Black Panther

"Wakanda forever!"

Hail to the king, baby.

Following the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, all gentle charisma and troubled stoicism) returns home to Wakanda to take his rightful place on the throne. Unbeknownst to the new king, the vengeful Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B. Jordan, all burning intensity and justified anger) has teamed up with Wakanda’s old enemy, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, full on supervillain campiness), to bring T'Challa down and take the throne, and the mantle of Black Panther, for himself.

Phase Three of Marvel's plan for global conquest, I mean, cinematic universe got off to a spectacular start with Civil War two years ago and hasn't put a foot wrong since. Black Panther isn't going to do anything to change that. This is another strong entry in a franchise that has reached a level of quality control most studios dream of. But I do feel that it isn't quite as strong as it could've been.

Everything gets off to a rather unpromising start with a clunky (but nicely designed) info dump about the history of the fictional nation of Wakanda (a loving realised Afrofuturist Shangri-La, despite the odd bit of dodgy green screen here and there). I am no fan of these exposition heavy intros. I know they serve a purpose, but they always feel like the lazy option. Then the film suddenly cuts to Oakland, California (director Ryan Coogler's hometown) in 1992 for a second prologue to a much better, more interesting film: a film that is aware of its own cultural significance and has a lot of important things to say, things that will make a lot of people in the audience uncomfortable (and so they should). This film you can tell Coogler wanted to make, it's the film Black Panther is for most of its two hour runtime, except for that bit halfway through where it jets off to South Korea to be play at being a Bond movie (and a bloody good Bond movie it is, too).

Then the third act comes along and everything that previously made Black Panther great is slowly pushed aside so we can have your conventional superhero flick big battle, where the heroes take on the bad guy and their minions and race against time to stop the thing. There's always a thing to stop. Normally this doesn't bother me too much. As predictable as final showdowns are, they are usually quite good. Sadly, this isn't the case here. The whole thing just lacks the vibrancy that the film's earlier, smaller scale, action scenes possessed. Plus, those armoured rhinos don't look that great. I love the concept, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

It’s a shame that Black Panther stumbles at the last hurdle, because it gets right what most of Marvel movies get wrong. In Jordan and Serkis it has two great villains, with Jordan the clear standout. His Killmonger is basically everything that Loki and his fans think the trickster god is; a fully three dimensional and sympathetic villain. This is also the best Marvel film for female characters, with great roles for Lupita Nyong'O (mercifully spared the thankless token love interest role so many Marvel leading ladies are lumbered with), Danai Gurira (who is as handy with a spear as she is with a katana), and Letitia Wright, who not only steals the film as T'Challa's tech genius baby sister, Shuri, but the whole goddamn MCU. If she is not in every single Marvel movie from this point on I am going to lodge a formal complaint with Kevin Feige.

This entire film is drowning in great acting talent. Coogler has assembled what is unquestionably the best cast ever put together for a comic book movie (until Avengers: Infinity War comes out). Unfortunately, this is also one of the film's problems. There are just too many amazing actors here that the film repeatedly struggles to find interesting things for them to do. Some are able to do wonders with the limited screentime they are given (looking at you, Sterling K. Brown and Winston Duke), while some of the cast's biggest names, like Angela Bassett or Forest Whitaker, are left floundering. Whitaker's character might as well have been named Basil Exposition since he exists purely to deliver crucial plot info and nothing more.


Notes and Quotes

--Not sure what Martin Freeman is doing here. He's not a terrible addition, just a noticeably unnecessary one, almost as if someone from on high stipulated that there must be at least one heroic white man in the movie.

--Apart from a few references to Civil War, the film is refreshingly untangled from the greater Marvel continuity. Which is surprising, considering this is the last film before Infinity War kicks off in the spring. There wasn't even a whiff of an Infinity Stone.

--Like so many comic book movie villains, Killmonger's scheme is a little too convoluted and reliant on connivance to be completely believable.

--I fully expect to see costume designer Ruth Carter's name up there come Oscar season next year.

Shuri: "Don't frighten me like that, colonizer!"

Shuri: "Great, another broken white boy for us to fix."

T'Chaka: "You are a good man, with a good heart. And it's hard for a good man to be a king."

Three out of four sneakers.

