Disenchanted

Another long awaited sequel arrived this weekend, this time on Disney + as the follow up to 2007’s Enchanted hit the streaming service. Disenchanted was set ten years ahead of Enchanted and we see that there are real challenges to “Happily Ever After.”

We meet back up with Giselle (Amy Adams) and her real life prince Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his now teenage daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) as they were moving out of New York City and into the suburbs. Giselle was tying to come to grips with her life, missing the fairy tale magic that once engulfed her.

Morgan was unhappy leaving NYC, her friends and school, to start over in the small town of Monroeville in a “castle” that could be called a fixer-upper. A series of unfortunate events happen leaving Giselle forlorn. So when Edward (James Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel) visited from the Kingdom of Andalasia and presented Giselle’s newest baby, Sofia, with a magic wand with the power of granting wishes, things were set up for trouble.

Disenchanted was somewhat of a mixed bag. The story was fun and the music was fine (especially a song between Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph called “Badder”). The problem was everything felt so familiar, as if we had seen it all before. It was a combination of the original Enchanted, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Frozen.

Amy Adams stepped right back into the role of Giselle without flaw and she embraced the shift that her character took. She brings so much life to the one time animated princess.

Maya Rudolph’s Malvina was a cool villain and brought some new energy to the trope of the evil queen and the way that the wish affected the whole town and the characters was a creative twist. However, some of the other sub plots felt tagged on and like a waste of time (such as Robert’s quest to be a hero).

Simply put, there was just not enough of James Marsden, who completely dominated every moment he was on screen with the portray of Edward. I could have used much more of him.

Disenchanted does not measure up to the original film, but that should not be held against it. Disenchanted is an enjoyable and fun watch with some clever moments and another excellent performance from Amy Adams. It certainly has its flaws as many sequels do, but nothing bad enough to take away from the pleasure of the film.

3.3 stars

Spirited (2022)

Apple TV + has had some solid films on its service over the last few years, but they still seem to lag behind the big boys. Once again, there is a great film debuting on Apple TV + this weekend that takes a well known and mined story and gives it a fresh take.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an all-time class story of redemption. Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by three spirits on a Christmas Eve has been adapted with various successes from Bill Murray’s Scrooged and The Muppet Christmas Carol.

This time it takes the story and flips it around in a clever and creative way. There are a few twists that were unexpected and a whole bunch of songs. That’s right, it is a musical.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Farrell) has had a long career of excellence as the film reveals that they choose a hate-filled person every Christmas to put through the program. Every year, Present thinks about retiring, and every year he chooses to stay. Becoming even more uncertain about how much good he actual has done, Present discovered a special perp considered irredeemable. This was the case that sparked something in Present and he was determined to make the perp change.

The perp, Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), was not looking for a change in lifestyle and the ghosts found him more than they anticipated. When Present has to take over for the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Muni), he starts reflecting on his own life as a ghost.

I have never been a fan of Will Farrell. Honestly, there are way more Will Farrell movies that I dislike or hate than that I liked. However, Farrell is just excellent here as Present is given a surprising origin and a surprising depth of character. Everything that he does makes perfect sense, especially when you discover the truth behind him. His performance is understated, which is just opposite of his normal role. This time he felt like he was playing a character and not just a version of himself.

Farrell and Ryan Reynolds have great chemistry and feel like a perfect duo. Octavia Spencer plays Briggs’ assistant and she is always good. I would have liked a little more from her.

The music was fun and the dance routines were well done although many of them seemed to blend together, not standing out from the others. I do think that there were a couple too many songs in this musical, but I enjoyed most of them. The standout song was a duet between Farrell and Reynolds called “Good Afternoon.”

I really liked the ending of the film. Of course, I will not spoil it, but it was a nice finish and brought characters full circle.

Spirited had appeared in limited run in theaters last week and now can be found on Apple TV +. It is a little long at over two hours, but it is a lot of holiday fun and takes a well-worn story and breathes new life into it.

4.2 stars

A Christmas Story Christmas

I was sure this was going to be a bad idea.

So many times when a film has a sequel set decades in the future, the sequel does not live up to the original and, in plenty of occasions, it is simply garbage. And this sequel comes almost 40 years after the original.

