Black Panther

After what feels like dozens of Marvel superhero films, ‘Black Panther’ faces a dilemma. Although it has the requisite action, colour and expensive mayhem as one expects, it has the formidable task of differentiating itself from others. Audience enthusiasm and similar films are the true foes ‘Black Panther’ comes across standing up against them very well. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Marvel comic character has enough energetic zest to overcome the heroic movie glut begun years ago.

The King of the African nation of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) will do anything to protect it. That includes fighting evil-doers as Black Panther, a costumed hero meant to be a symbol of hope. Amongst those wanting to destroy the King and start a world war is Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) an experienced soldier eager for power. Teaming with CIA agent Everett K Ross (Martin Freeman), T’Challa aims to maintain order and prevent his country from a looming cataclysm.

Unlike many in the genre, ‘Black Panther’ is actually about something. By exploring the abuse of power and technology, the screenplay has much depth that isn’t typical for this type of caper. Director Ryan Coogler mixes the formula to good effect. Known for rejuvenating stagnant franchises such as the Rocky series with ‘Creed’, Coogler is adept at crafting gritty drama. He remembers to have fun in ‘Black Panther’ too as the colourful spectacle is seen in full force.

None of this would work without solid performances. Boseman and especially Jordan provide genuine gravitas to their roles as their conflicted characters have opposing aims easy to understand. Their co-stars are equally fine and dive into the plentiful action with gusto. Whilst ‘Black Panther’ suffers from pacing issues and could have been better edited, it doesn’t skimp on the dazzling CGI and great stunt-work. This is a comic-book flick after all but one that perhaps lingers more in the memory than most.

‘Black Panther’ has already earned much praise for its diversity and strong script. Hopefully this paves the way for more lesser-known Marvel comic characters to reach the silver screen. After ten years of Marvel movies, ‘Black Panther’ marks a new chapter in the ongoing series, with a future eagerly anticipated.

Rating out of 10: 7

Phantom Thread

‘Phantom Thread’ is the movie that actor Daniel Day-Lewis has grandly announced as being his final acting role. Whether that’s true remains to be seen but for now he delivers another excellent performance. That isn’t too difficult due to the finely written script by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. His work, including ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘There will be Blood’, have startled audiences. ‘Phantom Thread’ should be no different. With its exploration of a fashion house in the 1950’s, it is another engrossing production from a gifted story-teller.

London dressmakers Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) have a distinctive style popular with royalty, stars and high society. Their fashion house is continually busy with romance being a constant source of pleasure for Reynolds. Thinking he will forever remain a bachelor, he is surprised when he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps). Becoming his muse and lover, Alma’s entrancing allure affect Reynolds structured life in ways he could never have contemplated.

Although his work demands a lot of viewers, Paul Thomas Anderson knows how to capture attention. He does this with ease in ‘Phantom Thread’ due to a strong script and powerful performances. Day Lewis successfully inhabits Reynolds’ arrogant, needy and peculiar manner. Perhaps that’s why he was cast as Day Lewis creates a complete character full of genuine human foibles. He understands the many layers of the dense script with Anderson taking his time to tell the intricate tale.

‘Phantom Thread’ comes into its own with exquisite production design and elegant score. It perfectly encapsulates the aloof 1950’s surrounds in Reynolds’ world. The superb rendering of the era allows you to fully invest in the story even if it occasionally drags. Anderson continues his bad habit of over-emphasising the emotional turmoil of his characters that dilutes the story’s impact. His drawing out of strong performances and fantastic attention to detail are first class and evidence of a film-maker taking care in crafting something unique.

If ‘Phantom Thread’ is truly the final coda in Daniel Day-Lewis’ career, then he definitely has gone out on top. Conjuring a memorable persona, his skills will be missed. Thankfully Paul Thomas Anderson has no plans to retire with his film-making style always intriguing and refusing to settle for anything less than cinematic perfection.

Rating out of 10: 7