Welcome to Monsoon-a-day
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.
It’s impossible to talk about Black Panther without addressing it’s importance. This isn’t a film as much as it is a revolution. It will transcend the borders of the screen to actually change the world outside of the cinema. This isn’t the first black superhero film nor is it the first good black superhero film but this is the first one specifically designed to cater to children. The MCU has often been dismissed as nothing more than billion dollar toy commercials and while that’s not exactly untrue, toys connect to children.
It’s easy to accuse these films as destroying cinema but at the end of the day, they’re kids films and kids need escapism. Where would most of us be if it wasn’t for Star Wars or Indiana Jones or Superman? Imagination is equally as important as knowledge and films provide that.
But up until now, that imagination has been at an arms length for most children. If a white child wanted to play pretend in the backyard or during recess at school, they could pick any character they wanted. The sky’s the limit.
For a black child? To quote Chris Rock, “the limit was the sky.” They were either the sidekicks to the hero or Shaft. And the Shaft kids died out around ’82. It really is hard for some of us to imagine a world where you had no imaginary heroes. Maybe that’s why every friend I had growing up had Michael Jordan or Deion Sanders posters on their walls instead of Spider-Man or Batman.
Black Panther is important and it’s importance can not be trivialized or downplayed. It’s mere existence is a triumph and it’s monumental success guarantees that it will inspire change within the industry.
But, and this is important, influential is not synonymous with good. The films importance is not based on the quality of the film itself but the fact that it exists. I believe in order to judge it objectively, you have to divorce one from the other.
The film and the revolution.
While it will inevitably change the world, it will do so in spite of itself. The MCU started with the goal of creating a massive cinematic universe where every film would be connected through sequels and cameos. It is a business model that every studio has tried and failed to emulate. Because Marvel figured it out immediately. In order to build your solid gold mansion, you first need a solid foundation and theirs was Iron Man.
But more specifically, they had Robert Downey Jr.
His charisma single handedly created the entire franchise but it also unfortunately set the tone for every film to follow. The first follow up to Iron Man is still their least successful film. The “failure” of The Incredible Hulk ensured that every film from that point forward would be created from the mold made by Iron Man. It’s a formula that they have yet to stray from and that’s the problem with Black Panther.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film is about T’Challa, (Chadwick Boseman) the newly crowned king of Wakanda, who must challenge his birthright against a vengeful outsider hellbent on revenge. It also deals with an evil armsdealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who has no effect on the plot in any way whatsoever.
More so than any other MCU film before it, the film’s aesthetic is equally as important as it’s plot and themes. The film is built from the ground up with one design in mind–Afrofuturism. Coined in an essay written by Mark Dery over a quarter-century ago, the concept is essentially a reimagining of the future of science and technology seen through a black lens.
Black Panther isn’t just Blade Runner meets Lion King. This film is unapologetically celebrating black culture. Every design choice from the casting to the costumes to the soundtrack is built around and for a black audience. It’s refreshing to see a film dealing with a futuristic city that doesn’t include virtual billboards or even a hint of neon Day-Glo.
The aesthetic is actually multifunctional: it’s used to celebrate African culture, it distinguishes itself from everything that has come before and more importantly, it directly ties into the film’s theme. You see, much like Themyscira from last year’s Wonder Woman, Wakanda is separated from the rest of the world through an invisible force field but unlike Themyscira (which is stuck in the past) Wakanda is far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technological advancements. Wakandians, like the Amazons, refuse to meddle in the affairs of the outside world. They’re a society obsessed with tradition and that’s where the central conflict of the film is born from.
T’Challa believes Wakanda should stick to tradition and leave the world to its own devices, while Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) believes, with their unlimited resources, Wakanda could invert the existing racial order. While Killmonger is portrayed as an extreme terrorist who will kill anyone that will get in his way, he’s not wrong. Wakanda as a country is very much like Tony Stark in Iron Man 2. In that film, there’s a Senate meeting held to figure out whether or not Stark should be made to share his technological advancements. It’s a scene played for laughs (and is later revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be orchestrated by Hydra) because if it was dealt with seriously, you’d realize that Stark is a villain.
He has the ability to outfit soldiers or firemen or police officers in life saving tech and he refuses. He’s keeping the technology for himself and that’s Wakanda in a nutshell. It’s surrounded on all sides by extreme poverty and they do nothing. It’s a very interesting dynamic where the villain is actually right.
And that’s my biggest issue with the film.
The central conflict is interesting but it’s weighed down by the typical MCU cliches. The film does a great job of world building but almost all of the first act could’ve been cut down to ten minutes. It’s scene after scene of either exposition, pointless action scene or forced humor. Now, the humor is actually toned down considerably from the previous two Marvel films (which I am eternally grateful) but it’s still there.
As is the pointless action. I just saw the film and I honestly can’t remember what Ulysses Klaue’s purpose in the film was. Killmonger teams up with him to steal some vibranium and I can’t for the life of me remember what, if any, bearing it had on the plot. It leads to a casino set piece that’s ripped straight from Skyfall, which in turn leads to a pretty fun chase sequence but is any of that necessary?
Until Killmonger shows up at Wakanda, the film feels like it’s spinning its wheels. Black Panther doesn’t exactly move the narrative along. He just reacts to things that are happening around him and those things are usually inconsequential. He’s also the least interesting lead of any MCU film. He thankfully doesn’t quip but he doesn’t really have a interesting hook or an arc to his character. Captain America is a man out of time, Iron Man is a cocky douche, Thor is a lovable idiot but Black Panther is just…I don’t even know what his defining trait is. Stoicism? Honor? Whatever it is, It’s not compelling.
Thankfully, the film surrounds him with one of the best supporting casts in any superhero film. Every scene involving either Nakia, Okoye or Shuri (Played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright, respectively), is amazing. Marvel President Kevin Feige has been teasing an all female Avengers film for awhile now and this film feels like the backdoor pilot for that idea. I would watch any film involving these three characters. They’re that entertaining.
What isn’t entertaining however (segue master), is the piss poor CGI sprinkled throughout the film. It feels as though at some point during production, the film switched visual effects studios and the second one was nowhere near as talented as the first. There are shots that look either lazily copy and pasted, too floaty or have no depth or weight to them. The climatic fight is the worst offender. It’s not Blade bad (nothing is Blade bad) but for a 2018 release? It’s inexcusable.
I could rattle off a dozen other complaints or nitpicks but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. This film never needed to be a masterpiece to be successful. It just needed to exist. It may be a flawed film but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a triumph. This is the film America needs right now and the revolution begins now.