This review is going to be a very hard one to write. I am a middle class white British guy, so I want to start by saying that I completely acknowledge that this film was made neither for or about me. Because of this, I won’t be overly critical of many areas of the film, simply because I am by definition not able to comment on them fairly. That said, let’s get into the review!
Black Panther follows the titular hero as he strives to protect his home country, Wakanda, from the clutches of those who would find and exploit its precious reserves of Vibranium, the most powerful element on Earth. His mission takes him across the world to South Korea and London, where the truth about his past becomes clearer than he ever thought it could. But the secrets hidden there are dark, and the time comes when the king must choose the right path.
As my girlfriend pointed out after we left the cinema, the production value of the film is very impressive, the makeup and costume design especially. The soundtrack is also incredibly good, though how big of a thing The Weeknd is in South Korea is debatable, so I don’t know why they’d be playing that in a casino there. Either way.
The fight scenes where the camera isn’t focusing on the heroes fists and feet as they fly around in a vomit-inducing blur where actually pretty good. I’ve seen the Rotten Tomatoes review citing “not enough action” as a massive issue, but my problem is not with the amount of it, but the quality. There is one incredibly amazing sequence where Black Panther walks away from a crashed jet towards the fifty or so soldiers running towards him, and visually, soundtrack-wise, and emotionally it is an immensely powerful moment. I loved it, and it was just so upsetting that the rest of the film wasn’t of that quality.
To be Improved:
The film started with actual spoken narration, immediately characteristic of box office bombs, and a trope that no one is supposed to follow. Now, Black Panther has done quite the opposite of bombing in terms of income, raking in one of the highest openings in Marvel’s cinematic history, but that doesn’t excuse the blatant three minutes of narration that take up the space for what should be a brilliant opening scene. It’s like a good book with an opening chapter written by a child. Pathetic.
The entire narrative, actually, was just plain boring, and there’s no more to be said about that. The obvious Lion King parallels (trying very hard not to say rip-offs) are really cloying, especially seeing as I just discovered the tagline for the film is ‘Long Live the King’.
This was not helped by the fact that there were absolutely no stakes for the hero. Vibranium is a near-indestructible metal, and seeing as Black Panther’s full body suit is made from it, he’s immediately immune to anything the bad guys can throw at him. Then, the villain steals the second version of this suit, so now both of them are invincible. Are you starting to see the problem here…? And on top of that, they keep doing this thing where they cross their arms across their chest and release all the kinetic energy the suit has absorbed, which was cool the first time, but not the tenth.
Any comedy moments, as with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, REALLY missed the mark. They’re just so cringey, and it’s polluting the Marvel Cinematic Universe more and more with each passing film. I remember when the sense of humour was dry, charming and, most importantly, actually funny. Now they’ve been reduced to spouting Vine memes that aren’t even relevant by the time the film comes out. In Black Panther, the horrifically unfunny ‘WHAT ARE THOSE’ placed the narrative in the real, present day world so jarringly that it sort of demolished everything Marvel has done so far to keep superheroes separate from our timeline. This sudden fourth-wall break completely shatters the illusion, and further adds to the feeling that I’m not watching a superhero movie.
The moral is incredibly vague, too. The hero is a king, and while many claim this is a good thing as we have a powerful black protagonist, it means that everyone who grew up in a ghetto or a run-down council estate automatically cannot relate. And when it takes him the whole film to reveal Wakanda’s resources to the rest of the world, is the message supposed to be that you shouldn’t share?
On a little side note, I know you’re not supposed to be able to be racist to white people, but I’d like to make the case for the contrary when it comes to Black Panther. The villain clearly states that he is nothing like his ancestors, and is ‘far from them’, refusing to accept bondage (i.e. slavery) and rising up to show the world his power instead. I can accept that, of course I can. But then one of the protagonists refers to Martin Freeman’s character as ‘coloniser’. This I cannot support. Why am I, as a white person, not allowed to be separate from my ancestors? Just because I’m white, doesn’t mean I hate those who kept black people as slaves any more than black people do! Perhaps I don’t have as much reason to, but I am no less against it than anyone else. Yet, according to Black Panther, I am still somehow to blame for the actions of people who have been dead for hundreds of years.
But above all, my biggest problem with Black Panther is that it separates him from the other superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Don’t burn me at the stake, but just listen: When he appears in Captain America – Civil War, I immediately thought he was the coolest of all superheroes present, and there are a lot of them, I can tell you. His skin colour never even crossed my mind, but now with this almost entirely African-American solo outing, I can’t see him as anything but ‘the black one’. It’s not a conscious thought, and there is no racism involved, but far from empowering him it’s almost made him a separate thing from the whole team. In many ways (in personality, for instance) he is, but narratively he should very much not be, and all this film has done is push him even further away from his teammates than any racism towards him from fans ever could.
This hype surrounding this film is unbelievable. Literally. I can’t physically comprehend why it’s become so popular or why so many people like a film with such little plot substance. I can get behind the empowerment of African-Americans and women, and I love the fact that children who haven’t had a role model to look up to now have such a badass to call their own. To be completely honest, Black Panther is just a crap film! That opinion has nothing to do with race, because I hated Guardians of the Galaxy 2 even more, and I’m fairly certain there wasn’t a single black person in that film. Big up Afro-Futurism; just execute it better next time.