Black Panther: Multiplicities of Identity/ A Pretty Good Film with Some Vanilla Marvel Storytelling


Video Review comes with mentioned spoiler warning–
Directed By: Ryan Coogler Written By: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole based on the comic by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Produced by: Kevin Feige Music By: Ludwig Goransson Original Songs by Kendrick Lamar Cinematography by Rachel Morrison Production Design by Hannah Beachler Edited by Debbie Berman Michael P. Shawver Costumes Designed by Ruth E. Carter a Marvel Studios Production

Production Budget: $200 Million – *bold represents black


forthcoming: I will place less faith in reviews. this movie Was pretty good, but didn’t quite match the hype. WHY? WELL a similar thing happened with Thor: Ragnarok where reviews come out early and praise it like it’s best picture, only to substantially cool later. critics get invited to a glitzy premiere in at Disney’s El Capitain Theatre and rub elbows with movie stars, they inCoRPORATE more ABOUT how the movie made them feel rather than how it objectively might be for most viewers, which is amateur hour. most of us are aware of Wonder Woman and Black Panther from a socio-political standpoint and their monumental impact, many of THESE valuable ANALYSeS from non-film critics SHOULD BE SEPARATE FROM movie REVIEWS because it isn’t as valuable to audience members and may often lead to virtue signaling.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS–

I previously gave Ryan Coogler’s last two movies Fruitvale Station and Creed the highest possible ratings on this site, so does Black Panther reach the same heights? No. But it has a lot more ideas ion its brain. Most of the things that elevated those movies are either absent here or fail to work on a movie of this scale’s favour. The one exception is his regular collaborator, actor Michael B. Jordan who undoubtedly creates the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villain Erik Killmonger. Himself a replication of Magneto who was a replication of Malcolm X, Killmonger is an intelligent, tragic figure who is interesting and sympathetic, more so than Black Panther himself. I found myself rooting for the more interesting villain throughout the movie over the hero who seems sanded down from his Captain America: Civil War appearance. Because the villain’s inner character is so fleshed out his exterior is partly forgiven for being the latest dark version of the protagonist that Marvel did with Iron Man (Iron Monger) The Incredible Hulk (Abomination), Ant Man (Yellow Jacket) to name a few.

The Marvel repeats don’t end there though, Everett Ross (played by Martin Freeman in a distracting American Accent, similar to Doctor Strange‘s Benedict Cumberbatch) is a so far pointless mythos character can only be assumed to be included to make white audiences feel more comfortable. We don’t care. He gets way too much screen time in a movie about Black power and his climax is too reminiscent of the throwaway dogfight  spaceship battle with Rocket Raccoon over Nova Prime in Guardians of the Galaxy which only serves to raise the stakes and have more things going on. His presence and the ultimate benefactor of Vibranium weaponry undermines the themes of the movie in order to maintain continuity with the MCU.  Had he been taken out the film entirely it would have been more brisk as pacing is its biggest problem.

It takes a while to get going and doesn’t do a good job of filling you in along the way. The opening scene is a nightmare exposition of sci-fi plot proportions with heavy context the audience isn’t properly briefed on and doesn’t receive payoff until much later on when it’s partially forgotten. This type of villain origin story worked in Spider-Man: Homecoming because it was fresh, and the motives were uncomplicated. Here in Black Panther it is overwritten and under-directed. It is worthwhile noting the payoff later on does function as a touching moment based on the strength of its performance rather than the script which isn’t Coogler’s strong point. However he does nail the broad strokes. The movie does feel like it stops and starts a few too many times and its action sequences are too CGI filled and aren’t especially good. What surprises me most is that the colour grading especially following Guardians 2 and Thor 3 isn’t as colourful. Due to the cultural setting it’s not as washed out as the early films or the latter Captain America’s but its an unexpected shortcoming.

