Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the fantasy film “Shaakuntalam” (based on Kalidasa’s ancient play “Shakuntala”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy royalty.
Culture Clash: A king and his wife are driven apart by a curse and might or might not get back together after the curse is lifted.
Culture Audience: “Shaakuntalam” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “Shakuntala” and tacky movie versions of classic fairy tales.
The best thing that can be said about the bloated fantasy drama “Shaakuntalam” is that the costumes are eye-catching. Everything thing else is terrible, including the acting and fake-looking visual effects. It’s too much money spent on hackneyed filmmaking. With a total running time of 142 minutes, and with scene after scene filled with mind-numbingly stupid dialogue, “Shaakuntalam” will quickly induce boredom and/or irritation with viewers who know this could have been a much better movie with the right filmmakers.
Written and directed by Gunasekhar, “Shaakuntalam” is based on the ancient Indian play “Shakuntala,” written by Kaludasa. It has all the elements of old fairy tales (usually written by men) that are told in many other cultures. In these stories, dashing royal men meet, fall in love, and court beautiful women whom the royal men want to marry.
The women in these stories tend to be too good to be true: always kind, always patient, and always with the implication that their royal suitor is the “first, only, and greatest love” of the woman who’s being courted. We all know that these stories have inevitable “happily ever after” endings. But the journey to get there—and how it’s presented—determines if a fairy tale is a classic or not.
“Shaakuntalam” looks like a movie where the filmmakers cared more about cramming in as many phony-looking, obviously computer-generated animals in scenes, rather than in crafting a good story. This entire movie could have been 80 minutes or less, but it’s dragged out to 142 minutes of repetitive and moronic scenes. The original songs in the movie’s musical numbers have incredibly basic and soulless lyrics that could have been generated from any old computer program.
The maiden-turned-queen in “Shaakuntalam” is Shakuntala (played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu), who was abandoned as a baby. The movie’s opening scene shows baby Shakuntala being found in a forest and adopted by a kind of loving guru named Kanva Maharishi (played by Sachin Khedekar), who raises her along with several of his young male disciples. Kanva, who names the baby Shakuntala, is so wise, he already knows who are the parents of this abandoned baby is the daughter.
Shakuntala grows up to be a young women who has never met her parents: mother Menaka (played by Madhoo) and father Vishwamitra, who died before Shakuntala could meet him. Through a series of circumstances, Menaka ends up back in Shakuntala’s life and becomes a domineering force in trying to control Shakuntala. Menaka only seems to care about what Shakuntala can get out of Shakuntala’s relationship with a wealthy king.
Meanwhile, Shakuntala meets the powerful king Dushyanta (played by Dev Mohan), who charms and seduces her. There’s a very over-the-top scene of Dushyanta being a one-man army in fighting of a group of rampaging tigers who invade Shakuntala’s village. This fight scene is one of many in “Shaakuntalam” that look like scenes from a video game. It isn’t long before Shakuntala and Dushyanta get married, and she becomes pregnant.
Shakuntala has two best friends named Anasuya (played by Ananya Nagalla) and Sarangi (played by Prakash Raj), whose personalities are indistinguishable from each other. The purpose of Anasuya and Sarangi in the movie is to hang around and be like a “Greek chorus” for Shakuntala. Anasuya and Sarangi are supportive pals to Dushyanta, but these two sidekicks also spread gossip and misinformation.
One day, a pregnant Shakuntala meets a guru named Durvasa Maharishi (played by Mohan Babu), who is the guru of anger. Durvasa asks Shakuntala some questions that he thinks she doesn’t want to answer. In reality, Shakuntala has tuned out Durvasa’s attempts to start a conversation with her because she is lost in her thoughts about the impending arrival of her baby.
Durvasa thinks Shakuntala is being arrogant and disrespectful to him, so he curses her by saying that her husband will forget all about her. And sure enough, the next time that Shakuntala sees Dushyanta in the palace court, with several of the king’s court members in attendance, Dushyanta says that he doesn’t know who Shakuntala is, even though she insists that they are married and are expecting their first child together.
Dushyanta thinks that Shakuntala is pregnant with another man’s child and is trying to fool him into making this child his heir. Dushyanta publicly humiliates Shakuntala and banishes her from his kingdom. The curse, which caused temporary amnesia, is eventually lifted. Dushyanta is heartbroken to find out that Shakuntala has disappeared because of his own cruelty. He then goes on a mission to find her.
The rest of “Shaakuntalam” plays out exactly like you think it will. However, it’s done in such a lumbering and long-winded away, you could fall asleep or do other things in the middle of the film and you really won’t miss anything substantial. “Shaakuntalam” is an unfortunate example of filmmakers thinking that a movie with a “barely there” plot will somehow be better if the movie is more than two hours long. That lengthy time just shows up the movie’s flaws even more and makes it more obvious that watching this dreadful dud is a waste of time.
AA Films released “Shaakuntalam” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 17, 2023.
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Culture Representation: Taking place in an alternate universe called the Forgotten Realms, where magic exists, the fantasy/action film “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) portraying humans, mutants and various creatures.
Culture Clash: After being betrayed by a former colleague who has taken over leadership of a city-state, three thieves team up with a druid and a paladin to defeat him and gain possession of a resurrection tablet.
Culture Audience: “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Dungeons & Dragons games, the movie’s headliners, and thrilling fantasy films that serve generous helpings of comedy.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a rollicking adventure packed with thrilling action scenes and appealing touches of comedy. You don’t have to know anything about Dungeons & Dragons games to enjoy this movie. It’s the type of film that will inspire repeat viewing and a loyal fan base in what will inevitably be a major movie franchise.
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Michael Gilio), “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” takes the complexity of the Dungeons & Dragons games and simplifies it with an easy-to-follow story with memorable characters. One of the movie’s distributors is eOne, which is owned by Hasbro, the company that makes the Dungeons & Dragons games.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (which takes place an alternate universe called the Forgotten Realms) begins with a man named Edgin Darvis (played by Chris Pine) telling his story as a flashback. He used to be a member of the Harpers, a loosely knit group of spellcasters and spies who believe in equality and secretly oppose the abuse of power. The Red Wizards are among the most evil and powerful beings in the Forgotten Realms
Edgin’s wife Zia (played by Georgia Landers) was murdered by a Red Wizard durng one of his missions. After her death, Edgin raised their daughter Kira (played by Chloe Coleman), with the help of a bachelorette barbarian named Holga Kilgore (played by Michelle Rodriguez), whom he befriended. Edgin and Holga developed a brother-sister type of relationship, and Kira began to consider Holga to be like an aunt.
After his wife’s death, Edgin began a new life as a thief, working with a team that included Holga, a fumbling sorcerer named Simon Aumar (played by Justice Smith) and a con man named Forge Fitzwilliam (played by Hugh Grant). Edgin’s main goal in life is to find a resurrection tablet, which can grant the power to bring one person back from the dead before the tablet is rendered useless. Edgin wants to find the tablet to resurrect Zia.
One day, as shown in the movie, the four thieves break into former lair of the Harpers, but a Red Wizard named Sofina (played by Daisy Head) shows up and casts a spell that puts a time stop that makes Edgin and Holga unable to move. Simon and Forge escape. Before these two cohorts leave, Edgin asks Forge to look after Edgin’s daughter Kira. It’s a decision that Edgin will regret.
Edgin and Holga end up in prison for two years. They appear before a parole board to see if they will be pardoned. Before the board can make its decision, Edgin and Holga escape and go to try and find Kira. They discover that Forge has reinvented himself as the Lord of Neverwinter, and he has raised Kira to believe the lie that Edgin is a greedy thief who abandoned her because Edgin cares more about looking for treasures than being a father to Kira.
Edgin now must convince Kira that he is still a loving father who can raise her again, and he still wants to find the resurrection tablet. Holga and Edgin reunite with Simon, who recruits a tiefling druid named Doric (played by Sophia Lillis) to join them. Doric has shapeshifting powers and can transform herself to look like a variety of animals. Simon has an unrequited crush on Doric, who rejected his previous attempts to court her. Doric, who rarely smiles, doesn’t trust humans because humans have betrayed her in her past.
During the gang of four’s adventures, they meet a paladin named Xenk Yandar (played by Regé-Jean Page), who became an orphan as a boy when his family was slaughtered by Red Wizards invaded Xenk’s country. Xenk is highly intelligent, but wisecracking Edgin thinks that Xenk’s super-serious personality is annoying. This clash becomes a source of comedy in the movie.
“Dungeons and Dragons” Honor Among Thieves” has impressive visual effects and exciting action scenes that immerse viewers into this fantastical universe. There are many amusing parts of the story, such as corpses being interviewed at a graveyard. Grant as the roguish Forge gets many of the best comedic lines in the movie. Bradley Cooper also makes a cameo as Marlamin, a diminutive ex-boyfriend of Holga, who shows a vulnerable side to her tough and brave personality when she meets up with Marlamin. The principal cast members have great chemistry together, which hopefully won’t be lost when the inevitable “Dungeons & Dragons” movie sequels will be made.
Paramount Pictures and eOne will release “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” in U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an underworld universe called Quantumania, and briefly in San Francisco, the sci-fi/fantasy/action film “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (based on Marvel Comics characters) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing superheroes, regular humans and alien creatures.
Culture Clash: Scott Lang (also known as superhero Ant-Man), his formerly estranged daughter Cassie Lang, Scott’s girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (also known as superhero The Wasp) and Hope’s parents get dragged into the Quantum Realm, where they have to battle evil forces, led by Kang the Conqueror.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Marvel movie fans, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and superhero movies that are very predictable, corny and formulaic.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a quantum mess. It’s bad enough that it recycles tired clichés of Marvel movies. This uneven superhero movie also rips off 1977’s “Star Wars” in many ways. Jonathan Majors’ standout performance can’t save this substandard spectacle. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is supposed to be the start of Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The movie will no doubt make blockbuster money, as all MCU movies have done so far. But in terms of creativity, this disappointing film is a stumble right out of the gate for the MCU’s Phase 5.