A Christmas Story is a beloved Christmas movie for many people, but I had never seen it until a couple of years ago when I did a Christmas movie binge. I did enjoy it that time, but I never would have thought it was ripe for a follow up.

Nor did I think that we needed to have Peter Billingsley to reprise his role as Ralphie. We also go returning actors Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Zack Ward, and Ian Petrella playing Flick, Schwartz, Scut Farkus, and Randy, respectfully.

With so many factors working against it, A Christmas Story Christmas had no right to be good.

And yet, it was.

With the death of his Old Man, failing writer Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) returned to his hometown for Christmas with his wife Sandy (Erinn Hayes) and two children Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne). Waiting for them was the widowed Mrs. Parker (Julie Hagerty), who wanted one thing… a Happy Christmas, despite their terrible loss.

That put the pressure of delivering a perfect Christmas on the shoulders of Ralphie, a weight that was dragging him down.

Even for someone who had not watched the original A Christmas Story until just recently, it was clear that this sequel was banking on nostalgia heavily, and it really worked. They flashed back to Ralphie’s childhood and used the trip down memory lane as both a sweet way to reminisce and a way to continue to stress Ralphie out.

It revisited several scenes that were extremely popular in the first film, including the trip to the mall to see Santa Claus and having to deal with a new generation of bullies.

Peter Billingsley narrated the film just like the grown up Ralphie (Jean Shepherd) narrated the original. The film broke the fourth wall a couple of times that added a little magic to the feels.

Are some of the sections a little silly? Sure. So was the first one. But everything worked well together and it gives you a warm Christmas feeling as the family shows the importance of the holiday. A Christmas Story Christmas should never have been this good, and yet, like opening that perfect Christmas present on Christmas morning, it is the unexpected that is the best.

4 stars

The Wonder

Another new film arriving today on Netflix is the film The Wonder, a period piece thriller directed by Sebastián Lelio. The film featured a lead performance from Florence Pugh, who continues to rack up strong performance after another.

According to IMDB, “Set in The Irish Midlands in 1862, the story follows a young girl who stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is brought to a tiny village to observe eleven-year old Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy). Tourists and pilgrims mass to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Is the village harbouring a saint ‘surviving on manna from heaven’ or are there more ominous motives at work?

The first scene and final shot of this movie was very bizarre and unexpected. It also had no connection to the story that is told by the film. I am unsure why the filmmakers made this choice. Although it certainly was an original option, it was forgotten quickly until the final scene appeared on the screen. Without spoiling it, I can’t go into further specifics.

The story of Anna, the girl who had not eaten for four months, is an interesting mystery with some decent ambiance. However, I did find the movie slow and a little dull. The movie was truly lucky to have such an amazing actor in Florence Pugh as its lead because I am not sure this worked at all if it were not for Pugh.

Pugh’s nurse character Lib Wright was conflicted by everything that was going on, from her first investigation of what was going on to the apparent downturn of Anna’s health during her watch.

There are several excellent actors involved here that did not have a ton to do. These actors included Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Elaine Cassidy, Caolán Byrne, Dermot Crowley, Niamh Algar, Tom Burke and Brian F. O’Byrne.

The Wonder dealt with religion and miracles and the desperation for the human beings to connect to something more than what they have. There is a tragic element involved here too, but the story is slow. Pugh does a ton of heavy lifting and pulls the film out, but just barely.

3 stars

My Father’s Dragon

Sick day.

This gave me a chance to catch up on some of the Netflix films and other streaming films that came out this week. The first one that I watched was an animated film directed by Nora Twomey from Netflix Animation, Mockingbird Pictures and Cartoon Saloon. Cartoon Saloon was an Irish animation studio that recently release the Oscar nominated animated film Wolfwalkers.

My Father’s Dragon is based on a 1948 children’s novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett.

Elmer Elevator (Jacob Trembley) is a young boy whose mother (Golshifteh Farahani) ran a store. Elmer was a great help during this time, but the store would not last and they had to leave their home. Struggling to make ends meat, they found a rundown attic apartment and started to try to save money for a new store. Unfortunately, things were not going well.

