Reviews: Black Panther 2018
A good-but-not-great Marvel
Black Panther is good. Is it one of the best Marvel movies? No, but it slots comfortably amongst the good ones, and confirms that Marvel is on a winning streak when it comes to quality outings. What Black Panther does well, it does very well. The story, while formulaic and fairly predictable, is weighty and dramatic enough to feel invested in. The acting is all-around excellent, with standout performances from Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan and a very solid supporting cast. Wakanda's design is gorgeous when it is allowed some time to sink in and shine, with particular attention to the costume and makeup work, which consistently remain vibrant and striking without merely feeling like a hodgepodge of awkwardly-digested influences. The music is surprisingly good when it's allowed to do its own thing. Erik Killmonger is one of the most compelling antagonists in recent superhero movie memory, and Ulysses Klaue makes for a very entertaining, hammy and quirky villain while he's on-screen. Ryan Coogler manages to put some of his usual directorial flourishes on screen, giving the movie more of a visual identity. That said, the film does have a few flaws that add up and hold it back from greatness. The special effects can get outright bad at times, with very noticeable and distracting CGI; the supporting cast, while well-acted, can feel somewhat bland and lacking in quirks compared to the main characters; the dialogue has a tendency to overexplain and feels more concerned with delivering big, meaningful speeches than creating enjoyable and organic exchanges between characters; the humor is very hit-or-miss, with some jokes coming in at fairly inappropriate moments (Thor:Ragnarok had the same problem, but it feels stranger here, due to the movie moving away from comedy); finally, the film's much-touted politics come across as very safe and don't truly offer any intelligent insights into real-world problems. Overall? One more solid stone to the Marvel edifice. PS: To anyone pretending that this is the first Marvel movie with a "directorial voice": no it's not. The two GOT Gs are *very clearly* Sean Gunn movies. Iron Man 3 is *very clearly* a Shane Black film.
Awesome Movie. Good Morals.
Black Panther is awesome all around. Visually its as as well put together as it is unique. I loved the look of the Afro Futuristic Wakanda, and all the little details they added in. The film really knew how to present African tribal culture as sophisticated and Classy. Most of the characters were memorable and entertaining which is always a huge bonus. I always like to find ways people could misconstrue a movie's message just for the hell of it but I found this film was pretty rock solid with its morals. It forces white people to consider what life would be like on the short end of the stick of racism and forces black people to consider what they would do if they had the long end. All the while promoting globalism and asking people to forgive each other. My only criticism is that it killed off Andy Serkis's character but that's easily forgivable. I still eagerly await a sequel.
Speculative fiction is meant to imagine possibilities beyond what we have already seen. And Black Panther does just that. It eschews the blockbuster action style of many superhero movies in favor of something more character-driven. While many have pointed out that some of the fight scene special effects are poorly executed, I feel like if you're going to see the movie for the fight scenes, you're missing the point. Black Panther takes our world and asks you "Can you imagine...?" Because it can and does. We are treated to characters who vivid, balancing a sense of being both larger than life and relatable. The setting is clearly designed thoughtfully and with great love for the concept. And if you don't get chills at Killmonger's closing lines, well, consult a priest, because you may be lacking a soul.