One of the biggest problems with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is how it awkwardly balances comedy with action. The jokes are the most juvenile, tackiest and least funny so far in the “Ant-Man” movie series, which began with 2015’s “Ant-Man” and continued with 2018’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Peyton Reed is the director of all three movies, which makes his creative choices even more baffling for “Quantumania,” which has a drastically different tone (and lower quality as a result) than the first two “Ant-Man” movies.
When writer/director Taika Waititi directed 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (the third “Thor” movie of the MCU), he radically changed the tone of the “Thor” movie series to make it fit his signature comedic style: goofy and slightly offbeat. Waititi did the same for 2022’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” to less well-received results. But it doesn’t explain why the third “Ant-Man” movie has gone so far off-course when it’s had the same director for the first three “Ant-Man” movies.
Much of the blame for why “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has turned into a hodgepodge of bad jokes, sci-fi rehashes and superhero triteness has to with the movie’s screenplay, which is the feature-film debut of Jeff Loveness. Loveness’ previous writing experience is for shows such as the Adult Swim animated series “Rick and Morty,” the ABC variety talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards, the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards and the 2017 Academy Awards, with these particular award shows all hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. All of these TV shows require a different skill set than what’s required to write an entertaining superhero movie. Unfortunately, hiring a TV writer with no experience in writing movies turned out to be a huge mistake for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and Marvel Studios.
In “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” the story begins right after the events of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), a former petty criminal also known as Ant-Man (whose superpower is being able to change the height of his body by wearing a special superhero suit), is a happily retired superhero living in his hometown in San Francisco. Scott has cashed in on his superhero fame by writing a memoir titled “Look Out for the Little Guy!,” where he talks about his superhero experiences and what they have taught him about life.
The movie shows Scott reading excerpts from his book at a book signing, but a few people there still mistake him for the more famous Spider-Man. Scott tells the small audience at this book signing, “From now on, the only job I want is to be a dad.” However, the movie unrealistically shows that middle-aged Scott, in his superhero “retirement,” has chosen to take a low-paying job as a customer service employee at a local Baskin-Robbins store. He has been named Employee of the Century because of his celebrity status as Ant-Man.
It’s really the movie’s obvious brand placement for Baskin-Robbins, but viewers are given the weak explanation that Scott took the job because he loves ice cream. It all looks very awkward and fake. The movie’s overload of Baskin-Robbins brand promotion is extremely annoying. There’s even a scene where a Scott Lang look-alike named Jack, who’s a Baskin-Robbins employee, gets in on the fight action. It’s all so crass and stupid.
Get used to seeing a lot of “look-alikes” in this movie, because much of it takes place in an alternate universe where clones of people and clones of creatures can show up randomly. Scott is trying to reconnect with his 18-year-old daughter Cassandra “Cassie” Lang (played by Kathryn Newton), who was raised primarily by Scott’s ex-wife while Scott was off doing other things, such as being a criminal-turned-superhero. Cassie has turned into a social justice warrior who’s involved in civil protests.
In the beginning of the movie, Cassie has landed in the San Francisco County Jail, because she was arrested for shrinking a police car because the police were trying to clear out an illegal homeless camp. Scott and his intelligent and sassy girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly), also known as superhero The Wasp (she can turn into a wasp mutant and can also shrink her body height), have arrived at the jail to retrieve Cassie. It’s how Scott finds out to his dismay that Cassie is also an aspiring scientist who invented her own shrinkage suit. She hasn’t given herself a superhero name though.
Scott thinks Cassie is too young to get involved in superhero antics. Cassie thinks Scott has become too complacent and thinks he should care more about making the world a better place. Hope and Cassie have bonded with each other because Hope is now the leader of the Pym Van Dyne Foundation, which uses Pym Particle (the body morphing invention used by Ant-Man and The Wasp) for humanitarian causes. Of course, it’s already been revealed in the “Quantumania” trailer that Scott will literally be sucked back into superhero activities, whether he likes it or not.
Hope’s parents are scientists Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who were the original Ant-Man and The Wasp. As the movie over-explains and over-repeats in pedestrian dialogue, Janet was trapped in an alternative universe called the Quantum Realm for 30 years and doesn’t like to talk about what she experienced there. Janet returned to Earth when Hank rescued her from the Quantum Realm, as shown in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
However, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” makes a big misstep by giving away in an opening scene that Janet actually was acquainted with the movie’s chief villain: Kang the Conequeror (played by Majors) while she was in the Quantum Realm, where Janet and Kang are seen escaping an attack from a giant insect-like creature. The movie should have left it a mystery until the right moment to show that Janet already knew this villain. Instead, this part of the plot is revealed too early in the film.
At any rate, Scott finds out that Hank, Janet, Hope and Cassie have been studying ant science. Hope and Cassie in particular want to use this science to explore the Quantum Realm, but Janet has no interest in going back there. Janet won’t say why, but she will eventually make a confession later in the movie.
Janet describes the Quantum Realm as a “place with no time and space. It’s a secret universe beneath ours.” To Janet’s horror, Cassie announces to Janet, Scott, Hank and Hope (while they are all in the scientific lab) that Cassie has been secretly sending signals to the Quantum Realm. Janet frantically tries to turn off the signal machine.
And faster than you can say “inferior Marvel movie sequel,” all five of them are sucked into the Quantum Realm, which looks like a half-baked “Star Wars” universe. For much the first third of the movie, Scott and Cassie are separated from Janet, Hank and Hope. Scott and Cassie spend a lot of time bickering over how much Cassie might or might not be ready to use her superhero suit. (Too late. We already know she will.)
Janet, Hank and Hope spend much of their time talking in vague tones about a mysterious “he” and “him” leader who has wreaked havoc on the Quantum Realm. Anyone can easily figure out that the “he” and “him” is Kang the Conqueror. There’s no reason to make him sound like “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort, also known in the “Harry Potter” series as He Who Shall Not Be Named. It’s yet another way that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” takes ideas from other sci-fi/fantasy franchises.
Reed says in the production notes for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” where he got some of the visual influences for the movie: “We pulled together a lot of visual inspiration—everything from electron microscope photography to heavy metal magazine images from the ’70s and ’80s. I collected all of these images from old science-fiction paperback book covers—artists like John Harris, Paul Laird, Richard M. Powers. Those paintings were evocative and really moody. We liked that feel and tone for the look of the Quantum Realm.”
Reed curiously didn’t mention “Star Wars,” which is undoubtedly the biggest influence on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” The Quantum Realm’s terrain looks like a desert in some areas and looks like a crater-filled planet in other areas. The desert scenes look too much like the desert realm of Tatooine in “Star Wars,” while the hooded costumes worn by the Quantum Realm residents look an awful lot like the costumes worn by Tusken Raiders from “Star Wars.”
And if the “Star Wars” similarities for the production design and costume design weren’t enough, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” also imitates the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “Star Wars,” but doesn’t make it nearly as fun and interesting to watch. Hank, Janet and Hope end up in a place called Axia Restaurant, which is basically a “Star Wars” cantina look-alike filled with unusual-looking creatures. There’s no memorable music at the Axia Restaurant, like there was in the Mos Eisley cantina. Christophe Beck’s musical score for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is serviceable and unremarkable.
It’s at Axia Restaurant where Hope and Hank meet the smirking Lord Kylar (played by Bill Murray) for the first time. Janet already knows Lord Kylar, who says he is neither a human nor a machine. Lord Kylar, who is the governor of the Axia community, hints that he and Janet used to be lovers when she was in the Quantum Realm.
“I had needs,” Janet tells Hank and Hope in a somewhat defensive and uncomfortable tone. Hope then has to hear Hank talk about an ex-girlfriend. And she acts like a prudish teen who doesn’t want to think about her parents having love lives before they met each other. This is the type of time-wasting dialogue that’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in the movie.
Even though Murray shares top billing for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” his role in the movie is just a cameo that lasts for less than 15 minutes. It’s ineffective and misguided casting because he’s not convincing as this fictional character. All viewers will think is that this is Murray in a space-alien costume playing a version of himself.
As for the other inhabitants of the Quantum Realm, it’s a random mix of beings who look like humans and those who are very non-human in appearance, including a lot of jellyfish-like creatures that float around in space. As soon as Scott and Cassie arrive in the Quantum Realm, they are force-fed a red ooze by a creature named Veb (voiced by David Dastmalchian), because this red ooze will help these humans understand the language of the Quantum Realm residents. Dastmalchian had the role of Kurt (a member of Scott’s posse) in the first two “Ant-Man” movies. Veb is an underdeveloped character that is meant to be comedic, but Veb’s jokes fall very flat.
The Quantum Realm residents predictably greet these newcomers from Earth with reactions that range from curiosity to hostility. Jentorra (played by Katy O’Brian) is an anti-Kang freedom fighter who scowls a lot and has to learn to trust these Earth heroes to be her allies. Xolum (played by James Cutler, also known as Jamie Andrew Cutler) is a loyal soldier and totally generic sidekick of Jentorra.
Quaz (played by William Jackson Harper) is a psychic/telepath, whose only purpose in the movie is to make people uncomfortable by reading their thoughts and saying their thoughts out loud. His revelations are supposed to be amusing, but they’re not really all that funny. Randall Park has a small and non-essential role as FBI agent Jimmy Woo.
Corey Stoll returns as “Ant-Man” villain Darren Cross, also known as Yellowjacket, who has now been shrunken by Kang into a subatomic lackey with an oversized head known as M.O.D.O.K., which stands for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing. M.O.D.O.K. looks like a floating head and delivers some of the few genuinely comedic moments in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Various characters in the movie have horrified reactions to seeing Darren look so drastically different as M.O.D.O.K., but this gag is repeated too much and loses its impact by the middle of the movie.
