Black Panther Lives!
Marvel’s first afrocentric superhero film flies into theatres, proudly subverting the white-dominant casts of superhero films today. Instead of focusing on American politics, Black Panther explores notions of race and empire through the fictional country of Wakanda. Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Prince T’challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes his rightful place as the next Black Panther and King of Wakanda.
The hype for Black Panther has been steadily amping up over the last few weeks, with Deadline predicting a historic, $200-$205M opening weekend box office. That being said, talk surrounding Black Panther has also created a near impenetrable fortress. It’s as though anyone who points out flaws in the film stands against the values it represents – but in film criticism, it’s owed to the reader to move past formalities.
In short, Blank Panther is a flawed film with good character conflict, important social commentary and one of Marvel’s strongest villains to date. Despite imperfections as a film, Black Panther is as vindicated as ever.
Raw, Human Struggle Trumps Action in Black Panther
It’s generally agreed upon that the best superhero films are those that edge beyond the expectations of genre into something else entirely, namely films such as The Dark Knight (2008), Logan (2017) and Wonder Woman (2017). In this regard, Black Panther is a mixed bag. Although the film has undeniably created history with its diverse cast and eye for culture, it still dutifully hits the average genre beats of a typical action film, which sometimes clash against the richer, more poignant themes that demand more considered attention. That’s not to say that action isn’t done sufficiently well in Black Panther – in particular, the classic Marvel SUV Car Chase stands out for its smart pace and surprisingly fun choreography. Still, there are sections where the film struggles to find its footing and maintain a solid pace.
So what does Black Panther do right? For one, it creates a whole new world of rules and tradition, an impressive feat for any writer to tackle. Amidst these traditions also lay moral questions, injustice and conflict for the characters to resolve that go beyond stopping just one moustache twirling villain. At its best Black Panther is a raw drama about family, betrayal and danger in the tradition of empires.
Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger Slays, And There’s No Other Way To Put It.
Killmonger joins the likes of MCU villains Loki, Winter Soldier and Vulture with a powerful on-screen performance that leaves you craving more. However, despite the talent Jordan brings to the table, what the film lacks is enough screen-time to fully flesh out the character’s journey from A to B. Without spoiling the movie, there is a rather large chunk of the film where Killmonger is absent, and it’s very noticeable. As a consequence, the film becomes uneven in its second act, leaving you to wonder whether some of Killmonger’s scenes had been cut, or if perhaps his character had been rewritten to have a larger role later in the production process. Nonetheless, the glimpses we are given into Killmonger’s past and the chances we have to see what drives him are one of the more intriguing aspects of the movie – and a testament to the great career ahead for Michael B. Jordan.
Representing Flawed Values
A double-edged sword within the film can be found in the clashing values of Killmonger and the Wakandan people. On one hand, writer/director Ryan Coogler should be commended for creating complex character conflict that points out flaws in the hero’s beliefs and values. However, in execution, Black Panther presents a similar, unfavourable situation to Marvel’s unsuccessful TV series Inhumans (2017). In the series, the audience is asked to sympathise with the ruling family of a classist society which actively discriminates against humans for being a weaker species.
Though the Wakandan people’s beliefs (concerning their relationship with the outside world) are an entirely different kettle of fish, it takes far too long for T’challa to address the problem. As a consequence, it leaves the audience ambivalent over whether they should care about what the characters are fighting for. Furthermore, this devalues, to an extent, the stakes as the film reaches a climax.
A Supporting Cast and Production Design So Good That I’m Forgetting About All the Actual Criticisms I Was Going To Write About Black Panther
Black Panther is not only to be praised for its diversity, but for the standout female performances from the entire cast. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Black Panther’s little sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), is now my favourite female character in the entire MCU. God, I hope that badass, intelligent icon (who almost certainly is running her own fire meme page out there somewhere in the Marvel universe) becomes a role model for future generations. Also, while we’re at it, heres to hoping she one day takes up the mantle of Black Panther like her comic book counterpart does.
As always, Lupita Nyong’o thrills in any performance she gives, as does Danai Gurira in her role as the fearsome Wakandan warrior, Okoye. As pictured above, Disney did not shy away from embracing aspects of tribal, African dress and culture in their production design, and the film benefits all the more from it. Black Panther’s sets and costume design are stunning, employing a techno-geometrical twist that suits the technologically advanced nation well. If anything, one would hope that comic book movies continue to keep pushing their limits by exploring the multitude of enthralling cultures the world has to offer.
Just Give Millennials the Reigns to Comedy, Please
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – most of the writers in Hollywood today don’t understand how to use internet culture in their scripts. I watch a lot of movies, and honest to God, this is the first time I’ve seen memes incorporated into a film in a way that actually made me laugh. It was unexpected, and beautiful. They were the kind of jokes that will probably go over an older audience member’s head, but are effective in hitting one of the largest demographics of comic book movies in their sweet, sweet, young hearts.
That being said, while a lot of the humour in Black Panther works, a fair portion of it is misused in ways that undercut the dramatic tension of the scene. Perhaps, what writing in this manner signifies is a lack of faith that the audience will take the story seriously. Though Black Panther is not the sole culprit of this shortcoming, humour undermining story when it’s used in inappropriate times has been a notable trend in recent Marvel films; one that’s hopefully on its way out, because at this stage we expect to see emotional moments in Marvel films ‘interrupted’ by Whedon-esque one-liners more often than we don’t.
Marvel’s Black Panther is a fascinating, enjoyable world to become lost in. Despite flaws in regards to pacing, a great villain that we wished there was more of, and some take-it-or-leave-it character conflict, Black Panther raises the bar for both comic book movies and the film industry alike.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues with Jessica Jones’ second season. Available March 8th on Netflix.
Marvel’s Black Panther has its fair share of flaws – but Ryan Cooglar’s impressive world building, appropriate social commentary and engaging characters far outweigh its problems.