Black Panther review: Cat on a Hot Tin Sunroof

Superhero Movie Disclaimer:

  • Until one of them pays me, I have zero preference between Marvel and DC
  • I think superhero movies in general are kinda dumb, with the exception of masterpieces, like The Dark Knight, and Thor 2

 

Apparently if I give this movie a bad review I’m a racist. Wait but… all my reviews are bad. God damn it.

Premise

 

Some time back, a meteorite made of vibranium hit a small part of Africa. Five local tribes decided to unify around it, creating the nation of Wakanda (well, four of them did, the fifth one got salty and moved to the mountains). Wakanda, a strictly isolationist country with advanced technology, a rich culture, and no democratic process, is led by a king, who also takes the title of Black Panther. The Black Panther acts as protector of Wakanda, channeling the awesome power of the goddess Bast, along with some kawaii cat ears.

 

Plot

 

The past: In Oakland, CA, a young boy named Erik plays basketball outside. In the nearby apartments, his father makes plans with another guy. They get a visit from his brother (the current Black Panther), T’Chaka. The father is actually a Wakandan spy, sent to the US to gather information. T’Chaka accuses him of betraying their country by collaborating with Andy Serkis to steal their shit. Turns out the guy’s partner was also a Wakandan spy, who had been informing on him to the king (damn Wakanda really likes its index funds). Spy 1 pulls his 9 on Spy 2, but gets clawed. Everyone agrees to cover it up. Erik returns to the apartment to find his father’s body.

 

The present: The current Black Panther, T’Challa, beats up some Boko Haram guys (who inexplicably all speak English to each other), before retrieving his ex-girlfriend, Nokia. They return to Wakanda, where he’s greeted by sister Shuri and mother Angela Bassett. Over at the town waterfall, T’Challa gets coronated by Forest Whitaker (grown-up Spy 2). Before he can be officially crowned King, T’Challa gets T’challenged (heh) by Baka? the leader of the salty mountain guys. They fight, T’Challa wins, but doesn’t kill Baka because he’s a nice guy.

 

Later, Forest Whitaker feeds him some gushers, and he gets buried alive in sand. He wakes up in the spirit world, where he talks to his dead dad for a few minutes, and leaves. The next day, a newly crowned T’Challa walks through the streets of Wakanda and… no one really seems to care? Like no one even looks in his direction. I guess “king of Wakanda” isn’t actually all that important? Whatever.

 

Meanwhile, an older Erik and Andy Serkis steal a vibranium artifact from the British museum. They make plans to sell it over in South Korea. T’Challa hears about this, and decides to intercept them. Everyone goes to a casino in Seoul, where there’s a big shoot-out and then a car chase. T’Challa, along with CIA agent Ross, captures Serkis and interrogate him. Erik comes back and pulls Andy out, leaving Ross wounded. The two plan to fly back to South Africa, but Erik betrays him by killing his bodyguard. Serkis takes Erik’s girlfriend hostage, but Erik shoots through her to kill him, proving that he does not, in fact, respect women.

 

Erik goes to Wakanda, using Serkis’ body to gain entry past the border. He goes to the throne room, where he reveals his royal heritage and asks T’Challa to do a thing. Back at the waterfall, the two undress and splash around for a bit, before Erik stabs Forest Whitaker. He then throws T’Challa off the waterfall.

 

Erik, concerned about trade deficits, orders Wakandan weapons exported around the world. Nokia, Shuri and Angela Bassett go to see Baka, who reveals that T’Challa is still alive, albeit in critical condition. Nokia feeds him another gusher, and he regains his strength.

 

T’Challa crashes a Wakandan plane before facing Erik. The two have a tense stand-off… and then everything devolves into a huge clusterfuck. Chris from “Get Out” sends a bunch of men (and some armored Rhinos) to fight T’Challa and the royal guards. Meanwhile, Erik faces off against T’Challa’s head of security, aided by Nokia and Shuri. T’Challa tackles Erik off a platform, and they tumble down into a mine shaft. Shuri activates the train system, disabling their vibranium suits and forcing them to 1v1 like men.