After being frustrated with his mother, Elmer ran off and found a talking cat (Whoopi Goldberg) who told Elmer that the answers to his problems would be on Wild Island in the form of a dragon named Boris (Gaten Matarazzo). However, when Elmer arrived on the island, he discovered that there were a lot of other problems going on.

My Father’s Dragon featured a wonderful cast of voice actors. Along with Jacob Trembly, Gaten Matarazzo, and Whoopi Goldberg, there were also Ian McShane, Chris O’Dowd, Jackie Earle Haley, Rita Moreno, Dianne Wiest, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, Adam Brody, Charlyne Yi, Yara Shahidi and Mary Kay Place.

The traditional 2D animation style really worked well for this film. The hand drawn images turned out beautifully as the imagery popped from the screen. The 2D animation is a nice change from all the CGI design that dominates the animation today. The design of the characters on Wild Island were remarkably creative and imaginative.

The story has some strong themes that work through the entire film. It is a movie that the story may be simplistic, but it is well executed and should be a tale that both kids and their parents will enjoy.

3.8 stars

Run Sweetheart Run

I have been looking at this on the My Stuff section on Prime for a couple of weeks. I finally decided that it was time to watch Run Sweetheart Run. I did not expect to get what I wound up getting.

According to IMDB, “Initially apprehensive when her boss (Clark Gregg) insists she meets with one of his most important clients, single mom Cherie (Ella Balinska) is relieved and excited when she meets charismatic Ethan (Pilou Asbæk). The influential businessman defies expectations and sweeps Cherie off her feet. But at the end of the night, when the two are alone together, he reveals his true, violent nature. Battered and terrified, she flees for her life, beginning a relentless game of cat-and-mouse with a bloodthirsty assailant hell-bent on her utter destruction.

It turned out that the assailant was a supernatural force that was nearly unstoppable and I did not think the movie was going there. With the unexpected twist, the film wound up to be quite fun.

Ella Balinska, who I have not seen in very many projects, does a great job as Cherie, the woman who was being pursued by Ethan. She was easy to root for and showed how much of a kick ass she turned out to be. She is an actor that you should keep an eye on, because I think she could be a big star (she could be an exceptional Ororo).

It was fun watching the desperate struggle for survival and how creative the film was in helping keep Cherie alive despite what seemed impossible odds.

Yes, there are some fairly obvious themes of female empowerment and how they are being held down, but there is a lot of enjoyment to be had.

It was awesome to see Clark Gregg again, though he does not appear in the film that much. I miss Agent Coulson so much that I liked his short appearance here.

Run Sweetheart Run was better than I thought it would be and I am glad it finally got off my queue.

3.6 stars

Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time is a new coming-of-age story that, to be honest, was difficult to watch at times. The movie does not pull any punches and provides a lot of late 70s/early 80s drama for this family.

Written, directed and produced by James Gray, Armageddon Time included performers such as Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong.

Paul (Banks Repeta) was a young boy going through a difficult time. He was having issues at his school as well as troubles with his family. The only person who seemed to have a connection with Paul was his grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). When Paul befriends troublesome student Johnny (Jaylin Webb), who appeared to have past mistakes brought back and thrown in his face continually by teachers and others, the two boys began to get into even more trouble.

Paul’s family have their own expectations of him which did not seem to include Paul’s artistic skills, which he is always doing, and they look for a change to try and help Paul with his decisions.

There were several very difficult scenes in the film that included certain racial scenes, showing the privilege of Paul while displaying the perceptions of Johnny, a black boy seen as a problem. There is also a scene of discipline from Paul’s father that caused me to squirm in my seat.

The ways of this family was much more in target with the early 1980s than it is in 2022.

Banks Repeta does a great job as the lead protagonist in this film, especially in scenes opposite Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins. You could feel every emotion from Paul and he could be easily related to in each circumstance that he found himself trapped in. The film only worked because of the strong work of the young actor.

He also has a strong connection with another young actor in Jaylin Webb. Webb brings a lot to Johnny, in a role that could have been fairly stereotypical, but turned out very much his own character. That made everything that was happening to Johnny all the more tragic.

