After years of watching the Avengers fight mediocre enemies whist systemically coming out unharmed from one over-the-top CGI firework after another, I’ve been getting a little bored of superhero films lately. Plus, I never quite recovered from how shit Batman v Superman is. I wasn’t actually planning to watch Black Panther until I showed up at the cinema and realised the movie I fancied was sold out.
No regrets though!
Proper villain at last
This is one of the best Marvel films to date. There is one aspect which elevates it above recent releases: a credible villain with emotional depth and understandable motivations. It certainly contrasts with the Apocalypses of this world, out to kill everyone because they’re well into evilness and that.
Erik Killonger’s character has bad intentions, but they originate from personal experiences one can empathize with. Like Magneto – also a great baddie – he has the cool Malcolm X-factor. He remains consistent even in death (spoiler warning), without falling into the tempting cheese of deathbed redemption. It’s a shame that Michael B. Jordan won’t appear again, but the correct move script wise.
The cast is good and the chemistry believable, particularly between Black Panther and ex-girlfriend Nakia. I love the way this worshiped, superhuman king loses his composure like a schoolboy in front of the girl he fancies. It works.
Shuri is great as the playful/geeky little sister, and Andy Serkis convincing as madman Klaw in a rare appearance without a GC mask. The humour is classic Marvel, in a good way. While the fight scenes are not breathtaking – some in fact bang average – actually caring about characters involved makes them epic and adds intensity. The tribal fights for the throne spring to mind.
Having lived in London almost a decade and grown up in a cosmopolitan environment, I like to think of myself as virtually colour blind. That said, I’d be lying if I pretended Black Panther didn’t look different from the average blockbuster. It’s a big moment for cinema and diversity, like Wonder Woman was.
The idea some kids can finally look up to heroes that look like them and come from the same places is powerful, and it’s cool. Culturally, it also resonates with present day through the dilemma of power and intervention. The discussion around Wakanda’s global role and moral responsibility is reminiscent of public discourse around the Syrian conflict.
The film isn’t perfect, and the pacing noticeably awkward at times. While the first act is about tracking Klaw, the real theme of the story and fight for Wakanda’s throne only comes alive in the last half hour or so. This means the true villain and central struggle remain peripheral for much of the story. Also, the movie ends at the beginning of a much more interesting plot, as the world reacts to an open Wakanda. Look forward to seeing this unfold in the next film.
Finally, while visually the film is ambitious and generally looks good – most shots of Africa are awesome – these are not the best special effects. The beginning scene when T’Challa is crowned king whist looking up to computer generated figures carelessly pasted onto the waterfall background isn’t very good. Perhaps this is the snobbery of a dedicated Star Wars fan accustomed to the best of CGI in town, but the point still stands.
Black Panther is, along with Deadpool and Guardian of the Galaxy, one of my favourite superhero film in recent years. The story is a good stand alone, in contrast with some of the previous Marvels which increasingly feel like mere additional pieces to the giant winky-winky cinematic universal puzzle.
Not only has Black Panther some truly compelling characters including its most layered villain to date, it also touches on relevant societal issues in a nuanced way, rather than the classic good v evil gig.