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Reviews Film / Black Panther 2018

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05/28/2018 01:55:17 •••

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.

03/26/2018 00:00:00

Actually, interestingly enough, Iron Man 3 is ultimately not Shane Black\'s film. His vision had a female as the villain. What happened? Marvel thought that a female villain wouldn\'t sell toys. Shane Black himself said that Marvel corporate made him change the villain to a male character in an Uproxx interview. Damn shame too because Tony Stark fully shedding his playboy persona would have been far more pronounced if they had stuck with a female villain.

03/26/2018 00:00:00

It is still very much a Shane Black film. Takes place over Christmas? Check. A kidnapping as a plot device? Check. Snarky, referential dialogue? Check. Just because he didn\'t have total control doesn\'t mean it doesn\'t have a directorial voice. By that same logic, BP isn\'t the director\'s movie because it\'s not his original, 4-hour-long cut.

03/27/2018 00:00:00

Yeah I would have to agree that IM 3 definitely has the thumbprint of Shane Black all over it (albeit with a bit of studio tinkering/micromanagement). That said, just because BP isn\'t the first to have a clear \"director\'s voice\" doesn\'t meanthatvoice shouldn\'t still be lauded.

03/30/2018 00:00:00

That I agree with. I was more arguing that because people seem very, very intent on shitting on every single other Marvel movie in order to prop that one up, because it\'s not enough that it\'s a good Marvel movie, it has to be THE BESTEST MARVEL MOVIE EVER GUYS and a flawless masterpiece of cinema.

03/30/2018 00:00:00

What do you mean when you say that the film\'s politics come across as \"safe\", just out of curiosity?

03/31/2018 00:00:00

It's a fairly standard "extremism and isolationism are bad and the world would be much better if everyone was nice to everyone else" kind of message. It's not a BAD message, mind you, but I've heard pretty much the same one in every single Marvel movie. Not that I wanted the movie to preach black revolutionary politics at me for its whole lenght, but maybe getting a tiny bit more into African issues (beyond "things are bad because we are oppressed") would have helped.

05/22/2018 00:00:00

When I look back on it after the fact, I think it feels like this film has some vaguely black nationalist sympathies. That\'s not a criticism in itself, because I don\'t have a problem with black nationalism in principle and it can promote whatever message it wants, but unless you can identify with Black Panther\'s social commentary, a lot of it might just fall flat, especially in terms of characterization.

To compare, I find Thanos in Infinity Wars sympathetic because despite being a genocidal, god-like, alien conqueror, his motivations are more or less altruistic, and he\'s entirely capable of some warped kind of empathy. Killmonger doesn\'t have that. Outside the context of the film\'s social critcism, he\'s an arrogant, self-pitying douchebag who has more in common with Ronan the Accuser than anyone else.

As for Black Panther himself, he\'s pretty clearly supposed to be developing into a merciful paragon (see him agreeing with some of Killmonger\'s criticisms, even though he has no real reason to), but it ends up hindering him more than it helps. If he\'d killed Klaue, he\'d have retained the Border Tribe\'s loyalty and Killmonger wouldn\'t have been able to use his body as an in. If he\'d killed Killmonger, he would\'ve retained the throne and avoided in-fighting between his and Killmonger\'s loyalists, thereby staving off a lot of bloodshed. The only time he decides to spare someone without it backfiring is with M\'Baku, and if he\'d killed either of the other two above, it wouldn\'t have made much difference if he\'d killed M\'Baku anyway.

05/26/2018 00:00:00

I agree with this review. I felt the same way. Cliche but enjoyable. Other than the costumes and the race, it was about as generic Marvel as you could get.

I have no idea how it managed to hit a billion, it seemed to be equivalent to Captain America 2 at best.

05/27/2018 00:00:00

I find Thanos in Infinity Wars sympathetic because despite being a genocidal, god-like, alien conqueror, his motivations are more or less altruistic

Thanos murdered 99% of the dwarves just because he could. After that he found a fleeing group of refugees, the last of their kind, and killed half of them while destroying their only remaining home. None of that \"saves resources\". At least when Killmonger is needlessly vicious, it\'s explained that much of it comes from his military training and harsh upbringing building him that way. Thanos seems to have had a pretty decent life as the Al Capone of the galaxy.

If he\'d killed Klaue, he\'d have retained the Border Tribe\'s loyalty

But at the cost of making an enemy of the CIA and showing the rest of the world on video the head of a nation murdering a man in public.

If he\'d killed Killmonger, he would\'ve retained the throne and avoided in-fighting between his and Killmonger\'s loyalists

Perhaps, but he had no idea that Killmonger had managed to build loyalty among himself and the Border Tribe. He certainly didn\'t hesitate to stab him the second time.

05/27/2018 00:00:00

Thanos murdered 99% of the dwarves just because he could. After that he found a fleeing group of refugees, the last of their kind, and killed half of them while destroying their only remaining home. None of that \"saves resources\".

Of course it doesn\'t. Thanos has cognitive dissonance oozing out of every pore. His motives (which again, are altruistic) don\'t make him any less evil, and everyone else in the cast is rightly unsympathetic to him. But he can at least display some sympathy for the people he\'s going up against, and he takes little, if any, pleasure in what he does; it\'s just something he\'s managed to convince himself needs to be done, no matter the cost, even if it means bending his own rules on occasion.