I had issue with the teacher, Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk). This character felt very cliché in this style of movie and I was hoping for something different. Unfortunately, this is probably part of the experience James Gray faced in his own past.

This story felt very personal for Gray, as much of this could be connected to his own childhood in Queens. There were a couple of strange cameos in the film that felt out of place despite being in place for a distinct reason.

The film stretched out a bit too long, and I would have liked more within the family structure because these scenes were the most compelling of the movie, but Armageddon Time was a solid watch with some good performances that had its share of themes to share with the world.

3.6 stars

Girl in the Picture

One more documentary this morning. It was a tough one.

Girl in the Picture was on Netflix and was directed by Skye Borgman. It was based on the books A Beautiful Child and Finding Sharon by author Matt Birkbeck. It tells the story of a young woman, a victim of a hit and run driver, and her harrowing life of abduction and abuse at the hands of the man she believed was her father, Franklin Delano Floyd.

This is a remarkable tale with a bunch of horrific instances. We were introduced to the young woman as Sharon Marshall, a kind, friendly teenager who was a friend to all, but who had a nightmare of a father.

Nightmare is too kind of an adjective to describe Franklin Floyd.

Floyd had multiple aliases during his life and had kidnapped Sharon’s son, Michael, after she had been killed. Though it had never been proven, it was believed that Floyd had run Sharon over with his car.

When he showed up again, Michael was not with him either.

A portrait of sexual abuse and use of Sharon to make money for sex was painted, showing was a terrible life the young girl was trapped in. Yet, everyone who talked about Sharon spoke to her kindness and how wonderful of a friend she was. This is the strength of the documentary. It did not focus on the life of the sociopathic Floyd as much as it did on the woman who survived years with him and did not allow those years to color her personality.

This doc included interviews with many of the investigators who had spent so much of their time trying to find the answers to this mystery. The doc weaved the moments together that took the story in a different path in a well constructed manner. Matt Birkbeck became one of the talking heads in the doc. When he got involved, there was another push to learn about the true identity of Sharon, who they had learned was kidnaped by Floyd and was not his actual daughter.

The documentary was engrossing as the story unfolded. You knew that there was tragedy in the tale, but, in the end, there was a hopefulness about it as a group of people came together to finally honor Sharon and to discover who she really was.

4 stars

Capturing the Killer Nurse

I watched my third documentary of the day, this time on Netflix, but this was a very familiar story. Capturing the Killer Nurse is a new documentary that detailed the mass murderer Charlie Cullen, a male nurse who had killed dozens of patients at the hospitals that he had worked.

I say it was familiar because just a few weeks ago, I watched a movie on Netflix called The Good Nurse, which was the true story of Charlie Cullen, starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain.

This documentary started off with the voice of Charlie Cullen in recordings he made after he had been arrested. That kicked things off dramatically. There were also interviews with all of the main components involved with Cullen, including Amy Loughren, the nurse who helped the police get evidence against Cullen at great personal risk, Donna Hargreaves, another nurse who worked with Cullen, Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun, who worked the case against Cullen, and several members of the victims’ families.

The story of Charlies Cullen and the process of capturing him is compelling, no doubt. It is a story that has moments that are difficult to believe. Unfortunately, most of this documentary was extremely standard and very little stood out as a well filmed or risk taking documentary. The music in the background ranged from annoying to downright obscene (the whole ‘Sunshine of My Life’ stuff was horrific). Much of this documentary reminded me of the basic TV true crime stories you may see on Discovery or Court TV.

This basically just states the crimes in a timeline of events, not engaging with the narrative. The documentarians were fortunate that this story is as compelling as it is, because the tension was not built by anything else besides the tale.

What I would have liked was more details, more depth about the series of hospitals that allowed Cullen to work for them despite there being evidence or, at the very least, suspicion that he was involved with something shady. What some of these hospital administrators did was unbelievably wrong and simply criminal, and they shuffled this nurse off because of a bottom line. That is something I want to know more about. This doc touched on this aspect of the case, but it did not go into enough details.

Overall, this doc is a basic one that does a good job of telling the story, but does not provide any special manner of involving the audience outside of just telling the tale. It is a story that people need to know, but it is covered better in the movie The Good Nurse than it is here. I assume Netflix considered those two films as complimentary, but The Good Nurse is considerably stronger.

