BLACK PANTHER

BLACK PANTHER

Published On February 18, 2018 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

BLACK PANTHER
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Michael P. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke
Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Based on the “Black Panther” comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Rachel Morrison
Edited by Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello
Music by Ludwig Goransson

 

Disney and Marvel’s “Black Panther” strikes a strong, heroic, entertaining mark—with the film’s overall quality and enjoyable entertainment factors—and with the film’s inherent, concurrent social, civil rights and human rights messages, within the film and relating to the film’s basic identity itself.

“Black Panther” is a good superhero movie–good, not necessarily great–although at this point, with any superhero movie, no matter how good it is, some basic elements are getting so tired and worn and cliched, it’s time to put some of them to rest for a while–but the movie makes a mark by sending messages of social, civil rights and human rights empowerment in the movie’s story, and by just being what the movie is itself–a movie with a black superhero, with a mostly-black cast, in a usually mostly-white superhero world.

However, also, it should be noted, in terms of film history and very basic accuracy: “Black Panther” is not the first superhero movie with a black superhero, and in fact, “Black Panther” is at least the tenth—that’s tenth—big-budget Hollywood film with a black superhero! Wesley Snipes was a black superhero a whopping twenty years ago–in 1998 (and in two sequels that stretched through the ensuing years all the way to 2004); and Will Smith was a black superhero ten years ago in “Hancock,” in 2008. And Will Smith played another black superhero, Deadshot, just two recent years ago in “Suicide Squad.” There was also Spawn, Blankman and Meteor Man! Again: “Black Panther” is actually the tenth movie with a black superhero! There’s nothing behind noting this except to note this accurately for those wondering about the history of this particular area of the superhero and comic book movie genres.

In “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman yet again scores a good, solid, highly-watchable performance as the title character, T’Challa, who is also known as Black Panther, and who is the leader of the fictional African country of Wakanda that harbors–and hides–all sorts of powerful, mystical and mysterious elements, plants, technology and powers. Boseman has had one of the more fascinating film acting careers in recent years–he previously played Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get on Up,” and Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s horribly-unseen and excellent film biography “Marshall.” Boseman was excellent in all of these films, and “42” and “Marshall” were particularly excellent film biographies. “Marshall,” alas, was one of the better films overall of 2017, yet it was not a commercial success. The film should have been a huge hit.

Despite what some folks are breathlessly saying, “Black Panther” is not an excellent film, it’s not really a game-changer on a large scale, and it is hampered by some of the many shopworn cliches that regularly scar superhero, comic book, action and adventure films. Additionally, there are a few passages—just a few–that are a bit cringe-worthy in terms of dialogue, cliche-factor, costuming and set pieces; there’s too many attempts to be too modern and too cool and too street-savvy, which at times are a bit embarrassing; and the movie’s run-time, at two hours and fifteen minutes, could have easily been trimmed and edited better, all for the movie’s betterment. It’s fun, it’s good, it’s worth-seeing—in a movie theater, by the way, not on a television or computer screen–but it assuredly does not break any new, innovative ground in the superhero, comic book, action and adventure genres on any other levels, aside from the aforementioned civic and social points.

The problems that arise here are the same problems that inflict the superhero and comic genres overall, and although they subsided for a while in recent years in a stream of quality, inventive, original and at times breathtakingly dazzling films—“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Doctor Strange,” “Ant-Man,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Deadpool” and “Wonder Woman”—some suggestions of tiredness are starting to appear in the genres yet again. It’s an overly familiar wave of, well, familiarity, regarding these genre films in general: tired superhero fistfight battles in varying elaborate sets amid varying things crashing, falling, moving, swirling, burning and exploding around them; similar plots; similar side characters who serve similar plot purposes; similar double-dealing agent sub-plots and characters who also serve similar plot purposes; similar superhero-gains-superhuman-powers-and-then-loses-superhuman-powers-in-dramatic-manners subplots and plot points; similar villians who have a close emotion attachment to the superhero; similar back stories involving the superhero’s sci-fi/fantasy ancestral and/or genetic backgrounds; and numerous other similar plot points. Even some of the trademark special effects razzle-dazzle technological effects—while always honorable, respectable and praiseworthy and being always mindful of the extremely detailed, tenuous and painstaking hard work that goes into creating these effects by hundreds of people and dozens of companies—are starting to feel the same in film after film. And it should be noted that all of the above criticisms have been noted not just by film critics—but by diehard film, superhero, comic book, sci-fi, fantasy and action-adventure fans, of all ages, backgrounds and levels of fandom.