Killmonger\'s actions and attitude speak louder than his backstory; he never acts on anything but rage and resentment, and his attitude hardly ever goes beyond grief and a self-aggrandizing victim complex padded over with braggadocio. Ronan lost three generations of his paternal line in the war against Xandar, which was concluded only recently by the time of Guardians of the Galaxy. But we\'re supposed to feel sorry for Killmonger and not him because Killmonger is the one we see crying over it (even though Ronan presumably mourned just as much) and because the film\'s social commentary depends on us doing so.

I\'ll give you that T\'Challa never had much of an opportunity to kill Klaue anyway, but his failure to do so has arguably worse consequences, and it doesn\'t do much to help the film\'s overall argument that sparing one\'s enemies is preferable to killing them. Not killing Killmonger the first time around was just straight-up naive, and if he couldn\'t see that he was starting to rally support among W\'kabi and the others, then he was also oblivious and not good at communicating with his subjects and council and picking up on their intentions. If this was treated as more of a flaw that he had to overcome in order to rule effectively, that would be one thing, but it really isn\'t. We\'re not supposed to see him as erring in any way other than in his attitude towards the outside world and maybe in his idealization of Wakanda\'s past.

05/27/2018 00:00:00

His motives (which again, are altruistic) don\'t make him any less evil

But how is it altruistic to kill all but one of a people, or destroy refugees\' last remaining home? He doesn\'t sound altruistic. He sounds like someone who\'s so resentful about having been exiled from Titan that he\'s taking it out on everyone else. How is it sympathetic to take a king of a now-dead people and ruin his hands while boasting they\'re your property? Someone wouldn\'t do that if they didn\'t enjoy it.

The difference between Killmonger and Ronan is that we see that Killmonger\'s people are indeed oppressed and in need of aid, so his violently twisted goals do have a measure of sympathy. Ronan\'s people appear to be fine, still a reigning empire, and Guardians 2 confirms they have a large slave industry. Likewise Thanos\'s cause doesn\'t have much visible necessity to it; Asgard has the exact opposite problem of overpopulation, and he\'s had plenty of opportunity in however long he\'s lived and what riches he\'s accumulated to see that all the other planets may have different problems and needs than what his homeworld Titan did.

Black Panther the film doesn\'t really have a overall \"sparing enemies is always good\" message. From the start of the film, T\'challa kills most of his opponents, and several times has to be talked out of killing an enemy. Sparing M\'Baku did gain him powerful allies, but neither was it treated as a moral deficiency that he killed most of Klaue\'s gang and the captors in Nigeria. At best its message of sparing is \"sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn\'t\".

05/27/2018 00:00:00

I said Thanos\' motives were basically altruistic, not that he was an altruistic person overall, or that he isn\'t willing to violate his broader ideology for the sake of pragmatism (preventing the dwarves from making any more weapons); he is, and that\'s part of what makes him evil. But he\'s clearly conflicted, and has to play slippery word games half the time (he never explicitly promised that he would spare the dwarves, so therefore in his own mind turning around and killing them wasn\'t dishonest) to maintain his sense of self and stay functional. He\'s not a good guy by anyone\'s definition, but his conscience, such as it is, weighs more heavily on him than it does someone like Killmonger or Ronan.

Even if we take it for granted that Killmonger\'s people (who can only really be said to constitute a people if you adhere to some kind of black pan-nationalism) are oppressed worldwide in the way he says they are, it doesn\'t follow that Wakanda (which does not identify with countries outside of its borders, regardless of whether the people there \"look like them\" or not) has or ever had any responsibility for them. Killmonger is Wakandan by birth, so T\'Chaka is definitely at fault for leaving him behind with no explanation or means of support, but that\'s as far as it goes.

05/27/2018 00:00:00

If he wanted simply to prevent the dwarves from building more weapons, there were plenty of other more noble and practical ways for him to do that, like destroying the forge, or dumping the 300 of them (or 150 :p ) onto an uninhabited island, or killing the king who actually built the Gauntlet.

it doesn\'t follow that Wakanda has or ever had any responsibility for them

One of the oldest conventions of superhero stories is \"with great power comes great responsibility\". That if one has the means to prevent disaster and does not, that the consequences are on them. This applies not only to individuals\' responsibility, but to nations. In a way, Black Panther\'s ending marks the end of the \"superpowers\" metaphor by making it explicit in political action.

05/27/2018 00:00:00

Sure, but Thanos isn\'t noble or meant to be seen as noble. But the fact that he\'s conflicted over what he does humanizes him for me in a way that Killmonger wasn\'t.

I don\'t agree with the \"with great power comes great responsibility\" moral being applied to nations. There\'s a lot to be said about isolationism, but if the film wanted to make a moral argument against it, then I reject that moral argument.

05/28/2018 00:00:00

I\'m not sure where he was conflicted or should experience conflict over \"should all I murder all the dwarves and then torture the last survivor\". Doesn\'t seem like a gray area situation, and arguably being morally reluctant over that is more troubling than knowing it\'s evil while doing it.

05/28/2018 00:00:00

I didn\'t say the situation was gray or that Thanos was a gray character; he\'s evil. But:

1. He\'s personally Affably Evil in a way Killmonger wasn\'t, which makes him more palatable for me to watch.

2. The movie recognizes that Thanos is iredeemably evil, and while it humanizes him, it doesn\'t have the characters go out of their way to treat him as \"having a point\" like Black Panther did with Killmonger.

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