As for Kang, Majors’ performance is the only one that brings a certain gravitas to the rampant foolishness and smarm that stink up “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Majors brings a combination of menace and melancholy to his role, but it’s wasted in a movie that is hell-bent on trying to be more like Waititi’s “Thor” movies. The rest of the cast members’ performances aren’t bad, but they’re not special either. Kang’s soldiers are Quantumnauts, which are as anonymous and soulless as the mostly CGI creations that they are.
Unfortunately, the big showdown fight scene is lot more montonous and unimaginative than it should have been. It ends abruptly and in a way that has been done already (and done much better) in many other sci-fi/fantasy/action movies. As for the movie’s visual effects, it’s a shame that a movie with this big budget can make visual effects look so cheap and shoddy. There are scenes that make it obvious where the “blue screens” and “green screens” were.
A mid-credits scene and end-credits scene basically show the return of a major character from the movie. The end-credits scene is a nod to the Disney+ series “Loki.” As an example of how “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has a sitcom tone to it, the movie uses John Sebastian’s 1976 hit “Welcome Back” (the theme from the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter”) as bookends to the movie. A big-budget superhero movie should not look like a second-rate sitcom, which is what “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has turned out to be.
Marvel Studios will release “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in U.S. cinemas on February 17, 2023.
Some language in French and Yucatec with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Earth, the superhero action film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, Latino and white) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.
Culture Clash: After the death of King T’Challa, the fictional African nation of Wakanda becomes under siege from various factions, including the secret underwater kingdom of Talokan, that want Wakanda’s help in obtaining the precious metal vibranium.
Culture Audience: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Black Panther” franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and superhero movies that include multiculturalism issues.
In more ways than one, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” shows how healing from a tragedy can turn into a triumph. This top-notch sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther” is an epic story of grief, loyalty, greed and the resilience of the human spirit. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” should more than satisfy fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and will inspire repeat viewings. Do people need to see “Black Panther” before seeing “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”? No, but it certainly helps, especially in understanding the backgrounds of the characters who have the most poignant moments in this sequel.
Directed by Ryan Coogler (who co-wrote the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” screenplay with Joe Robert Cole), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” puts the women of the fictional African nation of Wakanda in the front and center of a story that also pays respectful tribute to Wakanda’s deceased King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman in 2018’s “Black Panther.” Coogler directed and co-wrote (with Cole) the first “Black Panther” movie, which helps in keeping a consistent tone for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
The beginning of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” shows King T’Challa’s younger sister Princess Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) frantically trying to find a medical solution to save T’Challa, who is dying from an unnamed illness. (Boseman tragically died of colon cancer in 2020. He was 43.) All of Shuri’s efforts don’t work, and T’Challa passes away.
The people of Wakanda have an elaborate funeral for T’Challa that includes mourning his death and celebrating his life. Everyone is dressed in white for this event. At the end of the funeral, T’Challa’s casket floats up into the sky. As explained in the first “Black Panther” movie and in Marvel’s “Black Panther” comic books, Wakanda is a self-sufficient nation that is somewhat of a utopia and where supernatural things can occur. Wakanda is protected by an all-female army called the Dora Milaje.
One year after T’Challa’s death, Shuri and her mother Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) are grieving, but Shuri has had a more diffcult time trying to move on with her life. Shuri is a genius scientist who blames herself for not being able to find a medical cure that could have saved T’Challa. Much of Shuri’s storyline in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has to do with Shuri’s grief and other traumatic things she experiences in the movie.
Meanwhile, Queen Ramonda has to contend with pressure from different entities that want Wakanda’s help in finding vibranium, a rare metal that has the power to harness kinetic energy. An early scene in the movie shows a regal and confident Ramonda at a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, one year after T’Challa’s death. During this meeting with world leaders, Ramonda is told that the United States is disappointed that Wakanda has not shared resources in the quest to find vibranium.
However, Wakanda (a self-sufficient nation that is somewhat of a utopia) has a policy not to get involved in other nations’ politics, and Ramonda reiterates that fact. She also has members of Dora Milaje bring in some captives: several men who tried to invade one of Wakanda’s member facilities that handles vibranium. A flashback shows how members of the Dora Milaje captured these invaders. Ramonda’s sternly tells the assembled officials that she knows that a member state of the United Nations was probably behind this attack, and this capture serves as an “olive branch” warning for this attack not to happen on Wakanda again.
Meanwhile, a U.S. ship in the Atlantic Ocean has been looking for vibranium underwater. The ship then experiences something unexpected and bizarre. Crew members of the ship seem to go into a daze and start jumping off of the ship to their death. And then, a group of blue-skinned people rise out of the ocean and attack the ship. The attackers’ leader is dressed like a Mayan king and has wings on his feet that allow him to fly. Viewers later find out that his name is Namor (played Tenoch Huerta Mejía), and he’s the ruler of Talokan, a hidden nation under the sea.
One evening, back in Wakanda, Ramonda and Shuri have a heart-to-heart talk on a beach. Ramonda is concerned about Shuri’s emotional well-being because Shuri seems to be deeply depressed. Shuri tries to brush off her mother’s concerns. Ramonda says she has a secret about T’Challa that she wants to tell Shuri. But just as she’s about to tell Shuri, Namor appears out of the water.
Namor is not there to pay a friendly visit. He essentially tells Ramonda and Shuri that Talokan needs Wakanda’s help to defend themselves from extinction and to get vibranium. If Wakanda refuses to help, Talokan will declare war on the world, and Wakanda will be Talokan’s first target. A stunned Ramonda tells Namor that Wakanda does not get involved in other people’s wars and refuses to give in to his demand. Namor leaves and ominously says that he will return in one week.
Meanwhile, CIA operative Everett K. Ross (played by Martin Freeman) reprises his role from 2018’s “Black Panther.” Everett is an ally to Wakanda but he gets into conflicts about it with higher-ranking agent Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who is pressuring Wakanda to cooperate with the U.S. government to find vibranium. Valentina (who communicates with a brittle, sarcastic tone) has another, more personal connection to Everett that is revealed in the movie.
Also reprising their roles from “Blank Panther” are Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), the courageous leader of the Dora Milaje; Ayo (played by Florence Kasumba), a powerful enforcer of the Dora Milaje; M’Baku (played by Winston Duke), the leader of Jabariland, Wakanda’s isolated region known for its snow and mountains; and Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o), who is the best spy in Wakanda’s history and T’Challa’s former love partner. New to the Dora Milaje team is Aneka (played by Michaela Coel), a high-ranking member.
During the course of the story, Shuri and Okoye travel to Haiti, where viewers find out that Nakia has been living for the past six years. In Haiti, Nakia has been working as a teacher of children in elementary school. Shuri and Okoye have to plead with Nakia to come back to Wakanda to help them, but Nakia is very reluctant to go back. Why did Nakia leave Wakanda? And why is Nakia reluctant to go back? Those questions are answered in the movie.
Wakanda also has another ally, who finds herself involved in this brewing war through no choice of her own. Her name is Riri Williams (played by Dominique Thorne), a brilliant 19-year-old MIT student and aspiring scientist. Riri and Shuri are thrown together in circumstances where they have to learn to work together. Riri is sometimes overwhelmed by the danger that comes her way, but she can be counted on to come up with helpful ideas. She has a sassy personality that is the comic relief in the movie.
Meanwhile, Namor has been assembling his own troops to prepare for war. His two main sidekicks are Talokan’s strongest warrior Attuma (played by Alex Livinalli) and Talokan’s most fearless warrior Namora (played by Mabel Cadena), who have unwavering loyalty to Talokan and their leader, Namor. At one point in the movie, viewers find out more about Talokan and Namor’s backstory to explain why he is on such a brutal revenge mission.
“Black Panther” won Academy Awards for its production design (led by Hannah Beachler) and its costume design (led by Ruth E. Carter), with Beachler and Carter both leading the same teams for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The production design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is even more elaborate and awe-inspiring, particularly in how Talokan was designed. (It looks like an underwater Mayan paradise inspired by Atlantis.) The costume design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is also Oscar-worthy, although many of the Dora Milaje costumes are understandably the same or similar to as they were in “Black Panther.”
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has better visual effects than “Black Panther.” The cinematography is also an improvement over the first “Black Panther” movie, particularly when it comes to the scenes in Talokan and some of the camera angles during the fight scenes. Every action sequence looks believable, given the characters’ superpowers. But all of these dazzling components to the film would be wasted if the story wasn’t compelling and the acting performances weren’t up to par.
Shuri becomes the heart and soul of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” as she comes to terms with T’Challa’s death; faces doubts and moral dilemmas about where he should put her loyalties; and sometimes clashes with her strong-willed mother Ramonda on decision to make about Wakanda’s future. Wright gives a standout performance in having to convey a wide myriad of emotions of someone who is the heir to the throne but has inner and exterior conflicts about her leadership, while living in the shadow of T’Challa and his legacy.
Bassett is also noteworthy in her performance as Romanda, who has to find a way to reconcile her pain with a possible new direction for Wakanda. Huerta Mejía a gives solid performance as the movie’s villain, who is alternately stoic and filled with rage. Namor isn’t the most fearsome villain of the MCU, but his backstory will make viewers see that underneath his anger is a lot of personal pain and pride for his people.
Because of the real-life death of Boseman, there are expected tearjerking moments when the movie shows flashbacks of T’Challa. There’s also the brief return of another major character from the first “Black Panther” movie, with the character appearing to Shuri in a vision. A mid-credits scene (there is no end-credits scene) in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” shines a bright light of hope for the future of Wakanda, but it’s with a bittersweet tone that T’Challa is immensely beloved and will always be missed.
Marvel Studios will release “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in U.S. cinemas on November 11, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in India and in heaven, the comedy/drama/fantasy film “Thank God” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After getting into a car accident that leaves him unconscious and near death, a selfish real-estate agent’s spirit is transported to heaven, where he must pass a series of tests to determine if he will go to heaven or hell after he dies.
