Review: Black Panther

 

Well, it’s already smashing records so it doesn’t really matter  what I say about it, not that that’s going to stop me…

Black Panther is possibly the most hyped super-hero flick of all time, and remembering the circus that travelled with Wonder Woman, that’s really taken some doing. That level of exposure risks disappointment, especially amongst fans of the Black Panther comic, as well as drawing the ire from those who may be less than comfortable with the ideas it represents (a hidden African nation that resisted slavery and exploitation, and so prospers to become the most socially and technologically advanced civilisation on Earth) It’s never going to please everyone, so Ryan Coogler did what all good directors do: he read the story, understood what it was about, and then went on to deliver something that was as true to original as he could manage.

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Sure it was missing a few bits (there was little mention of T’Challa’s intelligence, which is as least as important as his physical prowess), but the story was tight and the action was evenly paced. The dialogue was nothing to write home about, but it did have those nice humourous touches that Disney/Marvel do so well. The special effects were top notch and the setting were amazing; a lot of work has gone into imagining a world that blends African tradition with hi-tech wizardry, and they pulled it off beautifully.

Performances were creditable all round, though I don’t think anyone stood out in particular for me, which is probably not a bad thing when I think about it.  The African accents were … passable, but the occasional ‘Americanism’ crept in here and there, which sort of took you out of the moment. Annoying, but infrequent enough that they aren’t really going to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the movie.

Most super-hero films avoid making any sort of political comment; Black Panther dives straight in, and for that reason I’m expecting it to see a lot of flack in a few weeks when the hype’s died down. DC tried to go political with the somewhat hastily prepared Black Lightning, exploring the plight of black people in city ghettos, but avoiding any exploration of the underlying causes.  Black Panther doesn’t shy away, and that’s commendable. I’m not sure it represents a bold new direction for the genre, but it’s certainly the most entertaining and memorable super hero flick to date.

I’m going to give it ten out ten.

Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve

I don’t usually crack straight on with a sequel straight after reading Book 1, but the whole Mortal Engines thing intrigued me. The whole setup was so well-done, so painstakingly executed that I wanted to see, from a purely technical viewpoint, if the author could maintain that level of commitment through to the sequel. In many cases, a second book comes across as a little bit tired – not so here. If anything, Predator’s Gold was even better than Mortal Engines.

61DiWWb-hRL.jpgThe writing was a lot more confident, and the characterisation, I felt, was  much deeper. Tom (our main protagonist) hadn’t really changed that much in the two years since we’d seen him, while Hester, his partner, has hardened (and I didn’t think that was possible) further into the kind of selfish and embittered survivor he needs to keep him alive. That’s the thing about Tom: he’s an almost passive observer to things going on around him, so  he sometimes seems to fade into the background, especially if he’s in a room with far more interesting people. Th rest of the characters are gloriously over the top: they’re either shockingly evil, in a Christmas pantomine sort of a way (YA fiction, remember?) or laugh-out-loud comical.

Like Mortal Engines, there are two really stand-out points with this novel. First off, the settings. The whole idea is magnificient. This notion that towns have evolved into almost living things that prey across the landscape of a ruined planet, lying in wait to devour smaller, unsuspecting towns is simply brilliant.

And secondly, we have the quality of the prose: tight, easy-flowing, not a single word goes to waste. Reeve has actually done something that is enormously tricky to pull off; he’s written the book in an omniscient viewpoint, dipping out of the characters heads, sometimes within the same paragraph. He’s made it work, and I can’t say I’ve read many authors that have managed to get that right.

Ten out of ten.

Discovery: not your mother’s Star Trek

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery is back on Netflix after a mid-season/Thanksgiving/Christmas Break (no idea) and continues to deliver something completely different from the Star Treks that boldly came before – and when I say “something different” then I really mean “everything is different”.

To begin with, there’s the characters. Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love the franchise, but up until now, everyone serving in Star Fleet has been the perfect hero or the perfect villain. Sure they all had their quirks (Spock’s way of using his eyebrows to tell you how inferior you are…), but in the end, you  knew that when push came to shove, everyone would knuckle down, dig deep, and save the day.

After one episode of Discovery, I wondered how any of these people had slipped past pysch eval and made it onto a starship. The crew is borderline dsysfunctional and the captain would happily jettison the lot of them into space if that’s what it took to complete the mission. We have a disgraced crew member who was responsible for the deaths of eight thousand fleet personnel. There’s an ensign who won’t let  Aspergers stop her from making captain (good for her), and the chief science officer is in a gay relationship with the ship’s doctor. (This really makes no sense because the chief scientist is a real dick, and so the doctor is punching way below his weight in my opinion).

So you don’t need me to tell you that this is the best Star Trek outing since Generations. Rather than the adventure-per-episode format that’s served them since the mid-sixties, Discovery has gone for a single mission – well … more of an interstellar war actually, and it’s not going well. The new format works because the writers can focus on filling out the characters, rather than spending twenty minutes getting the crew into a situation, then spending the next forty trying to get them out of it. It’s a new take, and for me it’s working.

And don’t get me started on the Klingons. They look different (what’s with the four nostrils?) and they’re as brutal as they come. They torture for sport and they eat their kill … Star Fleet officers included.

This is the Star Trek universe viewed through the darkness. The writers have gone back to the days before the star-spanning utopia enjoyed by Picard and co. (you remember that their Enterprise was basically a lounge and bar fitted with a warp drive), to a time when Star Fleet was an engine of war. No sacrifce too great, no deed too immoral to contemplate.

If you don’t have Netflix then Star Trek:Discovery is the best reason to get it. It’s bloody brilliant.