it’s ultimately held back by the wandering plot. Ironically, you may be asking yourself a variation of the cliche question actor’s ask directors: what’s my motivation? Instead, you’ll find yourself asking: what’s Wanda’s motivation???

Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.

Story and plot are NOT the same thing. Without getting into a lot of what I teach in film studies and screenwriting, story is the overarching narrative whereas the plot is the map (how you get) from beginning to end. Raimi’s playing up on the whole witchy aspect to this movie, was great for someone like me that loves horror, but it seems that the horror-adjacency of the movie merely compensated for the slapdash plotting. While many that watch this movie have undoubtedly seen End Game multiple times, subscribe to Disney+ to watch all the shows, and have read the comics, many have NOT. Granted, a subgenre movie such as this should not play to the lowest common denominator because then the fanboys and girls in the audience will feel slighted or unappreciated, At the same time, the writers and director should have considered integrating sufficient exposition for those that do not watch all the ancillary material. Wouldn’t have taken much to provide enough exposition so that rewatching End Game or subscribing to Disney+ for Wanda Vision, What If?, and Loki wouldn’t be a prerequisite for this movie.

For those that love visual effects, you will likely be impressed, if not blown away by the mesmerizing landscape of digital imagery; however, there are many times in the movies that the characters do not feel that they are existing within the same world in which the dazzling display of graphics exist. You cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects into the camera lens. Not opinion–fact. Perhaps one day, we will get an MCU (and this applies to the “whatever it’s called these days” DCEU) movie that spends as much time crafting tangible sets as it does investing into digital imagery. In no multiverse will characters look to truly be within a world that primarily exists in the expression of 0s and 1s on a computer. The only saving grace for the aesthetic of this movie, and the moments we see the cinema stylo (hand of the artist), is when Raimi leans into the horror-adjacency of this MCU entry. Whenever the movie took a turn towards horror, I enjoyed it the most, and felt it was trying to be different–not your typical superhero movie.

It’s really no spoiler that Captain Picard is back as Professor Charles Xavier! Okay, so I know he is really Sir Patrick Stewart, but he will always be the definitive Starfleet captain to me. X-Men fans, like me (see, I do like superhero movies that aren’t Batman Returns), we’ve been waiting for that moment in which we witness the integration of the X-Men into the MCU. And I’ll give the writers and Raimi this: how Professor X was integrated into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was both meaningful and strategic. It wasn’t too much, didn’t feel forced, and the applause this cameo garnered from the audience (including myself) was outstanding! At my screening, the moment Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his role as the definitive (live-action) Professor X elicited more applause and cheers than any other moment in the movie. I am eager to witness how the X-Men are woven into the fabric of the MCU.

If you can watch this movie in a premium format like Dolby Cinema, IMAX, or Cinemark’s X-treme, then that is the best way to experience it. It is a BIG SCREEN movie for sure! While I am often highly negatively critical of superhero movies, I am thankful that they are getting people back to the cinema in masses.

Ryan teaches Film Studies, Screenwriting, and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE BATMAN movie review

Emo Batman: the detective. Matt Reeves’ highly anticipated adaptation of the caped crusader hits cinemas this week, and it is sure to elicit quite the polarized opinions amongst fans. Some will undoubtedly enjoy the gritty, realistic expression of Batman in an attempt at crafting a neo-noir detective story while others will find it to be poorly paced, overly emo, and joyless. While I am seldom completely in one camp or another on a polarized film, I am certainly closer to the latter moreso than the former. I certainly appreciate this take on the caped crusader as a detective and the aesthetically dark film; however, I agree that it is poorly paced, overtly emo, and completely joyless. Reeves’ adaptation shines best in its character development and interactions; furthermore, it’s equal parts plot and character-driven, which helps in the thoughtfulness, but the poor pacing and lack of anything joyful hold it back from the potential it clearly had. Clearly, this film is positioning itself as the anti MCU in that it places far greater value on the aesthetic of the film moreso than the entertainment value or dialogue. After watching it, I am left wondering what a neo-noir detective Batman movie directed by David Fincher would look like? In my opinion as a critic and film professor, the only director to accurately capture the essence of what we love about the BatVerse is Tim Burton is his brilliant Batman 89, and Batman Returns.

Batman ventures into Gotham City’s underworld when a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.

