Black Panther (C). I don’t know, maybe it’s just comic-book-movie fatigue, but this flick left me feeling like I’d just watched a 135-minute-long video game. Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War) stars as King T’Challa of the poor African nation of Wakanda. Only it’s not really poor; it’s sitting on a mountain of an alien metal called vibranium and has mastered all sorts of advanced technology, including some sort of cloaking device to conceal it all from the outside world. But bad guys in the outside world are trying to get a hold of some vibranium, so T’Challa (who is also superhero Black Panther) and a few sidekicks leave Wakanda to stop them. And then they have to deal with another bad guy after the first bad guys. It all felt so weightless that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it. Also stars Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and features Angela Bassett (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), Forest Whitaker (Rogue One), and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).
Captain America: Civil War (B+). Wouldn’t you know: every time I start to wonder if the superhero genre is played out, the next superhero movie I see turns out to be entertaining and enjoyable. The plot of CACW was reasonably clear, and the fight scenes were exciting without being too ridiculous. Most of the Avengers seemed to show up for this one, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There were also a couple of people I didn’t recognize: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and Vision (Paul Bettany, Dogville). They must have joined the club in a movie I missed. Vision was a little troubling to me; he seemed so powerful as to kind of upset the balance of power. I mean, he can shoot lasers and dematerialize at will? But I still enjoyed it, and it didn’t really feel like two and half hours. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Marisa Tomei (The Big Short) pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. The same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo, of Community fame) also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier, which left me cold, so I’m glad to see they’ve upped their game.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (B). Based on a true story, this is the story of Kim Baker (Tina Fey, Sisters), a copywriter for some TV network who impulsively accepts an assignment to report on the war in Afghanistan. Of course it’s a whole new alien world for her at first, but another female reporter (Margot Robbie, The Big Short) helps her get adjusted. She encounters other colorful characters, like a crusty but decent Marine colonel (Billy Bob Thornton, Friday Night Lights), the skeezy would-be attorney general of Afghanistan (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2), and a rascally Scottish journalist (Martin Freeman, The Hobbitses). And she finds herself enjoying, and even getting addicted to, the adrenaline rush of war reporting. IMDB puts it in the “comedy” and “war” genres, but I thought it played fairly seriously despite occasional comic moments. Anyway, it’s a pretty good movie.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (B). Well, I feel like I liked this movie better than I liked the first installment of The Hobbit, but I see now that I gave both movies a “B.” Of course, the movie is way too long, at 2 hours and 41 minutes, but the events and incidents seem weightier than the ones that crowded the first movie. Part of the padding is that Peter Jackson shows what happens when Gandalf (Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters) goes off alone to confront an evil sorcerer called “the Necromancer,” which as I recall happens entirely “off-stage” in the novel. But the main story is still about a small band of dwarves wanting to take their ancestral kingdom under The Lonely Mountain back from Smaug, the terrifying dragon that occupied it some decades ago. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, The World’s End) proves himself invaluable as their hired thief. Smaug is a pretty impressive feat of CGI (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, 12 Years a Slave). And I have no quarrel with the casting of the lovely Evangeline Lilly (The Hurt Locker) as non-Tolkien character Tauriel the Elf Warrior. But the movie certainly could have been shorter.