 

T’Challa ends up stabbing Erik, before dragging him out of the mineshaft and onto a cliffside, where the two watch a sunset (awwww). Erik refuses medical attention, and T’Challa lets him die. Later, T’Challa and Shuri visit Oakland, where they plan to build a Wakandan embassy. A young child asks who they are, to which T’Challa looks at him, smiles cryptically, and the scene fades to black.

 

In the first after-credits scene, T’Challa gives a speech at the UN, where he reveals that Wakanda will share its technology with the world. Some guy asks what kind of technology they have, to which T’Challa looks at him, smiles cryptically, and the scene fades to black. In the second after-credits scene, Shuri visits Bucky Barnes and tells him she’ll give him a new arm or something.

 

Here’s what I don’t get: why exactly is Wakandan technology so special? I mean, obviously relative to what we have in the real world, it’s pretty dope, but this entire movie takes place in the Avengers universe. They have like, Iron Man suits, Ant Man suits, Jarvis, Vision, and a whole bunch of other shit. Hell, the US government was making super soldiers back in the 40’s, yet everyone in this movie acts like Wakandan tech is the only cool stuff they have anywhere. I feel like this movie kind of forgot which universe it took place in. Also, what was up with all the people who were outside of the Wakandan force-field who were basically just farmers? Does Wakanda still need people to herd animals? Were they like Wakandan actors whose entire responsibility was just to stand outside in order to not draw attention? Whatever.

 

Characters

 

So yes, this movie did have an all-black cast, save for a human reaction GIF, and a CGI gorilla. Depending on who you ask, this is either a blatant injection of liberal propaganda into the MCU, or the greatest achievement in race relations since Martin Luther King Jr. I have a section of this review dedicated to Race stuff, so I’m gonna table that for now.

 

T’Challa: T’Challa might be one of the least dynamic protagonists in any Marvel movie, and it’s not because he shows basically no emotion (although that too). The problem with T’Challa (in this movie) is that he has no real conflict. Like he’s kind of just good at everything? Which is fine, but that doesn’t make him all that interesting. The only time he’s really ever vulnerable is when he drinks the kryptonite de-juice juice, but then he’s always fine afterwards. And when he’s wearing the Black Panther suit he’s literally indestructible. Dude gets shot like 50 times, and has to face down an entire squad of cape-guys with spears, and he makes it out no problem. Not to mention, he’s a good leader, charming, wise, attractive. He’s like a male Mary Sue. Again, that doesn’t make him a bad character, but it does make him a weak main character. The only thing he really grapples with is coming to terms with the fact that his father wasn’t that good of a guy, but that just gets resolved anyway. I will say, Chad did pretty good in the role, although I’m more of a Sennheiser man myself.

 

Erik: Michael B Jordan? More like the Michael Jordan… of acting. Amirite? Cause he’s really good… at acting. Yeah. So MBJ was pretty good as fish-man, but I have to say, I wasn’t really digging the character that much. More specifically, I like how this movie developed him. Like other than the whole thing with his father, his entire backstory was shoved into 20 seconds of characterization. “He got his degree, and then he got another degree, and then he killed a bunch of people, and then he joined the CIA, and he was top of his class in the Navy SEALs, and he has over 300 confirmed kills, etc.” Like what? First off, did someone with a PhD from fucking MIT joining black Ops not raise any questions? Was no one like, “hey man, you’re pretty smart, why don’t you work as an analyst?” What were his degrees even in? Whatever. Anyway, this bugged me because we’re basically told all this shit about him, but none of it’s ever really demonstrated. I guess he’s good at shooting guns? But what does Killmonger do in this movie to prove he’s like a super genius or whatever. You know what, nevermind, I don’t care.

