director: Ryan Coogler
writers: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong'o
genre: Action | Comics
released: 15 February 2018 (Australia, Germany & Greece), 16 February 2018 (USA)
Hype is an unusual beast that can be blessing in disguise or a terror from the dark. 'Black Panther' was lucky that the hype made it receive sales beyond expectation, but maybe not too happy with the overall general audience praise that has been mixed even though most would like to say it was overall positive. Not due to the fact that this a bad film, on the contrary its a very good film in many ways, but because people lifted it to the heights of deification for political and social reasons, instead of valuing it on the merits of its filmmaking and storytelling as we do with any other film. In the end, you will probably enjoy 'Black Panther' and relish in the fact that this is a sort of film you don't get to see very often with outstanding visuals, performances, locations and style, but also that it was a film that still could have been improved upon, as is the case with almost all of the recent Marvel films.
After T'Challa's (Chadwick Boseman) introduction to the MCU in 'Captain America: Civil War' as the Wakandan hero 'Black Panther'. He will have to go back home and lead his people after the unfortunate death of his father. The people of Wakanda as a strong and proud nation with a vibrant culture and secret economy have isolated themselves perfectly from the outside world due to the rare metal Vibranium. This rare metal drives their economy and allows them to flourish in almost all realms compared to the rest of the world.
However, despite their impressive growth and progress, outside forces will come to claim the throne and also disrupt their peaceful nation. Bringing T'Challa and the rest of the Wakandan high council to rethink their old ways of isolation and maybe to contribute to the world by exchanging technology and resources. This divergence in thinking will lead to Killmonger's (Michael B. Jordan) master plan to come into fruition and unforeseen chaos to the Kingdom of Wakanda that they have never seen before.
First and foremost, 'Black Panther' is an entirely different experience than the rest of the Marvel films that came before it. Not only in setting and style, but also in tone. In addition, the fact that despite many people of the general public, media, Hollywood system and critics wanted this film to be a confirmation of their political bias, it thankfully is not that type of film. By and large it was apolitical with its lead character being the sensible and moderate leader and not the radical extremist that believed violence is the way to solve the world's problems as with the film's villain. This has to be mentioned as the political arm-wrestling over this film is sad and unnecessary. These films shouldn't be political even though they may have some politics in them. They are about aspiring to be something greater than oneself and hearing the call to duty. That could be to leading your people and defending the innocent all the way to using your wealth and technology for the betterment of humanity. Naturally, we can nitpick and dissect point by point the film and find certain places that some bias may exist, but again this is to be expected with almost anything in life and by and large this film for both parties of the political aisle wasn't exactly what they were saying it was going to be which was the main concern. And besides those instances where a line here and there that didn't make sense as political jabs are found in the film, it was not as controversial in my opinion.
Because of this focus on politics in the film from the media and political world, people will miss out on just enjoying the experience of the film, while also objectively critiquing it for its storytelling and creative issues. Which do exist, but aren't enough to deem this one of Marvel's worst outings. It is one of their best, not only because of it uniqueness from the rest of the catalogue, but because it attempts so much in such a short time and of great importance. The problem, which will be delved deeper in the later paragraphs is that this story's time and place maybe shouldn't have been for this film. Because the rest of the world, lore and characters work. The family history of the Black Panther family is deep, complicated and rife for character clashes and family drama, while the locale and style make it a visual wonderland not seen in many films ever before. Not to mention, getting one of the best young talents in the business to direct it and getting some of the most beloved actors in the world to be showcased in it made me want to see a different kind of story for T'Challa this time around.
As implied before, the place where the film fails to be an even better Marvel outing is its timing, but also falling prey as expected to the shortcomings of the superhero genre and the disbelief that comes with it, such as visual stimuli overload and the back peddling of your belief when the psychical capability of individuals and of the technology at hand go farther then your mind is allowed to accept. For example the fact that people survive in moments which should have been their end, but nonetheless survive without a scare is an issue. Case in point the car chase scene in South Korea where Black Panther's personal bodyguard and ex-lover survive a car blast without a scar and the bodyguard could hold on to a speeding vehicle as if she was the Black Panther herself. Who also did the same thing in the film, but at least had the tech suit and supernatural powers of the Black Panther god (even though the film didn't attempt to go down that comic book route) to make him do so. So by having another main character do what the Black Panther can do defeats the purpose of having a Black Panther if anybody can do it as well.