2.75 stars

Fire of Love

The next documentary I wanted to watch was spectacular and told a love story that I did not know between two people and a volcano. Or more accurately, many, many volcanoes.

Fire of Love is on Disney + and tells the story of volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft, who spent decades exploring, studying and recording information and imagery of volcano eruptions and their effects. The narrator of the documentary drops the knowledge early in the film that the couple’s fate was on the edge of a volcano, which caught me off guard.

The Kraffts was constantly recording their work together, providing us with some of the most amazing images of eruptions and of lava flowing from these volcanoes. The pictures were absolutely stunning and could have been enough for some docs. This, however, added the story of a pair of lovers who spent their days together knee deep in ash and volcanic mud.

Maurice and Katia could be considered strange with their obsession. Maurice spoke about his desire to float in a boat down a river of lava.

What?

They showed a time when Maurice and another scientist went out at the the Ijen volcano, in the acid crater lake on a rubber raft. The doc showed us how the lake would dissolve material like nothing. It was astonishing.

There were some pacing issues with the film as it did feel as if it dragged at times. The film also some times lost focus on the connection of the Kraffts, which, when working, were some of the most compelling sections of the film.

However, the final days of their life, when they died in a pyroclastic flow on Mount Unzen, in Japan, on June 3, 1991, was amazingly heartbreaking and the video of the explosion, recorded by a journalist’s camera that was left behind was breathtaking. The film gave us the last picture taken of Maurice and Katia, together prior to the explosion.

This was an amazing documentary that, with just a few adjustments, could have been one of the best films around.

4.4 stars

Pennywise: The Story of It

I’ve had a bit of a feeling for some documentaries today, so I started off on Prime with a doc about one of my favorite Stephen King stories, It.

This was a documentary about the making of the original mini series on ABC back in the early 1980s, not the most recent pair of films from the last few years.

The doc featured interviews with most everyone from the cast, with the exception of Harry Anderson, who played the adult Richie in the two night mini series and passed away in 2018.

The highlight of any cast interview with the It cast was Tim Curry. The EYG Hall of Famer Tim Curry is always a bristly, curmudgeon who is straight forward and honest. His opinions on Twitter are never lacking and this is very much the same. He was talking about how he would scare the kid actors because he did not spend much time with them outside of filming. He told the story about how he hated the makeup and the prosthetics that went with Pennywise and how he got most of them removed because his face was expressive enough. He said, take this off and I’ll handle the scary part. Curry is a hoot.

It was also fascinating to hear from the adult versions of the child actors involved in the project. I did not know that Seth Green was a member of this cast, as the young Richie. Emily Perkins, who played the child version of Beverly, talked about how all of the other boys in the cast knew of the controversial scene from King’s novel where the boys in the Losers Club had sex with Beverly to lose their innocence. The boys apparently were all making cracks about it on set and she did not know until she finally read the book.

It was intriguing to also hear about how they brought the novel to the television screen. The process of initially starting with 8 hours and having it trimmed down to 4 and how that cost them their first director, George Romero.

There were a lot of cool stories about the mini series which became an iconic watch.

3.5 stars

She Will

Searching through Amazon Prime for something interesting to watch, I found She Will on Shudder. I have enjoyed my subscription to Shudder having found several top notch horror films to watch. Unfortunately, She Will never was able to grab my attention despite being a well shot and atmospheric film.

Directed by Charlotte Colbert, in her directorial debut, She Will was more psychological than straight horror, although the movie certainly has horror traits to it.

According to IMDB, “The film explores the story of Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige) who after a double mastectomy, goes to a healing retreat in rural Scotland with her young nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt). She discovers that the process of such surgery opens up questions about her very existence, leading her to start to question and confront past traumas. The two develop an unlikely bond as mysterious forces give Veronica the power to enact revenge within her dreams.

Alice Krige is sufficiently spooky as Veronica. Her performance was the part of the film that I was most intrigued by, but I just could not get into the story very much.