For some, the characters won’t feel like Batman characters as much as explorations of various forms of trauma; that stated, the characters have undeniable chemistry on screen, which makes them believable. The only characterization with which I take particular negative issue is Alfred; he is reduced from an integral element in the Batman mythos too little more than an expositional plot device. Costume wise, the new Batsuit works very well, and the Riddler’s costume is incredibly creepy, but Catwoman’s ski mask doesn’t work and The Penguin lacks any truly defining features. The Batmobile works great! It’s fantastic combination of a stock car (which Bruce Wayne would realistically have access to) and a little comicbook flare. While the score isn’t memorable, it offers some gorgeous orchestral movements that attempt to give this film gravitas. Still to this day, the best Batman score is Danny Elfman’s for 89 and Returns. The score of The Batman never feels like an extension of the characters, despite it being (as a musical composition) beautiful.

Since I am not a comicbook reader nor am I generally a fan of superhero movies, I do not feel that it is inaccurate to posit that idea that comicbooks and superhero movies were originally written and designed to be escapism. There was something special about being invited into a world similar to our own, but with a certain degree of whimsy that kept them entertaining and fun. The hand of the artist, an extension of their imagination is what seems to so often be missing in contemporary CBMs (comicbook movies). You have the agenda-driven post-End Game MCU on one side, and the overly dark, joyless DCEU on the other. Of course, there are exceptions such as Shang Chi and Wonder Woman. CBMs have strayed from their roots, and appear to have a blatant disregard for that which made them fun for mass audiences. From CBMs including elevated levels of colorful adjectives to reinforcing unfair characterizations which have a counterintuitive effect upon the idea of representation, it would be refreshing to have superhero movies that are entertainment and clever again, where there are suitable for older kids and teens, yet there are jokes, references, and double entendres that only adults will appreciate.

Who is the audience for The Batman? A question for which I am still searching for the answer.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE BATMAN Pop-up Exhibition

On a four-city tour, fans of Batman got to see the new costumes and Batmobile for the upcoming film The Batman! Fortunately, one of the stops was right here in Tampa! Contributor Danielle Mescall attended this past weekend, and you can checkout her writeup and photos below!

On Saturday February 19th, locals from Tampa had the chance to check out “The Batman special event,” where people got a sneak peak into the newest film adaptation in the Batman franchise.
As crowds lined up to see this exhibit for the new film releasing on March 4th, it is clear that the love for the caped crusader is still very strong and people from all generations are excited for this film.

At this event, you get the chance to see the newest Batmobile along with costumes for Batman, Selina Kyle, The Riddler, and The Penguin. In addition, you get to play trivia and join in raffles while you wait. Once you are in the tent, you can see the detail that these creators have put into it and it gives you the ability to picture yourself in the action as you look at all of the modern and sleek designs of the suits and the car.

Producer Dylan Clark explained in an interview, “We wanted the Batsuit and the Batmobile to look obviously like it was designed by one man, by Batman himself. The suit is tactical, it’s military, it’s purpose­driven, it’s practical. It’s also iconic; Batman has his own emblem, his cowl, his cape. We chose a design that Bruce Wayne, at 30 years old, would have built.”

After getting the chance to see the exhibit myself and after seeing other people’s reactions and responses, it seems to make the crowds and fans that more excited for March 4th!

The final two stops on this tour are listed below, so make sure to check out the exhibit if you can:
• 2/22 Miami, FL at Dolphin Mall
• 2/25–26 Philadelphia, PA

Batman
Catwoman
The Riddler
The Penguin
The Batmobile (exterior)
The Batmobile (interior)

ETERNALS movie review

An ambitious departure from the previous paint-by-numbers MCU films, but while it will attempt to distract you with impressive visuals (other than the Deviants), it’s a soulless film with a convoluted plot full of neo-liberal woke-pandering. Chloe Zhao’s The ETERNALS is the result of a writer/director concerning themselves far more with satisfying the rubric of check-boxes associated with toxic woke culture than telling a thoughtful or entertaining story. This is MARVEL Studios’ movie to demonstrate, through superficial virtue signaling, that they are onboard the Woke Express. Perhaps the idea of this movie sounded innovative in the echo-chamber meetings, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Diegetically, the prolific world building, MCU connectivity, and character development this movie needed to do, even the more than 2.5hr runtime isn’t sufficient, and ultimately feels like a DCEU-style rush job. Between the chaotic plotting, bad CG (those Deviants look like something right off the SyFy Channel), cosplay uniforms, dialogue lacking in any subtext, and the gross neglect for any nuance to the storytelling whatsoever, this movie is the product of an assortment of post-modern critical theories and not the imagination of a filmmaker. Clearly Zhao has an eye for cinematic composition, but her skills as a storyteller are not nearly as fine-tuned–certainly not for such a gargantuan superhero spectacle.