The best movie of the MCU
Black Panther is genuinely good. The characters are well-developed, have great interactions between each others, and all very sympathetic despite their own conflicting views. Some will criticize that T'Challa's development is simple if not simplistic, but I think it works; we don't need another origin story, he was introduced before. One little nitpick I'd have is that Shuri and M'Baku are too laidback to my taste for members of the nobility, but then royal brats do exists. Props to all the actors, but they did take the best ones. Killmonger is the best villain since Loki, and he's got way better scenes showcasing how badass, unhinged, but also sad he is deep down. In genuinely teared up for him in the ancestral planes. Klaue works well as a joker expy, a perfect minor villain who's memorable but doesn't overshadow anyone. I love how Wakanda is fleshed out. It has the best landscapes since Asgards, but also the costumes and all the specific cultural stuff like hidden tattoos, the mix of traditional culture and modernity. So props the photography director, costume director and all who had a hand in these. The musics too are very effective although none really qualifies as an ear worm which is a pity. I'm partial to CQC in terms of action, so Black Panther's richer use of fistfights, rings, and spear wielding is a plus for me. The movie has beautiful choregraphies, occasional impressive moves enhanced by great direction, and Black Panther's acrobatic fighting style is a pleasure to witness. The greatest weaknesses of this movies are some of the shortcuts the plot takes, like how Wakandian intelligence manages to learn Klaue will be in Korea or a certain disney death. Some SFX come straight out of the first X-Men movie, and again a disappointing final battle arena (come on, a train track, really Coogler?). But I don't think not great SFX and plot shortcuts really work against the movie. Overall the movie benefits from the strengths of introducing an exotic cast and part of the MCU, but is also beautiful, actually takes the time to make me empathize with the cast in its entirety. It's a great watch.
The Decent Movie Where Nothing Much Happens
On one hand I am utterly sick of assembly line Marvel movies that come out every quarter. On the other, I'm pleased that they've finally exhausted their supply of mainstream ones, and now have to resort to the lesser known, weird and interesting super heroes. Cue Black Panther, a movie I've been waiting yonks for, about the superpowered King of a secret, hyper-advanced African Nation called Wakanda. It's good, and not just in the typical boiler plate way Marvel makes perfectly adequate, disposable movies. It's hard to point to a specific reason for why it feels so much better, but a lot of it seems to be just down to the pure charisma of its cast. Everyone has a natural charm to them in a way distinct from the usual Marvel smart arse, one liner, Whedon sock puppets. There is also some difference in the approach, with an emphasis on handy gadgets, nonchalance, and spy craft that feels far more in common with a James Bond movie than anything else. Even the villains, which are usually the last thing Marvel bothers to think about, feel like a breath of fresh air here, using a bad guy with a genuinely sympathetic motivation beyond "Tony Stark was once a jerk to him". Finally, there is the inherent political baggage which comes in telling a superhero story set in the only un-colonised nation in Africa, and I'm glad that the movie doesn't hide from it one bit. Both hero and villain share a similar perspective on Africa's place in a world blemished by imperialism and slavery, even if their approaches to dealing with that baggage are quite different. Also, I like that the show addresses one of the main criticisms of the premise of Wakanda, in that it can't reasonably justify not sharing its knowledge with the rest of the world. There is kind of an issue though in that whilst the characters and vision is there, the story kind of isn't. When T'Challa becomes the Black Panther and King of Wakanda, the main threat comes in the form of a jolly arms dealer called Klaw who has already done all his villainous things before the story starts, and Killmongor, a man who says he is going to do bad things but it isn't apparent how soon that will be an actual problem. Lord knows we don't need another superhero movie about stopping a blue skylaser from blowing up the earth, but Black Panther's alternative doesn't have anywhere near the sense of urgency. In fact, there isn't a lot going on with the plot at all; it's ultimately a character driven thing that has kind of been squashed into a Marvel super hero Structure. The final product introduces a cool setting and characters, but does not have much of a story to take home afterwards.
A very good movie, and a good reminder that not all films are made for me.
So, this was a very good movie. Good action, comedy was almost always on point and rarely detracted from the stakes, easily my favorite villain of the MCU, and probably the best worldbuilding we've seen, especially given the handicap that Afro-Futurism has when it comes to the average audience member. But no, not every piece of it resonated with this white guy. Which is fine, not everything has to be made for me and mine, and it was a more than fun ride all the way through. Particular standout was not deifying Wakanda or the kings that came before. Wakanda's "Fuck you got mine" attitude is criticized sharply, and it's a good message to remember. In the end, for people like me, this might be a better movie to listen to other people talk about. I got a few things (Killmonger making an improvised Zulu Iklwa for example), but this feels like it's made to resonate to a lot of other people, and I'd love to see what they have to say.