I am not sure what it was about She Will that failed to engage me in the story. It is a slow burn, but that is not something that bothered me in other movies of this type. The film had a definite tone that it was giving off, and it looked fine.

Perhaps it was too highbrow horror for my tastes. Maybe it is like The Witch, which was a film that everyone seemed to love, but I just could never get into it.

She Will is on Shudder if you want to give it a try.

2.4 stars

Don’t Worry Darling

I was not expecting this from Don’t Worry Darling.

When the movie was in the theaters, there was such a backlash against it, I just never found myself interested in it. I had a mistaken idea that the movie was a love story, but, now that I have watched it on HBO Max, I realized that this was much more of a psychological drama with some sci-fi elements.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, “Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are lucky to be living in the idealized community of Victory, the experimental company town housing the men who work for the top-secret Victory Project and their families. The 1950’s societal optimism espoused by their CEO, Frank (Chris Pine)–equal parts corporate visionary and motivational life coach–anchors every aspect of daily life in the tight-knit desert utopia. While the husbands spend every day inside the Victory Project Headquarters, working on the “development of progressive materials,” their wives–including Frank’s elegant partner, Shelley–get to spend their time enjoying the beauty, luxury and debauchery of their community. Life is perfect, with every resident’s needs met by the company. All they ask in return is discretion and unquestioning commitment to the Victory cause. But when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, exposing flashes of something much more sinister lurking beneath the attractive façade, Alice can’t help questioning exactly what they’re doing in Victory, and why. Just how much is Alice willing to lose to expose what’s really going on in this paradise?

Okay, this is definitely a mix of The Stepford Wives, The Matrix, and The Truman Show. I think the movie wants there to be some connection to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well, but I do not think it works near as well.

I started out uncertain, but the film was interesting at the beginning, but it never really broke out of the basic genre tropes that we see in so many other movies. There was nothing that made this stand out from the pack.

Florence Pugh is a star. She is an outstanding actor whom has a bright future ahead of her. This performance is strong and probably the best part of the movie. Harry Styles was fine, but had a hard time matching the acting quality of Pugh. Chris Pine felt wasted as the enigmatic Frank.

The film looked good, with director Olivia Wilde doing a solid job of shooting it. It just feels as if the positives just do not add up enough to overcome the lackluster script.

I will say that I do not think that it is as bad as what I expected after hearing all the negative reviews. Don’t Worry Darling is watchable, but it is just nothing remarkable. It feels like a film that I will not remember in short order and, with as many intriguing themes that it attempts to cover, that is a shame.

2.5 stars

Falling for Christmas

I typically don’t like doing anything Christmas related until at least after Thanksgiving, but I found this film on Netflix listed as the number one film, so I decided to give it a chance.

I should have stuck with my original plan.

Falling for Christmas starred Lindsay Lohan in one of the most cliched and predictable Christmas movie I have seen in a long time. It also professes to be a comedy, but I did not find any of the ridiculous slapstick funny. It might have been laughable, but not in the way it intended.

According to IMDB, “In the days leading up to Christmas, a young and newly engaged heiress experiences a skiing accident. After being diagnosed with amnesia, she finds herself in the care of the handsome lodge owner and his daughter.”

The aforementioned skiing accident is one of the worst sequences I have seen in a movie in a long time.

Lindsay Lohan has a natural charm, and she has to because this character is written so unlikable that she feels like a cartoon. Of course, with the amnesia angle in the story, she becomes much more likeable, unless you remember the first 20 minutes of the movie.

It was nice to see Jack Wagner, an old favorite of mine from General Hospital, who played Lohan’s character’s father in this, but it was a minor thing.

Sure there is an expectation that Christmas movies can run more on the sappy side, but that does not have to be a hard and fast rule. Falling for Christmas is so inane, and when it is not inane, it is predictable. It might be a better movie with some Christmas “cheer” (the hard stuff and a lot of it).

1.5 stars

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Powerful. Emotional. Devastating. Cathartic. Beautiful.

Ryan Coogler returned to write and direct the sequel to his Oscar nominated and winning Black Panther, but everything got messed up with one tragic, unexpected moment.