The Eternals, a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, reunite to battle the evil Deviants.

Dramatize don’t tell. This is the No.1 principle I teach in my film studies and screenwriting classes. And this important convention is broken at the very beginning of The Eternals. Very few movies have demonstrated that scrolling text in a prologue can pay off dramatically (i.e. Star Wars). It works in Star Wars because that is how the world was first introduced to the mammoth intellectual property, therefore, it becomes part of its branding (and is missed when it doesn’t happen). Moreover, there was no frame of reference prior to A New Hope; and since we were being plunged into the middle of the action, it was necessary to preface the story that was about to unfold. Audiences aren’t being introduced to the MCU–they’ve been in the MCU ostensibly since Paramount’s Iron Man. Therefore, this demonstrates a lazy approach to providing exposition that could have otherwise been integrated more thoughtfully into the main action story. Furthermore, this lack of dramatic exposition is problematic, not only at the beginning, but throughout the movie.

If there was a social media campaign or outcry about it in the last few years, you will find that box checked off in this movie. As I watched this movie (in IMAX, btw), I couldn’t help but envision a rubric, not unlike the kind many professors use for grading papers. Personally, I don’t use a rubric in my classes because satisfying requirements in that fashion does not tell me how you can apply what you learn in class to your topic; but rather, that you know the bare minimum you need to do in order to get the point(s). Think of it as a typical test. A typical test only demonstrates to the professor how much you can remember NOT how much you know or your level of wisdom (the application of knowledge). It’s as if Zhao held meetings with MARVEL Studios executives and staff to outline every woke box that needed to be checked in this progressive movie. I won’t go into all the examples because that would take up a paragraph in and of itself, but if there has been a push for representation, then you will find it here. And all those characters in one place means that most are not developed sufficiently and feel more like one-dimensional tokens than characters crafted by a writer who cares. That’s the problem here. Increased representation across the spectrum of humanity in cinema is very important, but not when it comes at the expense of the integrity of the characters themselves.

One of the hottest topics of discussion to come out of this movie is the inclusion of a PG-13 sex scene, which is long overdue in a cinematic universe such as this one, which is filled with HOT male and female characters in form-fitting uniforms. More than demonstrating to audiences that the MCU movies have grown up with their initial audience of teens and 20-somethings, this scene is important because it shows that these immortal beings have some humanity in them. Superheroes and supervillains are often not thought of as human, and even though we learn that these immortal beings aren’t exactly human, they do take on many characteristics of humans, and this scene is a refreshing reminder that superheroes have erotic passions just like the rest of us. There is a vulnerability about them.

Because of all the piping that is being laid in this movie (enough for at least two or three movies), the story feels incredibly rushed. It reminded of how the DCEU tried to complete with MARVEL, years after MARVEL had been in the MCU. The result was hurried world building. It took MARVEL years to build the MCU, but the DCEU tried to accomplish the same in a year or two. We have five stories here (1) its creation myth and early Mesopotamia (2) the time in Babylonian Empire (3) the time in the Aztec Empire (4) the Greco-Roman Empire, and (5) the present-day story. Each of these is incredibly important to the main action plot of The Eternals, and yet these otherwise rich settings are reduced to flashback fodder. There are easily three thoughtful movies that could have come out of the five aforementioned stories. The result is a single plot that cannot possibly accomplish everything that it needs to in order to effectively tell the story and do it justice. I’m still not entirely sure why the Deviants were attacking the Eternals; oh it was sort of explained, but like with much of the rest of the film, it wasn’t thoughtfully developed either.

If you are familiar with Middle Eastern or Greek mythology, you will enjoy the integration of some of the mythological stories with which you are likely familiar. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Ikaros to Athena, you will learn that it’s the Eternals that inspired these stories. While we may never know precisely what inspired these stories in real life, they were likely inspired by real individuals, much like legends and lore are to this day. So, knowing that these powerful, immortal beings have been secretly living on earth makes since, and can be appreciated both through a historic lens and through the backstory of the main action plot of the movie.

There are two end-credit scenes, each setting up a new characters. I won’t spoil it (but don’t look at the IMDb either). One scene in at the beginning of the credits and the other is a post-credit scene.

Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1