In Review: 'Black Panther'

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | march 2018

Let's get a few cards down on the table to start with. Black Panther isn't, as some apparently seem to think, the first black superhero or the first mainstream film to have such a lead. Even within the current extended universe, there are a few significant black characters but it certainly is the most attention a single superhero character of color has received that I can think of for a fair while, at this scale at least. The social politics of and around this film are such that they can't be entirely ignored as they're kind of in the fabric of what the story itself is about and it's a shame that they are so often less a point of discussion than they are a point of contention and division. It's a shame because one of the things that's interesting about how the film approaches the subject of race is that it certainly doesn't keep things entirely ideologically sanitized.

But before I approach that, what did I think of the film as a part of the Marvel EU? Well, it's actually rather good for the most part. There's a very full story and the characters grow and change significantly throughout the film and on the whole, it's very much on par in those respects with the better Marvel films of late. I have to admit I had a certain reluctance to go see this one simply because the introduction of Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War" really didn't enamor me to the character. He seemed to be spending a lot of time sulking and being angry and that was more or less it. He was a part of the wedge being driven between the established heroes there and while it worked well enough, I wasn't that interested in the character himself, though not being much of a comic book reader, I wasn't aware of the character before his appearance in Civil War. Now with his own movie, it's a chance for us uninitiated get a proper introduction to who he is, where he comes from and what makes him tick.

The setting spans across the world we know before we get to see his homeland, Wakanda. To the outside world Wakanda is poor and unsophisticated, being a land of small farms and very basic villages, but behind some kind of holographic veil, the real Wakanda is a futuristic and highly technologically advanced society that's thriving off of the world's most abundant supply of Vibranium. This is where some of the interesting politics come in; Wakanda is an isolationist society that doesn't welcome outsiders to the point that they've deliberately ignored the problems of their kin across the globe. That's where the antagonists often understandable sense of injustice and desire for revenge and power comes from, he's gone beyond just tinkering around the edges and wants to supply his people with vibranium weaponry to take power by force. It's the clashing of these needs and wants of one side and the reluctance to get involved from Wakanda, lest they end up having to be on constant guard against invaders who are after what they have, that the story grows from. For its part, it spends most of its time focusing on the conflicts between the various factions and this is the thing about “Black Panther," it's actually more of a story of growing past those internal conflicts and helping your society than it is about hating on another race. It's surprisingly positive by the end.

For a superhero film, though, as has been pointed out by another critic with whom I agree on this to an extent, it is a rather slow story that is short on action. What you do get is great fun, though the physics of it all are a bit wonky on occasions, but it is a lot of talking in between the occasional action, which is fine by me, but if you're expecting Iron Man levels of big set pieces then you'll probably be left a bit disappointed. I was on a couple of occasions feeling like I was watching the time and that's not great, but for the most part, it was interesting enough to not be a problem. Certainly it all looks lovely, the landscapes, the set design and the fact that the suit felt a little less “kinky" by this point than it did in Civil War, all helped make even the slowest parts that bit more acceptable. The characters were interesting enough, though there is a very familiar structure in the kinds of characters and that does make some of this feel less than unique. This is Marvel after all and there is a formula that even this film follows. In that respect I can't see it winning anyone who isn't a Marvel fan over to the MEU, the fundamentals of what makes the movie are pretty much what you'd expect. That's both a good and a bad thing depending on what you want from it.

Is it successful overall? For the most part I think it's a solid enough entry into the MEU, it's a little slow in comparison to its piers but filled with enough story to sustain itself through most of its not insubstantial runtime. I enjoyed it and even the occasional heavy-handed moments of politics didn't knock me away and I'm sure some will love it for that and some will hate it for that stuff just as much. I have to stop short of being giddy about the film, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. It has some stuff to say but the story itself, however well trodden I may think it is, is confident and well realized. I'm certainly interested enough to see where this goes in a sequel and I think it'll be genuinely interesting to see how this character fares in the big wide world outside of Wakanda.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

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