This is it folks, the first (sic!) black superhero film with an almost entirely black cast and a black director talking about black history and issues revolving around black people in black countries in the dark continent. If you believe the hype about this movie then Black Panther should be the bastard son of MLK and Malcolm X with a black power agenda turned up to 11.
The subject of race and racism, social justice, awareness and action on institutional racism (mainly in the USA) and cultural representation is connected with this movie to such an extent, that acts like a gravity well bending reason and logic and objectivity around it, till they end up being swallowed by it down a black hole. (YES, pun was intended!). I will try tackling the movie’s major plot lines from a neutral point of view, even though I’m white, since I do not live in the US nor in Africa. This allows me to voice my experience of the movie in a much more distanced way than all the hyped-up viewers in said areas.
This is where I am obligated to state the fuckin obvious – but this being the Internet, nothing is obvious to a great many people. I am NOT in any way trying to or want to offend people of any culture, colour, origin or linguistic background. I have lived in many countries and have worked with people from all over the world – strangely come to think of it now, not that many black people though…what gives Ireland?
There won’t be spoilers about the movie mostly because the script is not that complicated to begin with. The only major plot twist comes off as no surprise to an educated viewer. This “twist” is what caused many reviewers to throw in the bard’s name when talking about this film. I can see why someone would make this association, but quite frankly it’s not that relevant to this movie. The villain gets his motivation from it and that is all we need to know. Still, a better villain than most MCU movies – Nerdist ranked him second best out of 18, losing only to the epicenes that is Loki.
Analysing the movie now, after 2 days and having seen YT reviews, having read reviews in various cinema sites, makes me realise that the hype train was all a bit too overrated. This movie is not “the Citizen Cane of comic book movies” neither a masterpiece deserving a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is a well-structured, well-directed and well-acted movie with engaging script ideas and interesting concepts. Visually it’s the same as any other modern movie, plagued by a CGI palate that is not there to assist the script – like say in Bladerunner 2049 – but to make the dumb people in the theatre say, “Oh look, pretty colours!”. The 3-act structure is maintained but it is not balanced properly, with the first act taking way too long and the second act – the most important of the movie – being rushed to get to the anticlimactic climax. Our protagonist is fleshed out adequately enough through a first act that establishes his relations with all the secondary characters – the most interesting of them being of course Michonne from TWD. T’Challa’s motivations are not clear however, bogging down the plot advancement and forcing an awkwardly rushed mini-climax in the second act for our main villain to get the ball running.
Here is where in my opinion the movie lost that cutting edge that could give it a “legendary” status. I went to see it with my gf – she hasn’t seen ANY previous MCU movies – and in the fight scene between BP and Killmonger she was genuinely concerned about the fate of T’Challa. When I told her that he’s not dead because he’s in the next movie she replied with a very justified dissapointed tone “Well this suck, then what’s the point of all this?”. A very good point to be honest. See, what my gf doesn’t understand is that this is a streamlined movie from a mega-corporation with just one goal: PROFIT.
All the talk about how it raises the issues of racism, isolationism, nationalism, Fremdenhass, poverty, use of technology to advance the human race etc, is just there as a facade. Some of that is been used as the motivation of our villain – so de facto it is deemed as a negative thing – and is not developed or investigated fully because this is not a Spike Lee joint but a Marvel/Disney movie. You see, we could have had the chance to explore all these issues and provide criticism to i.e. the US policy of isolationism through the Trump-regime and its cost on international relationships for the US via the parallel of Wakanda’s own isolationism behind a cloaking shield. Or the case of helping impoverished African nations with the superior technological advances of Wakanda, not to mention the stupid rich state of the country, and compare this dilemma to the burning issue of colonialism and the post-colonial state of almost all African countries.
But no, the studio decided that the audience needed to see some fuckin armoured rhinos.
This is the major problem with a monopoly – no, not the board game. No other voice can be heard and if it does get a rare chance to speak up, it gets muffled in an avalanche of stupidity, neutering its message in what we now call a “visually stunning film”. The entire political and social message of Black Panther becomes moot, it is only present there on the epidermis and this is exactly how the studio intended it to be. This is not a movie that would make non-black people care about the problems of black people and African countries. If you want to see that aspect of the issue then watch any Spike Lee joint, Shelma, Fruitvale station, 12 Years a Slave and any other movie that is on the fringe of the system. Black Panther is an attempt to bring all those important issues to a wider audience, but the execution failed due to the genre of the film: it’s a comic book movie.
For me, a white person living in Greece, the movie didn’t resonate at all on any of those issues that it wanted to address; the line “bury me in the ocean like my ancestors, who jumped from the slave ships, choosing to die instead of living in bondage” sounded so out-of-place in such a movie, that it nearly made me laugh. Laughter was clearly not the intention of the scriptwriter when he/she added this line at that moment, but in a comic book movie that has lines like “I call them sneakers cause…you can sneak up on people” any gravitas about anything is long gone. This is why Logan was NOT another run-of-the-mill comic book movie and in a Logan-esque movie that line about slavery would have resonated with the power of all Black Panthers combined.