Culture Audience: “Thank God” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra and stories about the afterlife, but this movie is neither clever nor interesting.
“Thank God” is a fantasy film about the afterlife that puts schmaltz over substance. Much of the movie is set in heaven, but there’s nothing heavenly about the cloying manipulation and gimmicks in this feeble and clumsily constructed story. The movie crams in some very silly plot twists that further ruin what could have been an intriguing story about life after death and redemption.
Directed by Indra Kumar, “Thank God” is a remake of the 2009 Danish comedy film “Sorte Kugler” (which means “what goes around” in Danish) and follows the same basic concept, but “Thank God” changes the deity characters to those from the Hindu religion. Aakash Kaushik and Madhur Sharma co-wrote the unimaginative “Thank God” adapted screenplay. The movie has scenes that take place in India and a location described in the movie as heaven.
In the beginning of “Thank God,” which takes place in 2018, Ayaan Kapoor (played by Sid Malhotra) is a 33-year-old real-estate agent who has fallen on hard times. He used to be a hotshot, successful agent. But he lost his fortune due to the Indian government’s demonetization of currency. Ayaan is now in debt to 16 crores, which is about $140,000 U.S. dollars in 2018.
Ayaan wants to sell his house, which has not yet found a buyer. In the meantime, Ayaan and his wife Ruhi Kapoor (played by Rakul Preet Singh) and their daughter Pihu Kapoor (played by Kiara Khanna), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, have moved into the house owned by Ruhi’s family until Ayaan can get back to the financial status that he used to have. Ayaan and Ruhi (who is a police officer) had a whirlwind, romantic courtship. But lately, the marriage has been strained because of Ayaan’s financial problems and because of his arrogant and workaholic ways.
Ayaan’s money problems have not humbled him or made him re-evaluate his life. He is still the same conceited real-estate agent who makes his work a higher priority than his family. In some ways, Ayaan has become even more ruthless, self-centered and ill-tempered than before his financial crisis, since he’s determined to never lose his fortune again. As an example of how cold-hearted Ayaan is, when he walks by a poor, elderly woman begging for money on the street, he doesn’t just ignore her. He’s very rude to her when refusing to give her any money.
During a real-estate deal that Ayaan hopes to close, a married couple is close to buying a house that Ayaan is selling. The spouses tell Ayaan that they are buying the house for their adopted son Chiku (who’s about 5 or 6 years old), so that the Chiku can inherit it when he becomes an adult. Chiku is waiting outside the house when Ayaan congratulates him on having wonderful adoptive parents.
Chiku begins crying because he tells Ayaan that he didn’t know that he was adopted. A panicked Ayaan doesn’t want Chiku to tell the parents that Ayaan disclosed this secret to Chiku, so he locks Chicku in the house’s bathroom and plans to keep Chiku in there until the parents sign the paperwork to close the deal. However, the parents notice that Chiku is missing, and they start to look for him. Ayaan acts like he doesn’t know anything about the child’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, Chiku has snuck out of the bathroom window and goes in the room where his parents and Ayaan are talking. Chiku starts wailing again and tells his parents everything that happened. Needless to say, the parents get angry and don’t do the deal with Ayaan. This is the type of comedic scene that could have been funny, but the substandard acting in the movie just makes everything seem so silly and trite.
Ayaan has a real-estate deal in his not-too-distant past that also brought unhappiness, for different reasons. A couple named Mr. and Mrs. Gaikwad bought a bungalow for 150 million rupees (about $1.8 million U.S. dollars in 2018), but the spouses are now been forced to sell the home because of financial problems. Ayaan wants to buy the bungalow for himself and his family, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Gaiwad will be losing their home to him. Ayaan’s decision on how to deal with the couple’s problem comes back to haunt him.
In the meantime, Ayaan is upset that he lost out on this most recent real-estate deal because of his extreme way of trying to silence an innocent child. Aayan calls Ruhi on hs phone while he’s driving to complain about losing the deal and to let her know that he won’t be able to attend the Parent Teachers Association meeting for their daughter Pihu. Aayan is holding his phone in one hand while he’s driving. And you know what that means: He gets into a car accident when he takes his eyes off the road and crashes into another car.
The next thing that Ayaan knows, he’s been transported to a mystical-looking place that can best be described as a floating amphitheater, with spectators who are dressed all in white. Ayaan is escorted to a stage in the middle of this amphiteater. Ayaan’s guide to this stage is someone calling himself YD (played by Mahesh Balraj), also known as Yamdhoot, who is a Yamaduta, a Hindu messenger of death. YD introduces a confused Ayaan to someone named CG (played by Ajay Devgn), who is supposed to be the Hindu deity Chitragupta.
CG explains to Ayaan that Ayaan is in heaven, and Ayaan’s unconscious body is currently on Earth, where Ayaan is in a hospital undergoing an operation for the next five hours because of his car accident. CG shows Ayaan a vision of Ayaan in the operating room. In the meantime, CG says that Ayaan will have to play the Game of Life to determine if Ayaan will go to heaven or go to hell if he dies in the hospital.
Ayaan refuses to play this game at first, but CG shows Ayaan a preview of what life in hell looks like. (The movie has very outdated-looking and unconvincing visual effects.) Ayaan quickly changes his mind when he sees the terrifying existence he would have in hell. At the same time, Ayaan’s hubris makes him think that whatever game he plays, he’s going to win.
In this game, Ayaan has to take several challenges based on each of his biggest flaws. Two see-through cylinders (each about 10 feet tall) are placed on the stage. If Ayaan loses a challenge, the spectators throw black balls into the cylinders. If Ayaan wins a challenge, the spectators throw white balls into the cylinders. Ayaan will lose the game if both cylinders overflow with black balls.
The six challenges based on Ayaan’s personality flaws are essentially variations of Christianity’s seven deadly sins, except for the sin of sloth, which doesn’t apply to workaholic Ayaan. The six rounds that Ayaan goes through to complete the game have to do with his anger, greed, jealousy, pride, lust and deception. In each round, Ayaan is put in a simulated reality scenario, and he has to decide what to do when a particular personality flaw is tested.
For example, in the round where his anger is tested, Ayaan is stuck in an elevator with an irritating, talkative man who keeps doing things to delay the elevator from moving. In the round where Ayaan’s jealousy is tested, CG reveals to the crowd that Ayaan wanted to become a police officer when Ayaan was a child, so Ayaan is secretly jealous that his wife Ruhi is a police officer who recently got a job promotion. In this challenge, Ayaan is given a chance to be a police officer during an armed robbery of bank, where the bank robber is holding hostages.
“Thank God” aims to impart serious messages about ethics and morality, but the comedy is awkwardly placed and cheapens all of the movie’s moralistic preaching. The slapstick comedy just isn’t very clever. And all of the cast members turn in performances that range from mediocre to embarrassingly exaggerated. Nora Fatehi has a supporting role as Reema, a gold-digging temptress who sets out to seduce Ayaan in his “lust” challenge round, which is just an excuse to have the movie’s most extravagant song-and-dance sequence.
The movie becomes more and more ridiculous with sudden plot twists that look like the filmmakers didn’t really know how to end the movie and just threw in lot of ideas to try to make the conclusion look impactful. It all just looks like a jumbled heap of mushy stereotypes instead of a cohesive story. The last 15 minutes of the film are particularly sloppy.
Several movies have already covered existential topics of humanity that ask these questions: “What happens to people after they die?” and “Do the actions of people when they’re alive affect what happens to people after death?” Most religious teachings have some basis in trying to answer these questions.
Because many films have covered these well-worn topics, “Thank God” had an opportunity to present a unique and intriguing angle to these topics. Instead, “Thank God” took the laziest route, by serving up a stale story that doesn’t really entertain audiences but just insults audiences by pandering to over-used and predictable clichés. If any viewers who believe in a god decide to watch the horrific “Thank God” until the very end, they might be thinking at the end of the movie: “Thank God this mess is finally over.”
T-Series Films released “Thank God” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 25, 2022.
Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Tokyo, the Japanese fantasy film “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” features an all-Japanese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Three teenage girls perform an occult ritual to conjure a spiritual warrior named Master Salt, and the four of them go from place to place to try and solve people’s problems.
Culture Audience: “The Divine Protector” will appeal primarily to people who like fantasy films and have a high tolerance for low-quality filmmaking.
The fantasy film “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” has some of the worst acting, dialogue and visual effects you could ever see. The constant, annoying preachiness is sometimes offensive, such as when the so-called hero inflicts victim shaming on a domestic violence survivor. This movie is complete garbage.
Heinously directed by Hiroshi Akabane and atrociously written by Sayaka Okawa, “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is a one-note movie that keeps pounding that note until the movie wears out its welcome about 20 minutes into this two-hour trash dump of horrible filmmaking. It’s very rare to see a movie where every single person in the cast turns in a truly cringeworthy performance. But all of this horrible acting is there on excruciating display. You’ve been warned.
The very thin plot of “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (which takes place in Tokyo) is repeated in four different scenarios, which basically means that the screenplay is very lazy. The movie starts off by showing Nanako Igarashi (played by Saya Fukunaga), who is about 15 or 16 years old, placing flowers on the grave of Masako Hojo. She then goes to Kamaura Temple and prays.
Nanako is a second-year student at Kamono Girls’ High School in Tokyo, where her two best friends are classmates Rino Otaki (played by Hikaru Hoshino) and Miki Hishimo (played by Kokoro Nishiwaki). The three pals have formed a club called the Occult Study Group, and they apparently have a room at the school all to themselves for their meetings with no adult supervision. (Don’t expect this movie to be realistic.)
Nanako is certain that someone is watching her and that she is cursed. And then one day, she faints at her desk in a classroom. Rino and Miki later show Nanako a phone photo that they took of Nanako when she was unconscious on the floor. To Nanako’s horror, she sees that there are hand strangulation marks on her neck. The three friends decide to conjure up a spirit to find out what is happening to Nanako.
