In Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) has crafted a nearly perfect solo film for the eponymous African Superhero. The film has all of the visual appeal, action, and expert world-building that we have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In addition, Coogler instills the film with superlatives that are rarely attached to the MCU: a noteworthy and complex villain, a rich political subtext, and a truly thematic conflict. It is likely too early to crown Black Panther as the greatest anything, but it is folly to ignore the power behind such an exemplary film.
Disney’s Queen of Katwe appears to follow the standard formula of sports movie: take an underdog (bonus points for a disadvantaged upbringing) and chart their rise to the top ranks until they overcome some snooty favorite. Mira Nair’s film distinguishes itself through peerless acting, a vibrant but patient setting, and consistent application of its chosen sport as thematic metaphor. The film focuses on a young, poor female chess prodigy from Uganda named Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga). Throughout the story, chess is used as a mechanism for improvement and a way to escape her situation. Ultimately, Queen of Katwe champions the intellect of individuals, and shows us a world where young girls and boys can apply that intellect to improve their lives.
Though Disney’s live-action adaptations of their traditional animated stories have been a mixed bag so far, Jon Favreau and company have delivered a surprising gem in The Jungle Book. Like other adaptations, this film is certainly a re-make of the original and contains many of the same thematic elements, but some unique nuances add a great deal to the overall quality of the film. Though the movie is not without its faults, it is vastly superior to the animated version from 1967 in almost every way: it has a stronger sense of character development, a more coherent plot-theme, and even sports higher-quality animation. This is hands-down the best of Disney’s recent live-action adaptations.