Black Panther Review

This is one of the most dreaded reviews I’ve had to write in a while.

Professional film critics tend to heap praise on a movie with any kind of social significance, even if it’s not very good. Because of this, they fuel the hype train that surrounds the movie and make any negative review stick out even further than it normally would have. It happened with Lady Bird, it happened with this movie, and it’s gonna keep happening forever. The social reactions to movies like this often overshadow the movie itself.

So how’s the movie? It’s fine. It’s perfectly competent, functional Marvel fare. There are a few things that are done exceptionally well, but for every exceptional thing, there are two things that fail to rise above competent. If you know about the Pete’s Dragon fiasco, you know that merely competent does not cut it for me. As a movie, it’s not worth all the hype surrounding it. Why’s that?

Let’s talk about the good first. The acting is pretty spectacular all-around; special props to Michael B. Jordan for making one of the more compelling Marvel villains in a while. The music is surprisingly above average, but it has the tendency to lean away from the tribal influence that made it so interesting to begin with. The sets and costumes are great, although the cinematography rarely highlights either. In terms of subject, they had a very good opportunity to make white people feel guilty for just about every bad thing they’ve done to black people, and I’m glad they didn’t take it. That approach would not have helped anything, instead they had some self-awareness about the kind of movie it is and didn’t go too much into social commentary. It’s existence is commentary enough, and the movie knows this.

The movie isn’t smart enough to present it’s themes with any kind of subtlety, though. It outright states each character’s stance on Wakanda’s isolation, and leave no room for any kind of audience discussion because they say everything that can be said. This feeding of the character’s ideals makes the film feel like it’s trying to teach these things to a child, rather than treating the audience like adults and letting them draw in some of the blanks themselves. This hand-holding extends to the majority of the film. Characters will say something, then reiterate it in the very next scene to make sure the audience doesn’t forget what’s happening. This isn’t some Rubik’s cube of a movie, its’ concepts and story are very easy to follow. The fact that they seem to think we couldn’t follow it well enough on our own is very, very annoying. It’s a Marvel movie. We’ve seen this story structure play out over and over again, and it’s always the same. The least they could do is at least try to be more than that.

This isn’t to say the plot’s boring, but it’s certainly not Fight Club. There’s not an ounce of unpredictability in the whole movie. From the moment the movie starts, you know how it ends. I’m not surprised about this, but I am disappointed. The amount of superhero movies we’ve gotten where the plot is completely predictable from start to finish is too many to count. The actors continue to be the strongest part of Marvel movies, and I hate to keep saying that. It makes going to a Marvel movie unexciting. That’s not to say I’m against the idea of a Marvel movie, but if the movies keep continuing in this direction, I fear that I will begin to dread even watching them.

The action is pretty low-stakes, I never felt like the characters were in any danger. This is due in part to the predictability of the film, but this mostly comes from the effects. The effects aren’t that great this time around. They’re better than Thor: Ragnarok’s, but I don’t like this downward trend Marvel is having in their effects department. The days of Doctor Strange seem to be sadly disappearing.

All of this might make you think I didn’t like the movie. You’d be wrong. Despite all this, I still had a good time watching it. It was good for a couple hours of passive enjoyment, but I desperately wanted it to be more than that. So far, out of the recent directors to work with Marvel, James Gunn has been the only one to carve out a distinct voice for himself. Gunn has been the best example of a director circumventing the studio’s wishes in a way that doesn’t upset them, but also lets him tell the story he wants in a satisfying way. He’s managed to sneak genuine emotional moments in a franchise that seems intent on not having any. Guardians of the Galaxy has been the best Marvel series, and I hate that it’s not even a contest. It’s already been one of the most influential Marvel series to come out, with other companies sometimes even wanting their own Guardians flick (ahem, Suicide Squad). Does that mean I don’t think this movie will be influential? No. I think the opposite. I think this movie will inspire a lot of black filmmakers, I think it’s further proven to studios that predominantly black films are just as successful as white films, leading to  more representation in film, and that’s great. We need more representation in American cinema, and Black Panther is a giant leap in the right direction. I just wish the movie could be significant in its’ filmmaking as well, like Moonlight or Fruitvale Station. Because no one is going to remember Black Panther for the same reasons we remember those movies.

6/10.

Up next: Whatever pleases the void.

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