“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is supposed to be a faith-based movie celebrating divine spirits, but it’s very bizarre that this movie has three girls using satanic symbols as part of their rituals to conjure a divine spirit. For example, when they conjure up the spirit, it’s in a pentagram, where they put a wish in an envelope and burn it at the center of the pentagram. This ritual brings forth a spirtual entity who calls herself Master Salt (played very stiffly by Rin Kijima), whose real name is Shioko Kimono. Master Salt/Shioko Kimono is supposed to be hundreds of years old and has a past connection to the Kamono Girls’ High School that is revealed in the movie.
Master Salt confirms Nanako’s suspicion that Nanako has been cursed. Master Salt says that Nanako is cursed with an ikiryo, or living ghost, which is a manifestation of a negative emotion that invades someone’s body. Master Salt then forces the living ghost that is haunting Nanako to leave Nanajo’s body. (The living ghosts, which have cheap-looking visual effects, first appear as smoke and then solidify into looking like demons. Fumihiko Tachiki is the voice of a red demon named Akaoni.)
It’s how Nanako finds out that a classmate named Ai Kojima (played by Konomi Tsukamoto) has manifested herself as a living ghost to curse Nanako. Why? Because Ai is jealous that Nanako is doing better academically and socially in school than Ai, who is troubled loner. Ai is especially resentful because a schoolmate guy, whom Ai has a crush on, flirts with Nanako but can’t even remember Ai’s name. The living ghost version of Ai confesses to her jealousy and says she’s sorry. A flashback shows that this living ghost was responsible for Nanako’s fainting spell in the classroom.
After the curse is lifted from Nanako, she wants Master Salt to be her mentor. Master Salt only wants to be summoned when people are truly in need. And so, for the rest the movie, there are four anthology-like chapters where Nanako, Miki and Rino summon Master Salt when they want to help people who’ve been cursed with a living ghost.
Every time Master Salt forces a living ghost our of someone body and banishes it, she shouts, “Repel, Return, Protect!,” while she makes motions with her hands to simulate formulating the letter “z.” It’s all so corny and over-the-top, but it’s done with a self-important tone, as if this awful movie has no self-awareness and is taking itself way too seriously.
The four “lessons” in the movie are titled “Greed: Excessive Desires,” “Anger: Rage,” “Ignorance: Foolishness” and “Conceit: Arrogance.” It’s basically this movie’s version of Christianity’s Seven Deadly Sins. And each “chapter” has a good versus evil scenario, where Master Salt and her trio of fangirls come to the rescue. And every conjuring of the “living ghost” results in a confrontation/showdown.
In “Greed: Excessive Desires,” Rino’s widowed grandmother Yoshie Otaki (played by Kiyo Hasegawa) is the victim of a phone scam promising her a place in a nursing home that’s “immune” from COVID-19. As a result of the scam, Yoshie lost $30,000 from her savings. The con artist behind this fraud, which targets a lot of elderly people, is a cold-hearted and ruthless swindler named Nagasaki (played by Donpei Dohira), who thinks anyone who’s stupid enough to fall for his scam deserves to lose their money.
“Anger: Rage” is the most problematic of the four chapters. Miki lives in the same apartment building as an alcoholic businessman named Hideo Ito (played by Junichi Uchiura), who physically and emotionally abuses his wife Harumi Ito (played by Rina Sakuragi). Hideo and Harumi have two children—daughter Yuri (played by Honatsu Iwamoto), who’s about 5 years old, and son Taichi (played by Haruhito Saida), who’s about 3 years old—who both cower in fear when they see Hideo yell at and assault Harumi.
When Master Salt comes to the rescue, she punishes Hideo. But then, Master Salt also scolds Harumi by making this victim-shaming remark about the abuse that Harumi gets from Hideo: “You’re also at fault … Have you ever tried to understand his pain and comfort him? You brought this on yourself. You reap what you sow.”
It’s a horrendous and irredeemable part of the movie, which sends a terrible message that domestic violence victims are to blame for something that isn’t their fault. As if to justify this heinous lecture from Master Salt, the movie shows that Harumi sometimes loses her temper and yells at her children. And so, Harumi has been “cursed” with a living ghost and must repent too.
The chapter on “Ignorance: Foolishness” (which seems to be a curse that plagues this entire movie) is about a Meisho University professor named Toru Kitamura (played by Moro Morooka), whose specialty is plasma research. Professor Kitamura does a lot of yelling at his students if they don’t agree with his belief that fireballs come from plasma, not spirits. (He doesn’t believe in the paranormal.) Miki’s older brother Junta Hoshino (played by Ren Matsuoka), who’s a sophomore student at Meisho University, and a fellow Meisho Unversity student named Kana Mizuno (played by Mei Yamagishi) challenge Professor Kitamura’s opinions in class. The professor threatens to flunk Kana.
“Conceit: Arrogance” is the most soap-opera-like chapter in the movie. It’s about four people connected to a medical corporation called the Tendo Group: a self-centered playboy named Tendo Tsubasa (played by Munehiro Yoshi), who’s the heir to the Tendo Group; his father Mitsunori Tendo (played by Yuki Meguro), who is the founder/chairman of the Tendo Group; Sakura Kamijou (played by Mariya Suzuki), a TV host who gets the lusty attention of Tendo Tsubasa; and Reina Sasaki (played by Hikari Kiyose), a Tendo Group employee who gets sexually harassed by Tendo Tsubasa.
“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is the type of train wreck that some people will watch until the end, just to how bad this movie can be. And some viewers might get some amusement out of it. Most other viewers will have a difficult time sitting through this barrage of amateurish filmmaking until the very end. It’s the type of movie that feels like an assault on viewers’ intelligence.
And worst of all, the movie can’t even be “so bad, it’s entertaining.” Everything is just dreadfully dull, with no imagination or talent on display. It’s obvious that the filmmakers made “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” with a possibility that it would turn into a franchise. If people care about quality filmmaking, Master Salt and any other abominable movies about her need to be banished from the cinematic universe forever.
Freestyle Releasing released “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie was released in Japan on October 7, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional nation of Kahndaq and briefly in Louisiana, the superhero action film “Black Adam” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Asian and African American) portraying superheroes and regular human beings.
Culture Clash: Reluctant superhero Teth Adam, later known as Black Adam, finds it difficult to change his vengeful and troublemaking ways, and he does battle against the Justice Society and a group of land pillagers called Intergang.
Culture Audience: “Black Adam” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Dwayne Johnson and movies based on DC Comics, but the movie is a disappointing and unimaginative cinematic origin story for Black Adam.
“Black Adam” is nothing more than a mishmash of big-budget superhero clichés with empty dialogue, atrocious editing, a forgettable villain and a lackluster story. You know it’s bad when the mid-credits scene is what people will talk about the most. “Black Adam” (which is based on DC Comics characters and stories) is the type of misguided mess that tries to do too much and ends up not making much of impact at all. It’s one of the weakest movies in the DC Extended Universe.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Black Adam” could have been a thoroughly entertaining, epic superhero movie, based on the fact that charismatic Dwayne Johnson has the title role, and the movie has several talented cast members. (Johnson is also one of the movie’s producers.) But the “Black Adam” screenplay (written by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani) is a complete dud, with mindless conversations and stale jokes that look too forced.
It’s fair to say that people don’t watch superhero movies for super-intelligent dialogue, but even the action sequences in “Black Adam” are substandard. The visual effects are hit-and-miss and aren’t particularly impressive. And the choppy editing looks like something you might see in a beginner, low-budget film, not a movie that with experienced filmmakers and a bloated nine-figure production budget.
“Black Adam” begins in the year 2600 B.C. in the fictional kingdom of Kahndaq, which is supposed to be somewhere in the Middle East. The most valuable resource in Kahndaq is Eternium, which gives special magical powers to anyone in possession of Eternium. Needless to say, wars and crimes have been committed in the competition to get Eternium.
A mystical warrior named Teth Adam (played by Johnson), who has superpowers in strength and speed, is someone who experienced a tragedy as a result of this greed for Eternium. As a result, he went on vengeful crime sprees but was eventually imprisoned in the Rock of Eternity (which is a resource hub for magic), where he was entombed for 5,000 years. The legend of Teth Adam was passed on for generations.
In the present day, Kahndaq is now an economically struggling country that has been invaded by white Europeans looking to mine the land for Eternium. A villainous group called Intergang wreaks the most havoc in this quest for Eternium. Meanwhile, a group of rebel freedom fighters aiming to defeat Intergang will be hunted by members of Intergang.
What does this have to do with Black Adam? One of the leaders of the freedom fighters is named Adrianna Tomaz (played by Sarah Shahi), who ends up being captured with her brother Karim (played by Mo Amer), who is also a freedom fighter, while they are trying to get a magical crown. Their friend and colleague Ishmael (played by Marwan Kenzari) is also involved in tryng to get this crown.
While being held captive in a cave that ends up being where the Rock of Eternity is, Adrianna yells, “Shazam!” It’s the magical word that awakens Teth Adam, who breaks out of captivity from the tomb. Adrianna and Karim escape, but for a good deal of the movie, they are being chased by Intergang thugs. Will formerly imprisoned Adam help them?
Adrianna is a widowed mother of an adolsecent son named Amon Tomaz (played by Bodhi Sabongui), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. Without going into too many details, it’s enough to say that Teth Adam eventually meets Amon, Adrianna and Karim. Amon immediately is in awe of Adam, but Adam is less impressed with this family and doesn’t really want to get involved with the family’s Intergang problems, until certain circumstances lead Adam to be on the family’s side.
That entire storyline would be enough for one movie, but “Black Adam” crams in another storyline where Adam is at odds with a group of superheroes called Justice Society, which has reunited when it becomes known that Teth Adam is on the loose and causing damage again. Viola Davis has a cameo near the beginning of “Black Adam” to reprise her “Suicide Squad” character Amanda Waller, who makes a command that sets the Justice Society back in motion. There’s nothing special about any of the cast members’ acting, a lot of which looks “phoned in,” with no uniquely memorable flair.
