Marvel's Black Panther features a killer soundtrack and reliable performances all-around, but its story lacks surprises and the action struggles when compared to other Marvel films.
Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station & Creed) enters “the big leagues” with Marvel’s Black Panther, a somewhat monumental feat for the studio that has mostly featured films that skew towards the white male demographic. If anything, Black Panther represents a break from the norm, a film not afraid to change up the mold and properly represent African American directors, writers, actors, actresses and musicians.
Black Panther is a film that’s not afraid to rely on its exceptional talent and character mythology to tell a Marvel film that’s a little different, not just in execution, but in perspective.
The film opens during the riots and violence-filled California of 1992, which doesn’t seem too different than parts of present day America. Its heroes share similar conflicts that fan-favorites like Tony Stark or Chris Rogers face, yet it approaches the characters differently, covering both the extensive roots of Wakanda and the practicality of the “outside” world.
This is mostly balanced and well-done, thanks to director/writer Ryan Coogler. As far as I’m concerned, Coogler hasn’t really made a bad film. Fruitvale Station is a gut-turning emotional rollercoaster, while Creed represents one of the best reboot/sequels that I’ve seen yet, paying homage to everything before it, while steering the series in a brand-new direction.
Black Panther might be Coogler’s most accessible film yet, trading in some of that deeper emotional or inventive storytelling for something that’s visually crazy, but structured in a very familiar manner, especially when compared to other MCU films.
There’s a Shakespearean tone to the writing that makes each monologue or piece of brief dialogue feel elegant and thoughtful. Part of this is because of the film’s cript, while the other is because of the cast of greats, including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira.
There’s honestly not a bad or mediocre performance among the whole film. Boseman completely becomes the Black Panther with a firm, yet admirable performance that captures the good-hearted nature of the character and the drive behind protecting his people and their way of life.
Michael B. Jordan finally gets a chance to play the slimy and unlikable villain, yet he makes him totally likable and justifiably angry. Up until now, Coogler and B. Jordan’s partnership has mostly consisted of B. Jordan playing the main character and with conflicting, yet always good intentions and motivations. Now, he’s able to chew up the scenery as the outcast of the land — a man simply trying to take what he believes is rightfully his.
The rest of the film is scattered with steady performances, including Andy Serkis WITHOUT motion-capture stuff on and Martin Freeman with the most American accent that I’ve ever heard.
Black Panther is part 007 and part typical Marvel affair, with a dash of spice and third-world creativity. Wakanda appears to be a poor country with not much to offer, but the reality is James Bond tech on steroids and without the government conflict or turmoil. For the most part, the Wakanda people are peaceful and not looking to get involved in the wars of the world, which is an interesting and reflective stance to take in this day and age.
I dug the intentions of the film very much. I feel that Black Panther is a big step for Marvel and a great opportunity for a filmmaker like Ryan Coogler to come into a big budget tentpole and leave his own mark, without much compromise.
On that same note, Black Panther does suffer from “origins story” flub. Watching the Black Panther rise, fall and then rise again feels painfully predictable and lacking of any real urgency. I appreciate that Marvel had the decency to introduce him in Captain America: Civil War, but I still feel like Black Panther spent too much time on character-building that didn’t really lend a hand to the characters or the greater story.
There are no twists or surprises in store for those trekking out to the cinemas this weekend to see Black Panther. It’s mostly a “get what you see” type film, with the trailers really ruining the film’s short third act action that brings about the conclusion in a deflating manner.
I struggle coming to a hard conclusion on the film. I didn’t hate anything about the film, but I also didn’t fall in love with it either. As it stands, Black Panther is a good Marvel film and an okay origins story. It’s performers and filmmaker really elevate what could have been a disaster, yet they don’t bother fixing the script or general flow of the entire film.
If Black Panther feels familiar don’t be alarmed, because it shares the same skeleton structure as just about every other Marvel origins story.