The answer is really for Hollywood to take another bit of a break in the superhero genre, as audiences could be nearing yet another overload and saturation level—psychologically, at least, as all of the above-mentioned films have done well at the box office, and “Black Panther” is also expected to do quite well. But often, as everyone knows, simple box office numbers do not adequately gauge film excellence and even guarantees that the next batch of films in a particular genre will do well. Hollywood is always one huge flop away from disaster at the box office—in any genre. But the superhero and comic book genres are particularly vulnerable, diehard fans or no diehard fans.

Nevertheless, that said, for now “Black Panther” is a good, entertaining movie that’s worth seeing at the box office.

The storyline is filled with political, geo-political, social, civic and even royalty palace intrigue, double-dealings, double-crosses—and outright lies and deception, from nearly all of the main characters. T’Challa, the Black Panther, is himself the son of a previous Wakanda king who covered up questionable deeds to do what he thought was best for his country. Wakanda’s rulers themselves are the overseers of an elaborate international lie and cover-up—one which they oversee because they think it’s best for their country—but which casts the country and its rulers in an also-questionable light. T’Challa faces an internal Wakanda challenge—and general internal country strife and division-from the leader of one of the country’s tribes—who actually challenges T’Challa’s right to be the country’s king. T’Challa’s cousin, Erik, returns to Wakanda after a life abroad—and promptly challenges T’Challa as king—again. Meanwhile, others in the royal circle are rising up to oppose T’Challa and support Erik as king. Meanwhile, there remains a strong, royal family who is steadfast in their support of T’Challa as king, and to keeping Wakanda as it’s always been—isolated, in most traditional international diplomatic manners and customs, from the rest of world. There are also continued rebellions led by various villians to deal with (details not to be detailed specifically, so as not to reveal spoilers). All is not well in Wakanda, and it’s up to a heroic, conflicted and caring T’Challa to deal with the villians, regain his throne, restore stability to his country, re-unite his family and his country’s tribe, and restore his country’s international standing in the world.

Co-writers Ryan Coogler, who is also the film’s director, and Joe Robert Cole are correct and smart about keeping the film’s story focused on various conflicting political elements that wrap themselves around the characters and the country tightly, so all of the characters are given deeper, more pressing diplomatic, social and civic issues to worry about. Those story and plot points do add to the quality of the film’s basic story and script. But despite that desire to be more, some of the dialogue and underlying plot points—as previously noted—also still tend to dip into that area of familiarity just a bit too much. There is much up on the screen in terms of story, characters, plot devices, surprises and double-dealings, but, again, it’s almost too much. Some of the dialogue is stilted and over-simplified at times; some of the settings are a bit over the top, and some of the characters could have benefitted from some deeper, more eloquent dialogue.

While the settings, production design and art direction are all impressive, colorful and keep the film grounded in the superhero and comic book genres in a good way, at times, some of the costumes and set designs veer toward being over the top and distracting. Yes, “Black Panther” is based on the works of the comic books of the same name by the great, brilliant Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, even the great and brilliant Lee and Kirby could be a little big corny, clichéd and, yes, over-the-top at times. Some of all of that has a place in comic books and in superhero and comic book movies, but that place needs to be dolloped out in small portions at just the right time, with just the right sense of timing, pacing and editing. The aforementioned superhero and comic book films mentioned just a few paragraphs ago were all expert at these qualities—producing just the right mix of entertainment, message, comic book craziness, superhero fantasy, drama and humor to result in just the right mix of filmic elements. “Black Panther” has this, too, but just not at the same continuous, engaging and sustained overall levels as these other recent film achievements in these genres.

Nevertheless, the film strives to be big, sprawling, escapist, fun and entertaining, and “Black Panther” does succeed at these levels.

