Review: Black Panther
There seems to be a familiar pattern with Marvel movies that has emerged over the last few years. Quite often, when Disney releases their latest instalment in the admittedly impressive superhero universe, the phrase ‘best Marvel film ever’ is often unveiled with fireworks. The critical approval percentages hit the nineties, and then after a little while everyone calms down, too busy getting excited for the next film in the franchise. It then takes a year or two for people to look back and realise that the last film wasn’t quite a good as they first remember…
It seems with audiences and critics that the Marvel movies can do no wrong. Even the weakest of them seem to get away with high ratings and audience approval. I have never been completely enamoured with the whole franchise. I do rate certain instalments as some of the best in the genre, films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Civil War and the first Avengers film, demonstrate the Marvel franchise and the genre at its best. Despite widespread opinion, I don’t believe Black Panther to be up there with the best.
Starting with the positives, the film’s cast is fantastic and give a level of uniqueness to each character they play. Special mention goes to Michael B. Jordan who gives a brilliant performance as the titular hero’s nemesis. Marvel has an unfortunate history of casting fantastic actors as very dull and forgettable villains. Mads Mikkelsen, James Spader, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Eccleston all suffered at the hands of mediocre writing, lack of screen time or poor motivation. Or in some cases all three! Jordan’s character is a menacing match in skill and appearance for T’Challa, but he works especially well since he is also very sympathetic. His villainous goal too is somewhat relatable and not entirely without reason in context of his backstory.
One of its strongest traits is that it has quite an original political angle. It also seems interested in pursuing it clearly throughout the narrative, something that Marvel movies have often touched on but never really delved into. The idea of more developed countries being morally obligated to help the world in immigration, education and other contemporary issues are stressed upon in the core of it’s story.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot that holds the film back from being amongst the best of the superhero flicks. Whilst the film is more self-contained than other Marvel stand-alone films, it suffers from many of the problems earlier films have done. The amount of CGI in the film really doesn’t work in its favour. Even in the first five minutes the audience is bombarded with an unnecessary amount of it, and not of a consistent quality. The effects are present even in moments where they really don’t need to be. During the film’s many fight sequences they distract greatly from the action and give the scenes a level of weightlessness. When the Russo brothers began their work in the series, they gave real bite to the action sequences. The Winter Soldier and Civil War feature amazingly choreographed hand-to- hand combat sequences that require little or no noticeable effects. In the case of Black Panther, none of the scenes feel that real due to the abundance of green screen or computer-generated trains flying past the performers. For me at least, when CGI is plopped into almost every single frame, it begins to make me disconnect with the world I am watching.
Linking slightly with the effects, the technology that Wakanda has developed in the film is more advanced than anything you’ll see in Star Trek. Fine, I know it’s a superhero film, but some of the gadgets delve into the realm of utter preposterousness. Flying ships and sonic-powered hover trains with cloaking devices are everywhere. Civilians seem to be equipped with holographic beads on their wrists in place of mobile phones, and T’Challa’s Black Panther costume is jam-packed full of ludicrous features, you’ll be surprised that it can’t fly. I can understand this might be me being picky, but when the range of technology at the protagonists’ disposal could put a swift end to the villain’s plot at multiple points during the film, you begin to lose focus.
The film replicates certain elements from other Marvel films. The first hour or so does what most of the stand-alone films do, the world-establishing. Granted, for those new the universe it’s necessary to include this. For returning viewers, we get the same introduction we had with films like Thor. The reveal of Wakanda reminds one very much of the first time we see Asgard, and the idea of T’Challa having to live up to the position of king is very much a story we have seen in the god of thunder’s first outing.
Overall, the film brings some new elements to the superhero genre, but also brings along the traits which plagued Marvel’s weaker entries. With the huge range of superhero flicks out there, good and bad, it’s hard to forgive the film when it treads on very familiar ground.
Good fun in the end despite a plodding start, but don’t expect too much more than what we’ve seen from previous flicks.
Word by Cal Reid