Imagine for a moment stepping into a marvellous, luscious utopia, a world of dazzling visual splendour and societal unity. Imagine stepping into a current day window to the future of life, into a pseudo sci-fi but beautifully human paradise, rich in resources, culture and importantly, gorgeous sunsets. Imagine Wakanda.
Black Panther opens with a scene setting dialogue explaining the origin of Wakanda’s wealth, and escalates into a tone setting, character introducing action sequence – you know, like the avengers? Or hulk? Or Thor? Yeah, you see, the initial problem with Black Panther is that it’s a post Iron man marvel film, which means what you are instantly absorbed into is a sensory explosion of colour, incredible CGI and visual mastery, opening sequence predictability and tired writing. But that’s okay, we know this and its been the same for at least a decade now, so on we go.
The film proceeds to indulge the viewer in a culturally powerful and initially impressive coronation ritual, where our protagonist T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) engages in a brilliantly choreographed fight scene, answering the traditionally encouraged challenges of a big, muscular, leader of one of the fellow Wakandan tribes (collectively known as the Wakandas). Upon the conclusion to this fight, the film takes us on a journey to introduce to us the bad guys, the villains, namely Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and the mysterious an innovatively named Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
We find ourselves looking for an artefact in a London museum, initially with Killmonger taking the scene, and it is here the film begins to reveal its cracks and limitations. Overtly political and intensely one sided, it begins from almost the very start to attack the English, and later the whole of 17th-19th century White Europe.
The curator, an unassuming white lady, is told by Killmonger that he should steal the artefact from her like she did from them (ironically he is supposing to steal it for a white man himself). From here, the film establishes a persistent narrative of White criminality and guilt, from Everett Ross (martin Freeman) being told that the Wakandans “know what colonisers look like”, to him being called “white boy”.
People may be sat there thinking “well duh, it’s a landmark film of social progress and development, calling out (as did the comics) the history surrounding African nations and global trade!” and to them I say you are wrong. It isn’t.
Its simply reiterating points from a completely single minded and biased, ignorant perspective completely void of any historiographical dilligence, and as a film it has used this narrative to elevate itself and ride the platform of social mobility, presenting itself as a well informed changing of the white dominated guard and fighting against oppression to release a black dominated “blockbuster”. The thing is, it isn’t. All politics aside for a moment, it isn’t a good film at all, and it far from showcases the best Black talent out there.
The plot is paper thin, convoluted, confused and erratic, not to mention even in the context of modern super hero films, just plain weak. (POTENTIAL SPOILERS) Killmonger seems to despise the oppression of Africa, yet wants to use Wakanda’s strength to oppress the world (by which he implicitly and obviously means the white world).
But, at the same time, he is angry that his father was killed by T’Challa’s father, so he has a bone to pick with T’Challa aswell. So, to recap, he wants to have Africa and Africans dominate the world, but also, he is mad at Black Panther and wants to take his kingdom, the latter being a feat of unbelievable strength and unlikeliness considering Black Panther is supposedly incredibly well trained at hand to hand combat and in tune with his sensory ability, even without his super natural powers, right?
Wrong. He is swiftly defeated, loses all his powers permanently and is presumed dead. From here Killmonger seizes the crown and turns the Wakandas against each other, sparking an almost Civil war. Again, their unity as a group is so fragile and inconsistent, his aims are hypocritical and self-defeating, the story is basically the first Thor (angry family member coming for revenge, hidden paradise, main protagonist loses all power for a period, the villain supposing to save the world through ultimate control) and the writing is pathetically weak. I mean, how often are we going to allow these marvel films to get away with having one of the most predictable script templates in film and being written for an audience with the capacity of a five-year-old? (END OF POTENTIAL SPOILERS).
The writing was, predictably, marvel poor. I mean, with such a wealth of material to pull from how is it that pretty much every recent Marvel film has fell victim to the writing of interns? Black Panther could be the poster boy for this- badly placed and forced jokes, horrendously wooden conversations, terrible expression and down right boring word play; the art of writing a good script is becoming much more the reserve of the past, with studios now opting to haemorrhage their budgets on amazing special effects (and they are consistently amazing) and bloated advertising campaigns.
As well as the terribly predictable plot, the pathetically banal writing, and the seemingly amateur directing, the acting leaves little to be desired. Whilst charming, T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) was tiresome, and often very wooden. Jordan’s talent was underused, and his character was inconsistent and boring.
An angry kid taking over a kingdom based on the whim of a ritual fight? Please. He had about as much villainy about him as Buzz from Home alone. Boseman as both T’Challa and Black Panther left a lot to the imagination, coming across more timid than Kingly. The one saving grace for me was Danai Gurira as Okoye, the General of the Dora Milaje (an elite group of female bodyguards and Wakandan special forces). Her character was portrayed brilliantly, and she was superb throughout.
Black Panther is a smorgasbord of spectacular visuals and real, visible culture. It loses sight of its meaning when it tries to overtly force a political agenda and hides behind this façade of social justice to defend its lacklustre script, the weak acting performances and the rushed, predictable directing. Ryan Coogler perfectly embodies the notion of forced liberal social mobility, but falls short of presenting a brilliant, captivating film; he seems inexperienced and unable to match the fantastic nuances of comic book directing captured by the likes of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, a masterclass of super hero film directing that instantly springs to mind, far surpassing the weak efforts of Coogler.
Though it must be said, it has been the marvel trend for years now. Overt politics and damning reflection on a wildly misconstrued history are damaging at the best of times, but when presented through the lens of marvel cinematography and forced upon the viewer as absolute fact theyre down right dangerous. More than that, it is quite dastardly that this film has been given an almost free pass into the status of blockbuster, a seemingly unanimous conclusion by most critics, even in spite of all the obvious and genuine flaws pointed out here.
It flies in the face of the decades of superb Black acting talent that came before it; in terms of comic book acting, Wesley Snipes as Blade was a far superior performance to this. Samuel L. Jackson, by virtue of the fact that he is a fantastic actor alone, outshines all the acting in this film with his performance as Nick Fury. Its patronising for Black Panther to claim to be this watershed of white dominated film culture; sure if it was any good then that claim may hold water, but its not, it is weak, it uses this narrative of social justice and social mobility to springboard itself beyond the recognition it deserves, and I think its sad and a dubious precedent to be setting allowing this to happen.
· Visually gorgeous
· Stunning CGI
· Well-choreographed fight scenes
· Danai Gurira
· Boring, predictable script
· Lacking directing
· Weak acting
· Venomous political overtone
· Erratic and confused characters
· Yet ANOTHER marvel film that gets away with all of this