The special effects in “Panther” are excellent, and they are to be praised—and the aforementioned work of the literally hundreds of detailed special effects, visual effects, matte, computer, green-screen and other technologically and artistically creative artists, animators, graphic artists and affects workers in general are also to be praised. The work of these literally hundreds of artists—and the dozens of separate companies who they work for—is all dazzlingly up on the screen, full of color and excitement and technology and wonder and awe, and modern-day special effects wizardry is one of several reasons why modern-day superhero movies need to be seen up on the screen. Of course, that’s always been the case—movies should always be seen up on the big screen, going back to the very first film, of course—but this point needs to driven home repeatedly today because of the competing technology that’s keeping more moviegoers away from the theaters. “Black Panther’s” special effects are excellent, and they do add to the enjoyment of the film.

The actors in “Black Panther” do well in their respective roles, but, as noted, some of them are hindered by the dialogue or sets at times, as previously noted. But the acting is overall impressive. Boseman delivers another impressive performance at T’Challa. Veterans Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Andy Serkis stand out especially, and they lend the film some experienced, knowledgeable and knowing heft and weight to their respective characters. And, yes, it should be noted that in “Black Panther,” filmgoers can for once indeed see Andy Serkis as he really looks—because he’s actually playing a human (a human with some comic book attributes, but a human nevertheless). That’s notable because for years, filmgoers have known Andy Serkis as various “Lord of the Rings,” “Hobbit,” “King Kong” and “Star Wars” characters and creatures, and he’s usually not even seen as, well, him. But in “Panther,” Andy Serkis is up on the screen as—Andy Serkis!

A supporting cast of younger actors portray various elements of T’Challa’s family, royal family, countrymen, supporters and defectors, and they impress at times with varying levels of humor, drama—and physicality. Superhero and comic book movies do at times provide a physicality test for some actors, and the supporting actors in “Panther” handle their hand-to-hand battles—and the occasional uses of swords and other weapons and props—well on screen. And it’s always good—in a superhero world still predominantly dominated by men—to see some strong, intelligent—and athletic—female fighting characters duking it out and landing punches with the best of them throughout “Panther.”

With the expected box office and social and civic success of “Panther,” that would be a great moment to let the superhero and comic book film universe—whether its Marvel or DC or anyone else—bask in its glory and success and civic standing for a moment—but it would also be nice to see the film’s success welcome a bit of a cooling-off period for these genres, just to prevent the possible oversaturation, in popular culture and at the box office. Because while movie theaters are being flooded with superhero and comic book movies, suddenly television is wallowing deep in a mass of superhero and comic book shows—on broadcast networks, on cable television and on streaming channels. This, too, is suddently reaching a breaking point, a saturation point, that could imperil the genres, also. It’s all just become at this moment in time almost just a bit too much for the marketplace to handle, and, again, the genres face a very real threat of oversaturation—and looming nosedives in overall popularity and acceptance.

But, of course, that is just a dream. There are at least nine more superhero/comic book movies scheduled to be released throughout 2018—from February through December. The list includes, according to Screen Rant: “New Mutants,” April, 2018; “Avengers: Infinity War,” May, 2018; “Deadpool 2,” June, 2018; “The Incredibles 2,” June, 2018: “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” July, 2018; “Venom,” October, 2018; “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” November, 2018; an as-yet untitled animated “Spider-Man,” December, 2018; and “Aquaman,” December, 2018. Sigh.

Let’s continue to hope that filmmakers can still find new and interesting ways to make this genre interesting and less clichéd. And let’s continue to hope that moviegoers are not too solely focused on these genre films, and that they do not ignore many of the quality dramas and other types of films released each year. Every year, there are scores of excellent dramas and other films that unfortunately get swallowed up by the blockbusters, and it’s an annual, continuing challenge for the film industry to find the right balance of attendance at the theaters for dramas and blockbusters. Everyone deserves success–not just the big-budget, glitzy blockbusters. This is nothing new, of course, but it’s always worth noting, and it’s always worth hoping, that serious, quality dramas and other films can find their largescale audiences at the movie theaters, too, alongside the blockbusters.

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