Weekend Movies — Raves for “Black Panther,” chuckles for “Early Man,” silence over “Samson”

plenty Panther.jpgWaves of approval are greeting  Marvel’s long-planned Black History Month Valentine to comic book movie fans.

Ryan Coogler’s film of the marvelous African, otherwise formulaic Marvel superhero has earned raves in some quarters, general endorsement in most others, and just five pointed pans on Rottentomatoes. As there’s value in being the outlier on a movie pre-ordained to be a smash, make of that what you will. Plenty to pick apart in it, from pacing the a plot driven wholly by the demands of the action beats (No attempt to “redeem” the prodigal villain?). There are no negative notices for “Black Panther” among the more select group of critics on Metacritic, and I gave it the weakest endorsement there. Go figure.

It’s not really my favorite genre, though I have been impressed by the occasional “Dark Knight,” amused by the likes of “Deadpool” and “Ant Man,” more forgiving of the high-minded intentions of the DC movies of Warner Brothers.

“Panther” is slow, lumbering, with pandering padded fan-friendly scenes (check out the weakest post-credits “tease” in the history of this Marvel tradition). Love Chadwick Boseman, this isn’t the highlight of his resume.

It’s not in the same league as “Iron Man,” “The Avengers,” or even “Deadpool,” falling more in the “Wonder Woman/Logan/Justice League” (more substantive than fanboys are willing to say) grouping — ambitious, big subtexts, utterly generic story beats and banal-in-the-EXTREME dialogue.

“Get him, T’Challa!”

Stan Lee’s cameo just reminded me of how far ahead of the curve he was on making his medium topical and inclusive. Like Rod Serling, he was pretty fly for a white guy in the ’60s. Of course, these days, that is leading to movies with checkbox casting. Everybody has to be represented in every cast. As the movies pander to their target audience, there’s nothing wrong with broadening the pandering. Though it does lead to quibbles like this one. 

May it make a billion and enthrall those given to rapture over comic book adaptations. See it, make up your own mind and ask yourself the only question that matters. “Does this have as much to say and say it with as much style, wit and genuine engagement (suspense) as “Get Out?” Nope.

“Early Man” is the newest Aardman stop-motion animated delight to drop in from Jolly Olde. It’s soccer-centric, funny, and not earning the sort of endorsements one might have expected. No, it’s not up there with “Wallace & Gromit” or “Chicken Run,” more “Shaun the Sheep” or “Flushed Away.” Better than “Flushed Away.” 

Critics, like audiences, may be wearying of twee English animated comedies for kids (see the delightful, critically-endorsed but audience-rejected “Paddington 2,” or the lukewarm reception for “Peter Rabbit”).

“Samson” is a major studio (Pure Flix, division of Sony) faith-based picture about one of the brawniest stories in the Bible — the long-haired Hebrew who smote his enemies only to be betrayed by history’s first recorded femme fatale, a woman who inspired a classic Tom Jones’ tune. The movie’s got two directors, stars Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Lindsay Wagner, Rutger Hauer and as Delilah, Caitlin Leahy. And there are no reviews. The cowards didn’t preview it for critics. I’ll catch it today or tomorrow.


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