The latest from Marvel, a timely Christmas release and more. It was a big week for movies and below I offer my take on the films I saw this week. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Theaters)
Starring: Leticia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, and Winston Duke
Synopsis: I loved Black Panther. Ryan Coogler delivered a cool and engaging film, one led by Chadwick Boseman, who was incredible as T’Challa. When he was lost in 2020, the world lost a great talent. So, too, did the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The question was how—and even if—the Black Panther saga would continue. Friday we got that answer in the long awaited sequel. The film begins and ends with Boseman’s T’Challa. He cast a big shadow on the film and on these characters. Rightly the film doesn’t try to replace or ignore that loss, it steers right into it. That makes this a beautiful and cathartic film. But it’s not all about what’s missing, it’s also about a way forward. In the film, Ramonda (Bassett) has assumed the mantle of queen and is leading a nation with invaluable resources that’s missing its great protector. The world wants Vibranium, and if they can’t get it from Wakanda, they’ll scour the globe. That leads them to the people of Namor (Mejia), an under-water warrior who plans to wage war on the surface world rather than see his world plundered for its resource. He pressures Ramonda and Shuri (Wright) to use their resources to find a young scientist—Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne)—who unlocked the key to detecting Vibranium. Namor seeks to end her, but Shuri seeks to protect her and humanity. To do that, she has to face her grief over the loss of her brother. The trailers are cryptic. We know there is a new Black Panther, and really we all know who it’s going to be. This isn’t about the surprise of what happens, it’s about the journey. And it’s a beautiful journey. There’s plenty of action and beautiful sets—similar to the first film—but this is a rich, emotional journey. Gurira, Bassett, Nyong’o and Duke are all strong in the film. I enjoyed the introduction of Namor, the story here and what it portends in the future. Thorne also does a nice job in her character introduction and I’m looking forward to see where her story goes. But this begins and ends with Wright. She carries not only a bulk of the action in the film but a bulk of the narrative heft. I loved her work in the film, more for the quiet moments than the big action set pieces. Coogler does a beautiful job of finding a way forward for this film. It’s a beautiful tribute to Boseman and a beautiful, emotional journey. For me it didn’t quite reach the heights of the first film, and it does feel a little long at times, but it’s still a wonderfully crafted follow up film. It’s one of the year’s best.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language.
Enola Holmes 2 (Netflix)
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, and Louis Partridge
Synopsis: In 2020 we got the original Netflix film Enola Holmes, which followed Sherlock Holmes’ sister. We got Sherlock, too, but this was about his kid sister, also a talented detective, and their mother. It was fun and engaging, led by Brown in the titular role. Almost right away people clamored for a sequel and now we’ve got one! Brown is back as Enola, while Cavill returns as Sherlock and Carter returns as their mother. Enola is on another case, and it’s a doozy. It soon draws in her brother and her mother, as well as her friend Lord Tewksbury (Partridge). There’s fun, adventure and some clever twists—including a couple classic pieces of the Sherlock Holmes lore. I love Brown in the role, and she has great chemistry with Cavill, too. The film delivers what you’d expect and also sets the table for a continuation of the franchise, which I hope we get.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images.
Spirited (Theaters/Apple TV+)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, and Patrick Page
Synopsis: Just in time for the holidays, Ferrell and Reynolds team up in this re-imagining of A Christmas Carol for Apple TV+. The film hit theaters on Friday in limited release and opens wide—and on Apple TV+—on November 18. I gave a full review here, but for those that missed it, I thought this was an enjoyable and fun Christmas ride. I could see it becoming another Christmas classic. Director Sean Anders—who co-wrote the script with John Morris—gives a great twist on the classic story. It’s a full-blown musical with some creative song and dance numbers, and a unique take on the classic story and world. I thought Reynolds did a nice job with his part, while Ferrell offers a fun performance in more of a straight man role. I love Christmas movies and I was excited to see this one, which didn’t disappoint.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements.
The Wonder (Netflix)
Starring: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Kila Lord Cassidy, Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds
Synopsis: After a short theatrical run earlier this month, The Wonder debuted on Netflix on Wednesday. The film is based on the novel from Emma Donoghue, who worked on the script with director Sebastian Lelio and Alice Birch. It follows an English nurse in 1862 who travels to a rural village in Ireland to observe a young girl who hasn’t eaten in months. Is it a miracle? Is it a clever ruse? What’s the truth. The nurse, played by Pugh, has a dark past of her own, one that she tries to drown with drugs and other vices. And now, she’s confronted by a possible miracle and a family—and village—that seems to be driven on faith. There’s a lot to unpack here in a story that is strange and twisty. I enjoyed Pugh in the lead performance even if I wasn’t always taken with the rest of the narrative. This film asks some hard questions about when we’re called to intercede and radical beliefs. Lelio begins with an interesting introduction to pull you into the story and adds some other interesting visual flourishes along the way. In the end, it’s not what I expected but it had some good moments.
Rating: Rated R for some sexuality.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.