The members of the Justice Society in the “Black Adam” movie are:
Carter Hall/Hawkman (played by by Aldis Hodge), a loyal and earnest warrior who has lived for thousands of years and has the flying skills of a hawk.
Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (played by Pierce Brosnan), a kind-hearted and grandfatherly archeologist who has the powers of a sorcerer.
Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher (played by Noah Centineo), a clumsy and goofy 20-year-old who can grow to the size of a skyscraper.
Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (played by Quintessa Swindell), a playful and courageous 19-year-old who has the power to use her mind to create cyclone-like gusts of wind.
Unfortunately, all of these Justice Society characters are written to have very generic personalities and extremely bland chemistry with each other. Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone in particular is very under-used and is more like a placeholder than an impactful, developed character. And some of the lines of dialogue they have to say are downright cringeworthy. More than once, Hawkman says to Doctor Fate: “A bad plan is better than no plan at all.” That sounds like the same attitude that the “Black Adam” filmmakers had in making this shoddy superhero movie.
Expect to see a lot of formulaic chase scenes, shootouts, explosions and all the usual stereotypes of superhero action flicks. “Black Adam” has some half-hearted preachiness about white colonialism in countries where most of the residents aren’t white, but this attempt to bring a “social consciousness” to “Black Adam” looks as phony as some of the movie’s often-unconvincing visual effects. Everything in the story is jumbled up and scatterbrained, as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide how to juggle the storylines of Adam being at odds with the Justice Society and Intergang. (The 2021 action flick “Jungle Cruise,” also directed by Collet-Serra and starring Johnson, had the same overstuffed story problem.)
Meanwhile, Teth Adam/Black Adam scowls and smashes his way throughout the movie like a bulldozer on autopilot. The teenage character of Amon is hyper and talkative to the point of annoyance. Amon’s uncle Karim is supposed to be the comic relief of the movie, but just ends up looking mostly like a buffoon. Adrianna is the voice of reason for the group of freedom fighters, but nothing stands out about this character’s personality. And when one of the movie’s heroes has an underage child, you know what that means when the villains want revenge.
And about those villains. One of the biggest failings of “Black Adam” is that none of these villains is particularly memorable. The “chief villain” battle at the end looks more like a video game than a cinematic experience. The best superhero movies have villains who make the type of scene-stealing impact that audiences talk about for years. “Black Adam” comes up very short on every level when it comes to unforgettable villainous characters.
What happens in the mid-credits scene of “Black Adam” has already been widely reported, but it won’t be detailed in this review. It’s enough to say that it involves another DC Comics superhero and how that superhero might interact with Black Adam. It’s never a good sign when a movie’s main character and story are so underwhelming, it’s upstaged by the sudden appearance of another character in a mid-credits scene that foreshadows the anticipated plot of an obvious sequel.
Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Black Adam” in U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Salem, Massachusetts, the fantasy comedy film “Hocus Pocus 2” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: In this sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson witch sisters return to wreak more havoc on Salem.
Culture Audience: “Hocus Pocus 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s main stars and the original 1993 “Hocus Pocus” movie, but fans should keep their expectations low, since “Hocus Pocus 2” delivers a very forgettable and middling story.
The magic of a classic film is missing from “Hocus Pocus 2,” which lacks much of the charm and adventure of 1993’s “Hocus Pocus” movie. The chase scenes are tepid, the performances are inferior to the original movie, and the witches show no real danger to the kids. “Hocus Pocus 2” plays out like a lazily conceived TV special (including annoying sitcom-ish music) instead of a cinematic event, which is why “Hocus Pocus 2” was released directly to Disney+ instead of movie theaters first.
Directed by Anne Fletcher, “Hocus Pocus 2” suffers from sequel-itis: when a sequel doesn’t do anything to improve on the original project. Because it took 29 years to release a sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” this sequel-itis problem is harder to forgive for “Hocus Pocus 2,” because there’s been plenty of time to come up with better ideas for a follow-up to “Hocus Pocus.” The more experienced cast members of “Hocus Pocus 2” perform better than the less-experienced cast members, but that’s not saying much when the movie’s unimaginative screenplay from Jen D’Angelo drags the movie down a lackluster and frequently boring path.
The original “Hocus Pocus” movie is not a great film, but it gained a cult following and has since become a Halloween classic for a lot of people, just like 1983’s “A Christmas Story” (another mediocre movie) gained a cult following and became a beloved Christmas film for a lot of movie viewers. The story in “Hocus Pocus 2” gets distracted by a lot of teen angst about who is and who isn’t in certain cliques in high school. “Hocus Pocus 2” has too many filler scenes that make it look like about 40 minutes of this 103-minute film could have been removed, and this editing wouldn’t have made a difference at all to the movie’s underwhelming conclusion.
In the first “Hocus Pocus” movie (which was set in 1993), 15-year-old Max Dennison (played by Omri Katz) and his 8-year-old sister Dani Dennison (played by Thora Birch) have recently moved with their parents from Los Angeles to Salem, Massachusetts. Max and Dani hear about the Salem legend of three witch sisters—Winifred Sanderson (played by Bette Midler), Mary Sanderson (played by Kathy Najimy) and Sarah Sanderson (played by Sarah Jessica Parker)—who were known for eating children and were hanged to death by Salem residents in 1693. Ever since, Salem has been under threat of the possibility that the spirits of the Sanderson witches could return to get revenge and to kill more children.
Winifred, the eldest Sanderson sister, is bossy and mean-spirited. Mary, the middle sister, is nervous and eager to please “alpha witch” Winifred. Sarah, the youngest sister, is ditzy and very flirtatious. As legend has it, Winifred poisoned to death a man named William “Billy” Butcherson (played by Doug Jones) in 1693, because Billy was caught kissing Sarah, even though Winifred claimed Billy was her boyfriend. In “Hocus Pocus,” the Billy character was resurrected from his grave as a zombie.
The only way that the Sanderson sisters can come back to life is on Halloween, during a night with a full moon, and if someone lights a special black candle and chants a certain spell. The Sanderson sisters have a big book of spells called the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy that is actually “alive” (the book has one eye that can open and shut), and the sisters want to get possession of this book when they are resurrected. However, these witch sisters can be stopped when the sun comes up before they can cast the ultimate spells that they want to cast.
In “Hocus Pocus,” a skeptical Max, who doesn’t believe in magic, accidentally brings back to life the Sanderson sister witches, who then kidnap Dani. Max teams up with a classmate (and his secret crush) named Allison Watts (played by Vinessa Shaw) to try to rescue Dani. “Hocus Pocus” is very predictable, but it has plenty of amusing and adventurous moments.
In “Hocus Pocus 2” (which takes place in Salem in 2022), the witches are brought back to life on purpose by two best friends named Becca (played by Whitney Peak) and Izzy (played by Belissa Escobedo), who conjure up the Sanderson Sisters on a moonlit Halloween night that happens to be Becca’s 16th birthday. There’s also an adult character who wants the witches to be brought back to Salem. This conjuring scene doesn’t happen until about 30 minutes into the movie.
Instead, “Hocus Pocus 2” begins with tedious flashback scenes showing the Sanderson sisters as girls who are about 11 or 12 years old, sometime in the late 1600s. Taylor Henderson has the role of Young Winifred, Nina Kitchen performs as Young Mary, and Juju Journey Brener is the character of Young Sarah. None of this backstory amusing, interesting or well-acted.
The only real purpose of this drawn-out flashback is to show that the Sanderson sisters’ main nemesis back then was a judgmental pastor named Reverend Traske (played by Tony Hale), who has told Winifred that she’s getting old and has arranged for her to marry a young man named John Pritchett (played by Thomas Fitzgerald). The movie makes a point of showing that back in the 1600s, when human beings’ life expectancies were much shorter than they are now, pre-teen girls could get married and had marriages arranged for them by elders in the community.
However, Winifred doesn’t want to marry John, because she has her sights set on young Billy (played by Austin J. Ryan) to be her future husband. Winifred also defies and insults Reverend Traske by taking the Lord’s name in vain. With a crowd of Salem residents gathered in the town square, Reverend Traske shames Winifred and banishes her from Salem. (No one mentions where the sisters’ parents are during all this brouhaha.)
During this public shaming, Winifred has secretly put a live spider on the reverend’s arm. When he sees the spider, Reverend Traske panics and causes an uproar. Amid the chaos, the Sanderson sisters run into the woods nearby to hide. While in these woods, the sisters encounter the Witch Mother (played by Hannah Waddingham), who gives them the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy. The Sanderson sisters use the Spell of Smoke and Flame to set fire to Reverend Traske’s house as revenge. (No one is killed in this arson.)
“One day, Salem will belong to us!” Winifred vows when stating what will be the Sanderson sisters’ main mission. Winifred is the most vengeful and angriest of the three sisters. “Hocus Pocus 2” later has flashbacks of the Sanderson sisters as older teenagers, with Skyla Sousa as Winifred, Aiden Torres as Mary, and Emma Kaufman as Sarah.
It turns out that Reverend Traske was an ancestor of Salem’s current Mayor Traske (also played by Hale), who is campaigning for re-election in one of the movie’s useless subplots. Hale does his usual schtick of playing a neurotic character who is socially awkward but puts up a front of false confidence. Mayor Traske has a teenage daughter named Cassie (played by Lilia Buckingham), who attends Samuel Skelton High School in Salem. Becca and Izzy are two Cassie’s classmates.
Cassie, Becca and Izzy used to be a trio of best friends, until Cassie started avoiding Becca and Izzy and began spending more time with her athlete boyfriend Mike (played by Froy Gutierrez), a fellow classmate who is shallow and not smart. Mike has a particular dislike of Becca and Izzy, because he thinks these two pals have a weird interest in magic and the supernatural. He publicly teases Becca and Izzy about being witches.