It’s unfortunate none of the strengths of Ryan Coogler’s previous films make it over aside from Michael B. Jordan who kinda brings himself. There’s Rachel Morrison (Oscar-nominated for Mudbound) but aside from a few sunlight drenched shots and one or two upside down/inverted shots ripped straight out of Star Trek it’s pretty uninspired. An “unbroken” take set in a casino is very obviously blended digital composite to look like a single shot a trick I’ve seen so many times it’s lost its flair. Additionally the production designer is the same but the CGI filled environments look very flat and green screen is bad especially for 2018. It was Ryan Coogler’s request that he keep part of his team from earlier movies to retain his identity and that’s what Marvel paid for. I see however little of it in the final product and hope he gets back to smaller movies soon. This is a $200 million dollar movie that could have been done with a $80 million dollar budget if it weren’t for a ridiculously expensive CGI filled exposition. Seriously if it weren’t Disney I wouldn’t think any company would have this much money to burn. This is a company that hired the world’s yo-yo champion to do a simple trick then kept him on payroll for an entire movie, a $250 million dollar budgeted movie about the desert. I do understand the importance to some about what the price tag means for confidence in black cinema.

Danai Gurira as Okoye, Wakanda a Military Leader, portrayed as loyal to her country to a fault, challenges the protagonist T’Challa at every turn, and turns on her husband and democratically elected leader in a heartbeat.

On a feminist level, this movie could have been improved. Of course there’s no misogyny here I just doubt the writers were thinking about the female characters as much as they deserved. They aren’t independent, they don’t have their own arcs, they act only to fulfill the obligations of the story. Imagine if Okoye had joined Killmonger, the establishment would be TOTALLY SCREWED and there would be actual stakes! I understand her character contributes to the subtext of nobility versus corruption serving as a natural development towards infighting, leading to power struggles in resource rich African nations. I just wish her own character development approached the complicated themes of Black Identity. As for gorgeous Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (1 of 2 winners, the other a distracting Forrest Whitaker who doesn’t seem like he’s trying anymore), who has a M.F.A. from Yale why must she be thrust into yet another underwritten role? She is an espionage agent who is more importantly the ex-girlfriend of the hero. I know this because she is introduced following his actions of blowing her cover which is also blown later on again following the inevitable cameo of the now forever creepy Stan Lee (Following Pixar’s John Lasseter that means Disney is 0-2 in supporting #TimesUp.) You know by the end that she’s going to have to get back together with him for no reason and put up with his hero shit even though their relationship is not really given dimension. Had first choice director Ava DuVernay (who opted for A Wrinkle In Time) proceeded with her vision the women would have had more to do rather than to just serve men. Some reviews talk a big game about how strong they are but they are simplified as one of them is just a hipper version of James Bond’s Q. If only the movie had something to say specifically about black masculine identity too it would have been more justified. As it stands it’s a minor shortcoming.

The more you think about Black Panther the more it may remind you of blander Marvel projects, with the Hamlet style plot formula warmed over from the first Thor, but it’s meatier and emotionally resonant with Michael B. Jordan’s charming performance and enough commentary to hang with Captain America 2. This movie’s greatest asset is its distinct cultural identity giving it the ability to be elevated from the design by committee elements of previous Disney movies like Thor: The Dark World. It may be poorly set decorated, flatly lit and edited with jarring shots that take you out of it with pacing that puts you to sleep, but when Black Panther is given freedom to assert its own identity like the African rooted musical notes and Kendrick Lamar focused songs over the Marvel Symphonic Universe, its diversity greatly improves the cinema. What could be blacker and certainly in this case better?

Note:

  • Some Inspiration: The obnoxious Salon article; since corrected with a dozen asterisks that still kind of negates the Wesley Snipes starring Marvel comic blockbuster Blade series of the late 90’s early 2000’s exemplifies many of my early arguments that informed this review/analysis: Editorial columnists deciding to become film critics and movie historians and not being very good at it at all (who knew it could be so hard?). Magazines with large followings suddenly, randomly reviewing movies by jumping on the cultural bandwagon help turn this movie and Wonder Woman‘s Rotten Tomatoes scores into The Shawshank Redemption of IMDB Ratings and that’s not a good thing. It leads to inflated (with an incomparable number of reviews) and unreasonable expectations for moviegoers and potential fans [which is why you should always be the first to see a movie]. Such practice is ALWAYS the source of BACKLASH and why it’s increased in recent years. I will say the article had at least had one element of good journalism, it provoked me.

A Video Playlist Documenting My Expectations of the movie Before & After

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Stan Lee denied the charges that are not yet proven. Why spoil a well thought out and written review with allegations we know nothing about. Dumb.

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