Then there is the technology that comes into play and where they went way too far down the route of technological excellence. I personally don't remember in the comic book how much or how far Wakanda had progressed technologically, but either way it was ridiculous the amount of technological advancements that they had in the film. From the spaceships, to magnetic trains and underground mines and all the way to vibranium pretty much being the material that can be whatever you want it to be. From a magical healing property to the strongest metal on earth. I know its a comic book movie and to just accept certain things as is, but I believe they didn't have to show so much and could have gradually done all this. For example it was cool during the end of the film where one tribe who seemed to have no weapons of technology just unleashed force-field shields when the situation called for it. This mix of tech and traditional culture worked well, but when you go too far down the rabbit hole of the "sky is the limit" and with the overuse of CGI it takes you right out of the experience and your belief is suspended. As when all these heavy duty CGI moments happened during the film, I personally just wanted to go back to those scenes where it was just sets and people talking. As that is actually the best parts of the film, the drama and political infighting about the direction Wakanda is to take.
Moreover, this also is true for Black Panther and his suit. As the suit works in the film when he is fighting mostly human villains for a bit and has to do death defying acts and later on fight an equivalent Black Panther strength villain. However, if he had to lets say stop bank robbers or chase the run of the mill villains the other Avengers usually fight, he would be at times 'OP' as they say in the gaming community. Not to mention the fact that the upgrade in his suit within the film only exists as a function to the story. So its difficult to see how vulnerable they can make him later on in 'Black Panther 2' and 3 to face newer villains and more powerful threats. As it seems that his tech has put him almost beyond reach even in an one on one fight. Especially compared to his suit in 'Captain America: Civil War', not to mention the same complaint I had with 'Civil War' being the CGI choreographed fights not being anything of real interest or spectacle. With the ritual fights in the film being of more interest and purpose.
In regards to Black Panther himself meaning T'Challa, you would think that the storyline was significant enough to actually like the character a great deal and see him as someone worth seeing on more adventures later on, but instead he was kind of a mixed bag. Where he was full of raw emotion in 'Civil War', he is now more reserved and gracious with very few moments where he showed what was boiling in him. This I don't attribute personally to Chadwick Boseman's performance but more due to the amount of dialogue he had and the moments to grandstand next to Killmonger that were few and far between. His best moment is when he realizes what Killmonger is planning and tries to be reserved and sneaky in front of council, but later on when a part of Wakanda turns his back on him he was too gracious for his own good and the fighting and resolution in the final third act didn't help as well. In general, this film puts T'Challa in a situation that would have made more sense for a strong and dark sequel rather than a first film. His story in 'Civil War' also would have been better suited with him coming into terms of his role as a superhero and future king from his father who knew it all and was infallible in his eyes. In short, Black Panther never had an origin film and even though sometimes we say what's the point of one, this may have been one of those situations that called for its existence.
On the other hand, Killmonger as mentioned has way too many moments to grandstand with Michael B. Jordan's performance being the highlight of the film. It's hard not to notice while seeing the film, how much he is enjoying playing this evil character and brings despite his evil nature an emotional connection to him through his traumatic youth and belief of betrayal from Wakanda. Which is really why Killmonger is a good villain, because he is pure evil. He sees the world for only its faults, believes only a few should benefit at the expense of the many and is willing to commit mass violence to gain his way, rather than be a better person and not see the mistakes of the father in the son. Inadvertently going down the dark path of attributing malice to a whole bunch of people without them being the actual cause for social and economic unrest in the world.
Because this is also a action film let's get a little bit honest about some things. I had stated further up that the best thing about 'Black Panther' is its political drama and the internal schism developing over the identity and future of Wakanda. On the contrary, the film's action is a big letdown with no memorable set pieces that involve T'Challa being Black Panther. The best action bits are when T'Challa is having his ritual duels and no effects are being used in an amazing location and when in the third act Wakanda border force use some creative tech to fight. Besides that, the big Black Panther vs Killmonger fight was nothing to rave about. This shows how much of a good film existed in 'Black Panther' that it could have been easily separated from its shallow action scenes. As here the rivalries it developed throughout the film are of great quality and how they come to change as things progress.
For all its faults Marvel knows how to make a good movie, pick talented individuals to be a part of it and knows how to sell it. Asking for each one of these films to be great for our biased reasons is unnecessary and we will come to the point of having another great comic book film come naturally and be dramatic just like 'The Dark Knight' or just be some good old dumb fun such as 'Spider-Man 2' or the first 'Avengers', but that day is not today.