Cassie is a passive girlfriend who goes along with whatever what Mike wants. Becca and Izzy feel confused and betrayed over why Cassie has seemingly turned against them, just so Cassie can fit in with Mike and his popular friends. Is this a “Hocus Pocus” movie or a run-of-the-mill teen soap opera? The movie takes way too much time with this subplot about teenage cliques when it should have focused more on how menacing the witches are to children.
“Hocus Pocus 2” further muddles the plot with a goofy character who calls himself Gilbert the Great (played by Sam Richardson), a magic enthusiast who owns and operates Olde Salem Magic Shoppe. Gilbert has a black cat named Cobweb, who’s cute and lives at the shop, but the cat doesn’t talk like the black cat did in “Hocus Pocus.” (The reason why the black cat talked in “Hocus Pocus” is explained in the beginning of the movie.)
On Halloween, Gilbert tells a group of assembled kids at his shop that the Sanderson sisters were “the most powerful coven who ever lived.” In other words, Gilbert is a superfan of the Sanderson sisters. And to prove how much of a fan he is, Gilbert has the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy proudly on display in a locked case in his shop. Guess who’s going to want to bring back the Sanderson sisters too?
Of course, there would be no “Hocus Pocus 2” if the Sanderson sisters didn’t get revived again. They make their entrance by performing “The Witches Are Back,” to the music of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back,” but with different lyrics. At least “Hocus Pocus 2” had the sense to continue to use the singing talent of Midler in a scene that will delight fans of campy entertainment.
However, “Hocus Pocus 2” continually mishandles the depictions of why these three witches are supposed to be so dangerous. In “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson sisters are constantly craving children to eat. These sister witches, who have extraordinary senses that can detect the presence of children, often use these supersenses to try to hunt down children.
In “Hocus Pocus 2,” the Sanderson witches encounter children, but the witches don’t have the same air of intimidation and make very little attempt to capture any children that are in their way, like the same witches did in the first “Hocus Pocus” movie. Instead, “Hocus Pocus 2” has a silly sequence where Becca and Izzy pretend to be fans of the Sanderson sisters and lure the witches into a Walgreens store to get beauty products, in an attempt to appeal to the witches’ vanity. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
The witches are flabbergasted and fascinated by the Walgreens store’s sliding glass doors (apparently, the witches never knew sliding glass doors existed in 1993), which is one of the many not-very-funny gags in the movie. When the witches look for tools for riding in the air, Winifred finds a broom at Walgreens. Apparently, it’s the only broom in the store, because Sarah has to make do with a Swiffer WetJet, while Mary uses glowing hover rings.
The Walgreens sequence and other scenes in “Hocus Pocus 2” are just blatant excuses for product/brand placement. The movie also throws in a shameless and rather pointless mention of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” (ABC is owned by Disney, the company behind the “Hocus Pocus” movies.)
Meanwhile, the Sanderson sisters have time to show up on stage during Salem’s annual Halloween carnival to perform their version of Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” Billy the zombie returns in “Hocus Pocus 2” with his own agenda: He wants to clear his name, because he says he never cheated on Winifred, since he says that he was never Winifred’s boyfriend. Mayor Traske also has some of his own unresolved love-life issues from his past: He’s pining over a woman named Sandy, who founded a candy store in Salem called Sandy’s Candy Cauldron, and she’s coming back to Salem to re-open the store.
If this “Hocus Pocus 2” plot sounds very scatter-brained and unadventurous, that’s because it is. Midler, Najimy and Parker are obviously having fun, hamming it up in their roles, but the Sanderson Sisters act more like wannabe cabaret singers in “Hocus Pocus 2” than real witches who are hungry to hunt for children. When the witches finally capture a child (it’s the most obvious person possible, considering the sisters’ feud from the past), this kidnapping arrives so late in the movie, the stakes aren’t as high as they were in “Hocus Pocus.” The visual effects in “Hocus Pocus 2” are mediocre.
The Sanderson sisters are supposed to be over-the-top and ridiculous. In that respect, cast members Midler, Najimy and Parker deliver what they’re expected to deliver in “Hocus Pocus 2,” despite the substandard screenplay. However, the movie’s younger cast members don’t do anything special with their performances in “Hocus Pocus 2,” like Birch did in her scene-stealing performance in “Hocus Pocus.”
Fletcher’s direction of “Hocus Pocus 2” is just too unfocused and unremarkable to make “Hocus Pocus 2” shine in an outstanding way. The movie overall is unable to overcome the “Hocus Pocus 2” screenplay’s many flaws. Simply put: “Hocus Pocus 2” might be satisfactory enough for people with low expectations. But for people who expect better from a sequel that has been talked about for years and took 29 years to get released, “Hocus Pocus 2” will not be casting any enchanting spells.
Disney+ will premiere “Hocus Pocus 2” on September 30, 2022.
Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannadawith subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the sci-fi/fantasy film in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A man finds out his connection to a secret society that channels mystical energy, as he is chased around by villains while he tries to prevent an apocalypse.
Culture Audience: “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor and will appeal to anyone who doesn’t mind watching sci-fi/fantasy movies that treat audiences like idiots.
The over-indulgent and moronic “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is an example of what happens when people spend too much money to make a movie and not enough effort to craft a coherent story and offer good performances. This abomination is an absolute chore to watch and will test the patience of viewers who have better things to do with their time, such as stare at a wall. At least when you stare at a wall, you won’t be annoyed by a constant barrage of stupidity with tacky visual effects, soundtrack music that’s too loud, and acting and dialogue so bad, it will all make you question why so many people signed off on making this obvious train wreck.
Written and directed by Ayan Mukerji, “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is the first part of his so-called “Astraverse trilogy.” It’s as pretentious as it sounds. Here’s how this murky concept is explained in the production notes for “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva”:
“‘Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva’ begins with an image of sages in deep meditation in a mystical time in ancient India. The sages are gifted with the Light of the Universe—a Brahm-Shakti—a manifestation of the purest creative energy there is. From this Light, objects of power known as Astras are born.”
The description continues: “There are Astras that command the energy of Fire, Wind, Water and Earth, as well as Astras with the essence of diﬀerent animals and plants, all derived from the natural world. These include the Jalāstra, which commands the energy of water; the Pawanāstra, wind; the Agnyāstra, fire. The Vānarāstra gives the wielder the abilities of 1,000 monkeys, and the Nandi Astra gives users the strength of 1,000 bulls. (The Bull is the carrier of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology.) The final Astra is the last to emerge from the Light, and it contains its collective essence, becoming the Lord of all the Others, the Brahmāstra.”
The description also says: “The sages take a solemn vow to protect these Astras, and as the guardians of the Brahmāstra, they name themselves the Brahmānsh, forming a secret society that will exist amongst other men and do good for the world with the power of the Astras. Time moves forward, and the Brahmānsh carries on as well, passing on the Astras generation to generation all the way into our world today, where the Brahmānsh still exist in secret.”
All this means is that viewers will see a bunch of people running around, spouting mystical nonsense, hunting for various religious artifacts, and using weather or laser beams to do battle in the expected “good versus evil” plot. And it will be dragged out into three movies that are as irritating and nonsensical and overly long as each other, under the guise of being “epic” filmmaking. The only thing “epic” about “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is how it’s a epic failure at clever and original filmmaking.
Sometimes, a sci-fi/fantasy movie that knows it’s silly has fun with the absurdity and makes it entertaining for the audience. “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is not that kind of movie. It looks like an unintentional parody of all the sloppy things that are in terrible sci-fi/fantasy films. But everything is taken so seriously in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” which throws in some very eye-catching but cliché musical numbers.
“Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is an overload of sci-fi/fantasy stereotypes: There’s the good-looking lead actor, who plays a “chosen one” hero, who usually grew up without his parents, for one reason or another. And he usually finds out family secrets that are tied to his destiny/legacy. In this case, the hero’s name is Shiva (played by Ranbir Kapoor), who’s apparently a rock-star-like party DJ in his spare time and can draw festival-sized crowds, because that’s how he’s first seen on film.
There’s the older man who acts as a mentor to the hero. That’s the lazily named Guru (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is supposed to be a sage leader but comes across as wooden and stiff. There’s the “secret society” of warriors/fighters who are allies to the hero. In this movie, this secret society is called Brahmāstra, with Guru as their leader.
There’s the pretty love interest who somehow does fight scenes, chase scenes and other action scenes that would break bones in real life, but she gets maybe a bruise or two, and her hair and makeup stay intact. That’s Isha (played by Alia Bhatt), who is every worst stereotype of the female love interest who lacks substance. She has some of the worst lines in this already horrendous movie.
This is what Isha and Shiva say in their “meet cute” moment, which happens after they lock eyes in a corny slow-motion shot at one of Shiva’s DJ dance parties, where people are worshipping the Hindu goddess Durga: An awestruck Isha says to Shiva: “Who are you?” Shiva replies, “What are you?” Then he says, “I really like you.” And within hours of meeting Isha, Shiva is telling her that he loves her. Try not to retch.
There’s the sought-after mysterious person who might hold the crucial answers to the hero’s quest. That’s someone named Anish Shetty, also known as Artist (played by Nagarjuna Akkineni), who has an important artifact that Shiva needs. He gets caught up in some of the fight scenes. All of the movie’s action scenes are either very far-fetched or just plain formulaic.
There’s the chief villain, who has any number of cronies. In “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” that chief villain is a sorceress anmed Junoon (played by Mouni Roy), whose idea of being scary is smirking, glaring, and ultimately being a very generic nemesis. Junoon’s thugs include hulking Raftaar (played by Saurav Gurjar) and manipulative Zor (played by Rouhallah Gazi), who do a lot of snarling, grunting and fighting.
If you’ve seen this type of sci-fi/fantasy movie many times, then you’ll find no real surprises in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” which is an excruciating 167 minutes long. “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is just more of the same derivative sci-fi/fantasy, but worse than the usual formulaic junk. This horrible, bloated movie is an assault on people’s intelligence. If you can avoid it, do not subject yourself to this aggravation.
