"Black Panther" (2018) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 140 minutes
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis
Review by JJ Mortimer
While not the Second Coming of Christ that many people are making it out to be, or even a technological advancement over previous films, Black Panther is a solid comic book film in the Marvel franchise, one that (like many of the other films) has messages to voice while still making an enjoyable, fun story even should you not agree with all of what it has to say.
While not at its own behest, Black Panther IS a needlessly divisive film. While portraying an advanced society in such a way that its obvious socio-political overtones casts blatant shadows over the real world, if you watch the film for what it is, one could see that it's themes relate heavily in the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the film thrives with them. The problem is with media and brain-dead audiences who are taking themes from this film - a film in a universe that has thunder gods, green hulking monsters, talking trees, and an un-aging Samuel L. Jackson - and becoming inspired in such a way that, should its messages work in a super-futuristic Wakanda, they should obviously work in our world. Nope, not really.
I will say that Black Panther is a film to be enjoyed by everyone, and not just a specific demographic. For anyone to try and claim this film to be "their peoples' own" are playing a huge detriment to the reason of film entertainment. What we have here is a comic book movie with really good acting (from Chadwich Boseman as T'Challa, and especially from Michael B. Jordan in easily his most commanding and demanding performance to date) and a well-written plot. Though, like most other Marvel films, some of the action is heavily edited and hard to see (especially in the darker scenes), and some of the visual effects can often look about a decade too old and a few million dollars too cheap.
What Black Panther gets REALLY right is its atmosphere. The African culture, the tribal feel to its society (though contrasting slightly with its technological, futuristic-like achievements), and its globe-trotting sub-adventures. The story doesn't hold a huge amount of twists and turns, though a couple character discoveries tied the script together nicely in the second and third acts.
One of the biggest problems I do have on a technical standpoint with the film is its over-use of green screen for location scenes. The lighting in some of the "outdoor" scenes (especially in the crowning of T'Challa as the new king, aka "Black Panther") is so obviously fluorescent, and contrasts hugely with the intended sunlight, as to make the shots seem OBVIOUSLY studio-lit. For a film this big in budget, I feel that the production could have found a way to shoot some of these scenes in actual outdoor locations. As good as the majority of the atmosphere and world-building was in this film, these production short-cuts made certain scenes feel cheap and somewhat lazy. I also found it pretty hilarious when a futuristic, Last Starfighter-looking space ship lands in the middle of a basketball court in Oakland and only five young kids acknowledge it in wonder, while a street of extras walking thirty feet away in the background don't seem to notice this world-changing technology AT ALL. An eagle lands on a telephone pole one hundred feet away and I say, out loud, "Holy shit."
On a final note about the films correlating themes to our world (and without going into a debate or a discussion on these matters that literally could last for at least an hour) I do find it relatively hilarious that of all the messages audiences are finding "inspiring" are debated rather nicely by characters in the film itself. Why have a clearly socio-pathic, murdering villain be the voice of societal reason with messages that clearly are meant to be drawn upon by the audience to question the morals and values of their own country? Why have one character question why Wakanda doesn't share in its riches, only to have another character smartly say that such advanced-resource sharing would go into the wrong hands and be used as weapons to hurt the world?
As I said before, if you listen upon the film for the messages its trying to portray as just relating to the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe, they work just fine (though characters following them often contradict themselves, which could in turn play into their flawed character states). But when a film makes many "statements" without actually giving suggestions on how to accomplish such Eutopian-levels of societal advancements in a world rich with such diverse and differing religious and cultural viewpoints, what you get is a film that is exactly as it is supposed to be - a fun, ho-hum fictional comic book adaptation that wishes for the stars, and can revolutionize many non-critical thinking individuals.
In the end, Black Panther is just a fun, well-made comic book movie that sits near the top of the Marvel franchise for its well-formulated plot, its thorough pacing, its good acting, and its expected humor. While not better than the first Avengers, Iron Man, or even last years Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther is nontheless a good piece of entertainment that is probably getting more recognition than it deserves. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING about it, is ground-breaking, or anything that a film like 1998s Blade (starring Wesley Snipes) hasn't already done.
See it. Enjoy it. And forget about it two days later like you probably did with Ant-Man.
As a motion picture and a Marvel film:
As a ground-breaking, society-changing, Wizard of Oz-level "greatest, most important and bestest movie ever!!":