(Please note that the comments below include spoilers!)
--
Mark Greig is in the Bad Place More Mark Greig

10 comments:

Kathy said...

I loved Martin Freeman in the mix. But, then again, I just love Martin Freeman. I have since I first saw Love Actually.

I'm going against the grain with this one, even among my friends. This movie is good, but I didn't think it was anything particularly special, except for Michael B. Jordan as the villain. I had fun with it and will probably be buying it on blu-ray when it comes out. I got a kick out of Andy Serkis, but Jordan was by far the stronger villain. Because he made sense. I understood where he was coming from. While I didn't agree with him, I understood his motivation and his feelings, to the point where I'm going "You know, he's not actually wrong here." And I liked the conflict that T'Challa had, where he discovers that his father was a flawed man and made a bad mistake.

And I loved Skyfall breaking out in the middle of the movie. It's one of my favorite James Bond films. However, I don't think it was actually necessary. I loved it, but it's not necessary. There were other ways to capture Andy Serkis than break out into Skyfall. I was shocked they didn't have those Kimodo Dragons (however you spell that. I'm not wanting to look it up).

But, I agree--I wasn't really feeling this movie for the first, maybe quarter of the movie. Plus, I kept having to close my eyes whenever they showed that advisor with that plate through his bottom lip, because I kept getting squicked out. I thought it picked up considerably during and after South Korea.

An Honest Fangirl said...

I'm having a strongly hard time coherently articulating my thoughts when it comes to this movie. It's absolutely excellent, and the cultural and political impact and meaning behind this movie is incredibly and worth venerating, but something is still sitting weirdly with me. I think it's the ending. Yes, Killmonger was advocating for genocide, but he was also kind of right? Wakanda should have been doing something to better the world instead of hiding behind an invisibility shield. I wanted him to be able to continue to be a force in the MCU in the future, more so than a lot of other villains that we've seen come and go.

Gus Brunetti said...

Killmonger is indeed kind of right, and the film recognizes it. He just had the wrong method. T'chala knows his ancestors should have done more and ends the movie breaking the invisible barrier.

CH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CH said...

Sorry, I was not sure if the comments should be spoiler-free, so I thought I would add a spoiler warning to my comment.

SPOILERS IN THE COMMENT BELOW!!!

*

I just saw this today and I loved it. I agree with much of the review and comments. I am not sure it completely stood up to the hype. I thought the last battle scene was too long and detracted from the movie.

I also thought there was a bit of overkill making Killmonger evil. The character was already sympathetic because his anger was justified - but imagine if he had not murdered his girlfriend and hadn't killed Whitaker's character. With those murders, I had the reaction "Oh, ok, I am supposed to not like him." He would have been a much more nuanced and complex villain without those murders, in my opinion. However, this is a marvel superhero movie, and I am not certain they actually *want* complex villains.

A really interesting story would be the prequel with Sterling K Brown's character, how and why he betrayed Wakanda.

Billie Doux said...

I just added a note to the bottom of Mark's review that the comments include spoilers, so feel free, everyone.

I haven't seen it yet, but I'm sure I eventually will. It sure sounds good.

lazybasterd said...

Bear in mind the info dump at the beginning that you didn't like... That was a story young Killmonger's dad told him about his homeland.

Mark Greig said...

I'm aware of that, but still doesn't change how I feel about it.

Onanymous said...

I liked it, but sadly I didn't love it.

The production design was stunning and the way they merged technology with traditional aesthetic was inspired.
The wonderfully haughty, kick-ass warrior women were awesome and Shuri is definitely the best thing to come out of this movie.

My biggest problem was with the final battle. I just could not believe that citizens of a supposedly enlightened society would turn and fight their friends and neighbours without any reservations, just because a brand new king said so. And the way they were fighting, there must have been some casualties. How do you come back from something like that?

Rhino poaching is such a big problem here, that I spent a lot of the final battle going "don't hurt the rhinos!"

Also, Andy Serkis' accent... it's just such a stereotypically bad South African one. It doesn't really make sense either, since with a name like Ulysses, he clearly isn't meant to be Afrikaans.

Jeff Lipton said...

almost as if someone from on high stipulated that there must be at least one heroic white man in the movie.

Ding ding ding ding!!!!