Walt Disney Pictures released “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” in U.S. cinemas on September 9, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Turkey, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the fantasy film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Asian) as human beings and magical beings representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A Djinn (also known as a genie) is set free from a bottle by a loner middle-aged divorcée from the United Kingdom, and he tells her stories of how he was trapped inside the bottle at various times over 3,000 years.
Culture Audience: “Three Thousand Years of Longing” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, filmmaker George Miller and adult-oriented fantasy movies.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not as weird and edgy as the movie’s trailer would suggest. It’s a sometimes-rambling yet visually striking adult-oriented fairy tale about a genie and the stories he tells to the scholarly divorcée who frees him from a bottle. The film is not a masterpiece, but it’s entertaining enough for people who can engage with a fantasy movie that’s more about storytelling than about fast-paced action scenes.
Directed by George Miller (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Augusta Gore), “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is based on A. S. Byatt’s 1994 novel “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.” Although the movie is narrated by British scholar Alithea Binnie (played by Tilda Swinton), viewers will learn a lot more about the electromagnetic genie called the Djinn (played by Idris Elba) whom Alithea accidentally releases from a bottle. That’s because almost the entire movie is about the Djinn telling Alithea about three major times in his life that he was imprisoned in a bottle.
In the beginning of the movie, she says in a voiceover: “My name is Alithea. My story is true. You’re more likely to believe me if I tell you it’s a fairy tale.” Swinton is quite good in the role of Alithea, but she’s portrayed many uptight and quirky British women before in other movies, her work in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is just more of the same, but not as quick-tempered and unhinged as some of her other eccentric characters in other films.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” opens with Alithea (who lives in London) arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, for a storytelling conference. (“Three Thousand Years of Longing” was actually filmed in Australia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.) In addition to being a scholar, Alithea is an enthusiast of fantasy storytelling. Ever since she was a child, she had an active imagination and kept journals of her fantasy writings and illustrations.
A flashback in the movie shows how Alithea at about 10 or 11 years old (played by Alyla Browne) as a social outcast at her all-girls boarding school. During her childhood, Alithea had an imaginary male creature friend named Enzo (played by Abel Bond) that she wrote about and drew in her journals. Alithea could see and hear Enzo but no one else could. Enzo would often comfort her when she was feeling lonely and sad. Don’t expect to find out anything about Alithea’s family, except to know that she has no siblings.
Now in her late 50s or early 60s, Alithea is now a professor of narratology who has been divorced since she was in her 30s. She’s still a loner who writes and draws in journals what comes up in her vivid imagination. Alithea also still sees visions of various magical creatures that look real to her, but no one else can see them.
For example, when she arrives at the airport, she sees a short, odd-looking man who tries to help her carry her suitcase, but she refuses, and he disappears into the crowd. When Alithea tells a male professor colleague (who’s sharing a car ride with her) about this strange experience, she describes the unusual man as “hot to the touch” and “musky.” Alithea’s colleague suggests that she might have seen a ghost.
Alithea is one of the speakers at the conference, where she says that stories about mythical gods have been a part of human hstory for ages. (In the background on the conference stage is a collage portrait of comic book superheroes, to illustrate her point.) During her speech, Alithea sees in the audience a vision of ghost-like elderly man wearing all white in an ancient royal outfit, including a crown.
Suddenly, this mystery spirit lunges at Alithea. And the next thing she knows, she’s being woken up by people on the conference stage because she’s been told that she fainted. Alithea has no memory of passing out. And she insists that she’s feeling perfectly fine.
In her hotel room, Alithea takes out a blue-and-white stripped bottle that looks like a perfume bottle. A brief flashback show that she purchased the bottle at trinket shop in an Instanbul bazaar. The bottle had burn marks on it, but that just makes her more interested in buying. “I like it,” she tells the shop owner. “I’m sure it has an interesting story.”
Alithea takes a toothbrush to try to rub off some of the burn marks. And that’s when the Djinn come out of the bottle, in clouds of purple smoke. At first, the Djinn appears in giant form, but eventually, he shrinks himself down to the form of a human. He begins speaking to her in Hellelnic (a language that Alithea knows), btu then eventually spends the rest oft he time talking to Alithea in her native English language. Alithea is convinced that that the Djinn is part of her imagination, but the more he talks to her, the more she’s convinced that he’s real.
The Djinn essentially says that he’s been trapped in the bottle for nearly 200 years. And in order for him to gain eternal freedom, he tells Alithea that he must grant three wishes to her. There are some caveats to these wishes. She cannot wish for eternal wishes or anything that would end suffering. Her wishes must also be heartfelt and sincere, not taken as a joke, in order for the wishes to really come true.
Alithea insists to the Djinn that she’s perfectly content with her life and doesn’t have any wishes. She has no loved ones and is happy with her job. Alithea only opens up about her her past experiences with love and heartbreak when she briefly tells him about her lonely childhood and her divorce. It’s the only glimpse into Alithea’s personal life.
Alithea was married to her college sweetheart Jack (played by Peter Bertoni, in a flashback scene) for a period of time that appears to be less than 10 years. Alithea and Peter had many things in common, and she thought that they were soul mates. At one point, Alithea got pregnant and was far-enough along in the pregnancy that she knew she was going to have a boy. Alithea and Jack were going to name the child Enzo.
All of this information can be deduced from a brief flash of a pregnancy test vial showing a positive test result. Alithea had kept this pregnancy test vial as a memento in a scrapbook and had written the name Enzo on the vial. When Alithea tells the Djinn about her marriage, she never goes into details about happened to this pregnancy.
However, it’s implied that she had a miscarriage, since the child is never seen in the flashbacks. Alithea says that she and Jack eventually drifted apart (with the implication that the loss of the child was a big reason why), and they got divorced. Jack eventually married a younger woman named Emmaline Porter (played by Lianne Mackessey), and Alithea has seen the happy couple together in London on at least one occasion.
The Djinn has his own stories of loss and heartbreak to tell. His first story of being imprisoned in the bottle is about when he was the servant/lover of Africa’s Queen of Sheba (played by Aamito Lagum), who did not love the Djinn in the way that the Djinn loved her. A love triangle developed when a visiting king named Solomon (played by Nicolas Mouawad) began courting the queen. You can easily guess how this love triangle ended.
The Djinn’s second story of being “incarcerated” in a bottle takes place in the 1530s, during the rule of Turkey’s Ottomon Empire. The story begins with a destitute and enslaved young woman named Ezgi (played Pia Thunderbolt) releasing the Djinn from a bottle. The Djinn grants Ezgi’s wish to marry Prince Mustafa (played by Matteo Bocelli), who is next in line to inherit the kingdom.
However, a power struggle breaks out between Prince Mustafa, his younger brother Ibrahim (played by Jack Braddy) and their father Sultan Suleiman (played by Lachy Hulme). Ibrahim has a sexual fetish for plus-sized women. One of the women in Ibrahim’s harem plays a role in Djinn’s fate.
The Djinn’s third story is supposed to be the most impactful, but it’s the most underdeveloped and seems too rushed in the movie. In this story (which takes place in the mid-19th century in Turkey), the Djinn talks about Zefir (played by Burcu Gölgedar), a woman whom Djinn describes as perhaps the greatest love of his life. The Djinn says that he loved Zefir more than he loved the Queen of Sheba.
At the age of 12 years old, Zefir was forced to marry a Turkish merchant, whose name is not mentioned in the movie. This merchant is old enough to be Zefir’s grandfather. Zefir is the merchant’s third wife in his harem. His other two wives, who are close to the merchant’s age, are very jealous of Zefir and treat her like an outsider. A lonely Zefir eventually finds the bottle where the Djin was kept and frees him.
All three of the Djinn stories involve a woman freeing him from a bottle and some kind of power struggle that ensues. Djinn describes himself in his relationships as loyal and accommodating. And he is that way with Alithea too, but only after she begins to trust him. He can be impatient with Alithea when she’s indecisive about if or when she wants to make a wish.
Because the movie reveals up front that Djinn’s three stories are about how he got trapped in a bottle on three separate occasions, viewers aleady know that each story will not end well for the Djinn. And therefore, the movie’s only real question that needs to be answered is: “What will Ailthea’s wish for, if she chooses to make any or all of the three wishes?”
Alithea thinks that all stories about wishes are “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tales, so she’s afraid of making any wish that could be a big mistake. Through the Djinn’s stories, she starts to understand that life can be a very dull existence if risks aren’t taken. Alithea also learns that it’s not always selfish to ask for what you want.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” has the look of an ambitious fantasy film, but thankfully is only 108 minutes long. The visual effects and cinematography are well-done, and the acting is perfectly fine from all involved. However, the movie is not without its flaws.
The three stories are unevenly paced to the importance each story has to the Djinn’s life. The second story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire should have been shortened and the time used to expand more on the third story about the Djinn’s relationship with Zefir. There’s not much in the movie to show why Djinn considers his relationship with Zefir to be a great love affair.
Zefir and the Djinn are not shown connecting on any emotional level. The Djinn essentially does what Zefir wants, including making himself disappear, especially when her husband is around. And, as previously mentioned, Alithea remains a bit of a mystery throughout the entire. The only other insight into Alithea’s personal life is when she returns to London and shows disgust for the racial and ethnic bigotry expressed by two nosy, elderly women who live in the house next door.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not going to appeal to people who are expecting any comedic moments. It’s a brooding movie that’s not overly intense or gory, but it’s far from being lighthearted and whimsical. It’s probably one of the most serious-minded gene movies you’ll ever see, Viewers might get some enjoyment out of the acting and the storytelling format of the movie, which has a timeless message about valuing love, no matter where and when someone exists.
United Artists Releasing/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Three Thousand Years of Longing” in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie is set for release in Australia on September 1, 2022.