Hakuna-Wakanda, what a wonderful place!
Not the best, but not bad either.
Minor spoilers below.
Black Panther is an interesting induction into the Marvel franchise for a multitude of reasons. The headlining superhero and most of the main cast are black actors. The themes and somewhat political elements of the narrative dominate the story, rather than focusing on a typical protagonist’s journey. But the most interesting aspect of the film is that the villains outshine the protagonist in every single scene, which is both good and bad.
Director Ryan Coogler has excelled with his previous films (Fruitvale Station, Creed), but seems to falter here. The story is overlong, the dialogue is exposition heavy, and the plotting is predictable down to a science.
The front half of the film feels like a first act that drags out for an hour and fifteen minutes. The “real” plot only begins when Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) arrives in Wakanda, which takes an eternity.
There’s a ton of “Wakanda building,” diving into the culture, characters, and technology of the country. Unfortunately, the green screen is extremely noticeable in most of these scenes. It felt like I was watching the movie 300, except I’m pretty sure that particular style was not their intention. The environment doesn’t feel real or lived in. It just looks like actors performing in front of a CGI backdrop. Afrofuturism is a cool concept, but the production here felt lacking. It’s a stark contrast to the costumes which were rather well done.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), aka Black Panther, is devoid of any kind of goal or characterization in this film. In comparison to Killmonger and Klaue, he’s pretty boring. He doesn’t even earn his redemption at the end of the film. His lowest point and the climax of the film happen within ten minutes of each other. There’s not enough room for him and Killmonger to grow in between their conflicts. The plot also becomes very predictable and takes away a lot of tension and interest that makes a film engaging.
An issue that becomes obviously more apparent the longer the film goes on, is that the villains need more screentime. Andy Serkis is completely engrossing in the scenes he’s in, embodying a madman with an appetite for destruction, who smiles with child-like joy at the chaos he causes. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger exudes so much charisma and gives such a great performance that I wished that his character was the protagonist. You’re able to understand his motivations, and even despite his end goal, he comes off as a somewhat sympathetic character. He’s so insanely watchable in this role that they should’ve have written more for him to do. Hell, just cut out Martin Freeman’s character from the last hour of the movie and make more scenes for that haircut.
The themes of isolationism and minority repression are the driving factors of the film and are handled well. Killmonger embodies the ideals of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam from the 1950’s, or even the Black Panther Party in the 60’s. A life of violence, hatred, and poverty leads him down a destructive path that T’Challa can’t seem to come to understand at first. How this affects the other characters at the end of the film helps elevate the themes further. Not to mention the effect it could have on the Marvel universe as a whole.
The movie has some cool shots. The action in the front half of the film is serviceable. But man oh man that last battle scene is awful. Completely cartoony, bizarre, and poorly choreographed, I just don’t have words to describe it.
Like. . .why?
Overall Black Panther is an average Marvel movie with some great villain performances and very topical themes that resonate in the modern world. Not great, and not terrible.
Score: 2.5/5 Stars
Oh, and the soundtrack was pretty poppin.
Venmo me money and share this with your coworkers.
Argue with me in the comments too!