Some of the best world-building yet from Marvel
Black Panther (2018): T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
These raw thoughts come to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after seeing the film.
I'll start this review by saying this: I can't help but be cynical with superhero movies nowadays. And in a “bottle episode” Marvel film like this, my cynicism is on full display. After all, in terms of the overarching Marvel cinematic universe, exactly one thing of note happens here. So, for those of you calling this Marvel's best and loving the film, take my feelings with a grain of salt. However, I can't deny my cynical side is conflicting mightily with the side of me that feels relieved and overjoyed to see that there is FINALLY a big budget action movie that is centered around a black protagonist and a country in Africa. I am also happy that it is going to make a bajillion dollars. That's a nice plus, and a big ol' F U to the studio heads who don't think movies with black protagonists will sell. To say this reckoning is long overdue is something of an understatement. So, I'm gonna let both sides come out here and see if I can decide what I think about this thing.
Let's be happy first. Yay happiness! FINALLY, we have a film centered in an African country, and the world-building of Wakanda is where this movie really shines. The culture of Wakanda is simply fascinating, and it allows conflicts within certain characters, like the one played by Daniel Kaluuya, to feel earned, developed, and have a great climatic conclusion. (Climatic conclusion - sounds like a marketing buzzword...) A character like his fails in most films because they're not given the screen-time and world-building to go along with their actions to validate them, but not in Black Panther. The intimacy of this film is where it shined: it's a bottle episode, but because of that it allows individual characters to be fleshed out, which make their decisions carry some weight by the end of it. This intimacy is something the Marvel franchise hasn't experienced in a while, so it does feel like a breath of fresh air for them. The action is also (mostly) enjoyable. My cynical side will remind me that the final boss fight takes place in darkness and is rather poorly shot, and it's the closets thing to the DC problem of having "two gods fighting each other," but all of the other scenes were awesome. The ritual fights around the waterfall in particular were GORGEOUS. Also, Chadwick Boseman was awesome as Black Panther. He is such a great actor, and I'm glad he is getting the recognition he deserves. Michael B. Jordan was awesome, too! He shined as the “villain” Killmonger, but the writing behind this character makes him easily the most dynamic and complex villain Marvel has ever seen. The real world ties with Killmonger make him fascinating and impossible to simply view as a cardboard villain, which is something that befalls so many Marvel villains.
Though he did fall into a few stereotypical villain tropes, which is where my cynical side takes over. It is easy to sum this film up as “just another comic book movie,” and that phrase is increasingly wearing on me. At the end of the day, in terms of the overall Marvel cinematic universe, not much happens. After literally 30 comic book films since Iron Man, it can be tough for me to swallow another “bottle episode” within the MCU. And that last boss fight....what was that? Surely director Ryan Coogler (who I LOVE, by the way. He deserves this recognition after the Academy glanced over his role directing Creed a few years back) could've found a better way to film this final sequence. Though my optimistic side will be quick to remind me that it is resolved SO beautifully. Oh, right! The score! I liked how the score had a lot of cultural influences within it, but too many times was it just like every other Marvel score: just there to be there. Why couldn't this score go all-in on its world and its African influences? Fresh off hearing the lovely and culturally influenced score from Coco, this time around I couldn't help but be sorely disappointed. Despite the fact that this is arguably the best score I've ever heard in a Marvel movie. (Low bar outside of the main theme) But I will admit this film largely avoids most of the standard comic book film tropes. Even Killmonger only felt like a cardboard villain once or twice, and the struggles some of the characters around Killmonger went through as his plot developed did do a good job to offset them.
I think this is a sign that my cynical side is losing out this round. Yes, Black Panther is a good movie buoyed by the wonderful world-building surrounding Wakanda. Chadwick Bosenan, Lupita Nyong’o, and the rest of the cast were AMAZING. I freaking love this cast! And Martin Freeman being the only white guy led to some pretty hilarious moments that we're used to the sole black guy in a film experiencing. Buuuuut I can't deny the fact that, at the end of the day, it is “just another superhero movie” and the tropes that do come out of this prevent the movie from achieving greatness. See it for the awesome world-building, just make sure to turn it into a double feature and see something like Call Me by Your Name while you're there, ya?
My Number: 7/10 Good.
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