By Marc S. Sanders

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a stand out film among what has become an overpopulated Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It is a super hero film for sure, complete with the standard gadgets, super strength and abilities, action and over the top science fiction. Yet, this film did not have to be a superhero narrative to drive home the message of its story. This could have been an Oliver Stone film rooted in political quagmire. It could have been a John Hughes teen rip off film that takes place in a typical Wasp suburban school.

A question embraces this film. Simply, when is it appropriate to share?

Chadwick Boseman plays the title character also known as T’Challa, and following the recent death of his father he becomes the next king of the fictional African based country of Wakanda, a location hidden from the rest of the world so that no one else can take advantage of its most precious resource, Vibranium, which has allowed for the most sophisticated technology, weaponry and even medical advancements ever known. How it’s all lumped together, who knows? Pick up a Marvel Comics Encyclopedia for that answer. T’Challa is tasked with whether it is a moral obligation to share the resource with the rest of the world. However, if it is provided, will the Vibranium be taken advantage of for nefarious purposes?

(SIDE NOTE: Reviewing all of these Marvel films is getting to be trying, as I feel resorted to using the same terminology some times; words and phrases like “hero,” “villain,” “nefarious purposes” and “also known as.”)

His nemesis is Eric Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan; this guy is going to get an Oscar one day. Killmonger is an educated, skilled soldier and cousin to T’Challa who was abandoned by Wakanda following his own father’s betrayal of the country. He grew up in the projects of Oakland, California. Killmonger returns to Wakanda with the purpose of becoming king and allowing the tech and resources Wakanda possesses to be used by the outside world, particularly by populations of African descent and people of color who have endured a history of suffering. Once again, Marvel Studios scores with a villain you want to root for and endorse. Just like Jeff Bridges’ Obidiah Stane in the first Iron Man film, you have to recognize the stance that Killmonger holds on his side of argument. That’s great writing. It’s not so much that Killmonger is a slaughterer. He really isn’t at all. Once he overthrows the hero, the mission is only just beginning as he wishes to right the wrongs of Wakanda for never providing in the first place. It’s ironic really. This guy sides on the fact that he doesn’t want a wall, while the protagonist is doing all he can to maintain a divider to the outside world. In 2018, was there another film that really reflected the sign of the times so succinctly?

Coogler makes a beautiful sweeping film of country and special effects. The Wakandan ships are very cool. Overhead shots of Africa and the camp bases of various tribes are astonishing. One particular tribe resides on a winter like mountainside and the leaders room is spectaculary decorated in horizontal lumber hangings. T’Challa’s staff of mostly female combat warriors and scientists led by Lupita Nyong’o are really exciting. At times the film takes inspiration from some of the best standards of the James Bond films, as his sister introduces her latest inventions for the Black Panther suit. Naturally, the Black Panther costumes are stand outs in the film, black with glowing power enhancements of purples and yellows.

Is Black Panther worthy of a Best Picture nomination and an abundance of awards attention? I’m still not sure. It’s a very strong piece that is light years ahead of any DC Universe film, but it has great characters and messages like most of the Marvel films and even some of the more recent Bond films featuring Daniel Craig. Maybe it is one of the best films of they year, and maybe it should be a Best Picture nominee, but perhaps only because 2018 did not offer a wealth of extraordinary film achievements to begin with. I found merits in all of the 8 Best Picture nominees in this particular year, but I also found problems with many of them too (don’t get me started on A Star Is Born); shortcomings that in another year with better films would keep many of these nominees from ever being considered for the grand prize.

Yet, as I document these thoughts, I think about Black Panther again. Truly, it does not have anything negative in its feature. Ryan Coogler directed and wrote a very focused and thought provoking film. Yup! It was truly one of the year’s best films.


By Marc S. Sanders

I think the Civil War chapter must be one of the best installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The action ranging from fight scenes to car chases to shootouts and explosions are so well executed and edited.

This film lives up to what makes each Marvel character special in their own way, and while most of the attention is naturally focused on Chris Evans’ Captain America and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier (aka Bucky), the large cast is respectively given numerous moments to shine individually with well-conceived backgrounds and traits beyond just their superpowers.