T’Challa, the Black Panther, played by the awesome Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer in 2020 throwing the entire production into uncertainty. The cast, crew and company were caught unaware from the loss of Chadwick and no one was quite sure what was going to happen. Marvel Studio’s head honcho Kevin Feige announced that the role of T’Challa would not be recast. It was controversial, but after seeing Wakanda Forever, you could see why they made the decision.

Wakanda Forever was a celebration of Chadwick Boseman’s life and gave the cast a chance to grieve the loss of their “King.” You could absolutely feel the presence of Chadwick throughout the film, especially in the performances of his castmates from Black Panther. More on that later.

King T’Challa passed away from an unexpected disease and the country of Wakanda is in mourning. His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) was completely devastated from the death of T’Challa and was finding it particularly difficult to move on with her life. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) tried to help her daughter accept the loss of her brother.

However, they ended up being confronted by the head of the undersea kingdom of Talokan, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) who was angry over an attempt from US forces on an undersea mound of vibranium. Namor said a US “scientist” was behind creating a machine capable of locating vibranium. The scientist turned out to be Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne).

I don’t want to go into any further detail about the plot because there are plenty of awesome moments that could be spoiled.

Though she was an absolute highlight, Letitia Wright’s Shuri was initially just a secondary/supporting character in Black Panther. It is very challenging for a supporting character to step up and take the lead of a movie, but Wright is totally savage and knocks it out of the park. I was not sure if she had it in her, but she was compelling as could be. You could see how the loss of Chadwick Boseman informed her performance to the point where, at times, it did not feel as if she was acting.

However, as amazing as Letitia Wright’s work was, the standout of the performances in Wakanda Forever was the spectacular Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda. If Angela Bassett does not, at the very least, receive an Oscar nomination for this role, then there is something terribly wrong with the system. The power she displayed with every minute she was on screen was astounding. Everybody has seen the powerhouse line about her family from the trailer, but she was just as epic in the quieter moments as well. Queen Ramonda was a pillar of strength and gave us examples of why she was such a wondrous leader.

Every performer brought their A game. Tenoch Huerta debuted the classic Marvel character Namor and, while there were some changes made to the character, everything worked so well. He created an amazingly complex and deep “villain” that will have a major place in the MCU moving forward. I thought tying Namor to the culture of Central America was a stroke of genius and worked really well with the character. I know there are people out there who hate when Marvel Studios does anything different with a character, especially when they change the race/nationality of a character, but those people were never going to be happy. The character of Namor was well served by this script and any changes made did not effect who Namor was at his core.

Danai Gurira had one of the best arcs of the film as General Okoye of the Dora Milaje. This may have been the best work that I have ever seen from Gurira as the emotion of the situation was echoing in her performance. I also enjoyed the inclusion of Riri Williams, who will be starring in her own Disney + series, Ironheart, next year. She brought some much needed humor to the film. The humor was used in just the right level. This is still an MCU film and there will always be humor in these movies, but it does not overpower the scenes like it did at times during Thor: Love and Thunder.

I heard a review complaining about the lack of screen time for Winston Duke as M’Baku, but I thought he was used very well and I loved where the film left off with him. Another actor from the original film who returned to a great part, albeit somewhat smaller than the last time, was Lupita Nyong’o with Nakia.

The music was outstanding again and the CGI was great. Some of the issues with the third act of the original film was the CGI effects. I thought this film did a much better job with that and only had a few minor faults.

I have also heard some gripes about the length of the film, but I did not feel that. I thought it was paced extremely well and I did not feel the length, despite being 2 hours and 40 minutes long.

The only complaint I might be able to muster was there was a tad too much exposition when dealing with the past of Namor and a few other flashbacks, but it was such a minor issue that I almost did not mention it. I guess one could say that Namora (Mabel Cadena) and Attuma (Alex Livinalli) were really underused and did not standout among the warriors of Talokan.

I loved this movie. It was such an emotional roller coaster and it served as a wonderful tribute to Chadwick Boseman while continuing to build the world of Wakanda for the future of the MCU. The one mid credit scene (none at the end of the credits) was amazing and speaks well of the future.

For me, this is one of the best movies of the year and will challenge for the top spot next month in the Top 30 Best of 2022 list.

5 stars