Interestingly, until the late scene where all the characters collide against one another, the film was very shy of any intentional humor and focused more on what is morally correct in this fantasy world. There was a debate to grapple with, and a threat to both sides of the moral compass. All good layered dimensions, my favorite vice of effective storytelling.

Anyone who says popcorn movies like Avengers are nothing more and simply brainless would fail at recognizing good analysis and dimension. More often than not the MCU succeeds at setting up a dilemma to keep a viewer hooked. Once they are taken…then the storytellers will do something bold like destroy the headquarters, or an airport, or a whole city or Iron Man’s armor, and on and on. Too many other franchises (Transformers, Fast/Furious or DC) bring the buildings down before the cement is dry and the windows are Windexed. That’s when story is neglected for showmanship. There’s no weight to the loss. What do I care who died? You just destroyed the village in order to save it. Disney and Marvel know this and steer clear of those habits.

The cast is so perfectly assembled in Civil War. They interact very well with line exchanges, debates and fisticuffs.

Much of this film was a blur during my first viewing. These are Marvel movies. There are so many now, the scenes all seem to blend together. Yet now I see this particular film is special. Good set pieces, costumes, makeup, visual effects and great performances lead to a great, fun presentation. I’m sold.


By Marc S. Sanders

What a huge loss it is to no longer have Chadwick Boseman after being taken so early in life by cancer.  His heroic role in Black Panther is what is arguably celebrated most.  However, even a small, standard cop film like 21 Bridges is evidence of his magnetism on screen.

In this movie, Boseman portrays Andre Davis, a New York police detective who is under investigation by Internal Affairs for an abundance of shooting incidents.  Yet he is still on the beat.  When he is summoned to the aftermath of a violent crime scene after midnight in Manhattan, it is up to Andre and his new partner Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) to track down two killers who ran off with a large supply in cocaine while taking out seven police officers in the getaway.   The best way to catch the bad guys is to shut down the twenty outlets off of Manhattan Island. That means all bridges, tunnels and ferries are closed off until sunrise.  Now it becomes a closed off maze to locate and apprehend the men.  One problem for Andre and Frankie is that the entire police force is looking to taking out the suspects as punishment for killing their comrades.  Andre is actually not the shoot first cop he’s unfairly being characterized as, though.  Sounds simple and familiar, yes.  However, Andre slowly realizes that there may be a complicated conspiracy involved. 

Directed by Brian Kirk, 21 Bridges won’t rank up there with Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive or even the best of the Dirty Harry installments, but the film moves at a brisk pace and the action is spectacular, and at times unexpected.  The early heist of the drugs from an underground wine cellar is fast and shocking when a shootout erupts that goes for a thankfully suspenseful long time.  Kirk doesn’t make it easy for the bad guys (Steven James, Taylor Kitsch) to make their escape.  When they do, the desperation is engaging. 

While this picture didn’t generate much box office success, there’s no question that Boseman would have been a go to leading man in the same vein as Keanu Reeves or Tom Holland has become. My theory: it should not have been released against blockbuster power hitters. Had it come out in January or February, this would have been a sleeper hit for sure. Boseman looks great as the hero and righteous cop, competing with the standard police veterans (JK Simmons) who remind the hero he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, etc.  We, the viewers, know better though.  Boseman looks very cool and athletic in his dark blue overcoat and drawn pistol, running through the streets of Chinatown or within apartment staircases and hallways as he maintains the chase.  Chadwick Boseman is just a solid leading man.  No question about it.

The script by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan is full of surprises that fit in the sense of the picture.  Nothing comes out of left field, but I wasn’t looking for surprises either.  So, when a new development presented itself, I appreciated it.  It kept the movie alive.

So again, Chadwick Boseman is huge loss within the Hollywood ranks.  I read that a sequel was considered.  I would have liked to see that with Boseman reprising his role because it’s a good part for him.   

If you have grown tired of watching the Marvel and Star Wars films and series for the 50th time and you’re looking for something new, seek out 21 Bridges.  It’s a first-rate solid crime thriller.