 

Also, Killmonger’s entire plan didn’t really make any sense. He talked about “arming oppressed people” but then he also talked about Wakanda rising up and dominating the world. Which is it? If Wakanda took everything over, would the entire world not then become oppressed? And why is giving everyone weapons to kill each other the best solution? Can’t you just give African countries money to invest in their economies? Wouldn’t that be an easier way of creating prosperity and equality and whatever? Maybe that was Killmonger’s plan, but we wouldn’t know, because he got like 10 minutes of screentime, and most of it was just fighting people. Flesh out your damn characters, Marvel. You know what, nevermind, I don’t care.

 

As for the other characters in this movie, they were mostly well-written, and pretty much all well-acted, so good job actors/actresses/Ryan Coogler. My main problem with the cast is that there were just waaaaaaaay more characters than necessary. It kind of felt like a school play where too many people sign up, so the director has to write in more parts. I’ve seen people comparing this movie to Shakespeare, but I don’t think Bill would’ve written nearly this many roles into one of his scripts (he just wouldn’t have had the actors for it). It felt like there were some characters that could’ve been combined to make the plot more efficient. Like, you guys know that more characters != better worldbuilding, right? Right?

 

The practical effect to giving each character so little screen time, is that developments happen with almost no preemption. Take Daniel Kaluuya character for example. When the movie starts, he and T’Challa are best buds. When T’Challa explains (very poorly, I might add) that Serkis got away, Dan walks away kind of sad. Five minutes later, Erik drops Serkis’ body at his feet and he’s all:

Then later, when T’Challa comes back, DK straight up tries to murder him. Like ok, I get that he’s mad about his parents’ death, but is this really such a big deal for him that he’d rather have this bubble-wrap looking motherfucker as king than the guy he’s known his entire life? And if it was, the movie did a really poor job of communicating that. It kinda seemed like Dan switched his allegiance entirely for the benefit of the plot, without any real set-up to justify it.

 

Dialogue

 

So to get the most talked about thing out of the way: no, this movie isn’t funny. Like at all. (And yes, before you flame me in the comments, I’m aware I shouldn’t be talking). The “what are those” joke was bad, the mixtape joke was bad, the “can we wrap this up” joke at the ceremony was bad. The vegetarians line was actually pretty good, but that had more to do with Baka’s delivery than the actual writing. That being said, this movie had a pretty weak focus on comedy overall, so it wasn’t that big a deal.

 

There were so many forced jokes in this movie, but they missed all the obvious ones. At any point, T’Challa could’ve been like, “Shuri, you can’t be serious,” and she could’ve been like, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shuri.” Except I guess her name is Shuri, so that wouldn’t really make any sense. Huh… What was I talking about again?

 

If I had to shout out one character for having some really great lines, it would definitely be T’Challa. All of his speeches were super eloquent and had a ton of energy in them. I was pretty much always on his side cause he was just so damn inspiring. I would vote for that man in a heartbeat. Too bad Wakanda doesn’t actually have a democracy.

Race

 

I didn’t even really want to do this section, but I ain’t beat that case so, here we are.

Leading up to this movie’s release, there was a lot of buzz about how significant Black Panther would be for race relations. After seeing the movie for myself, I can say that it was pretty much all for nothing. This movie had very little to do with race in general. I’d say the most pervasive theme was isolationism vs. cooperation, and second to that probably respecting tradition vs incorporating new ideas. The only character that even really brought up race in this movie was Erik, and when he did it was mostly in reference to the colonization of Africa. I don’t think that much of the movie is really relevant to America at all. That being said, I don’t fault anyone for getting excited over casting choices. If you wanted to see this movie simply because most of the actors in it were black, that’s fine by me. A lot of people seemed to get mad over the notion of “forced diversity,” but I think this is actually the opposite. Forced diversity would be putting minority roles in situations where it wouldn’t really make sense to have them. Given that Black Panther literally takes place in Africa, I don’t see the issue with having African characters.

 

Now let’s talk about Disney. Y’all already know that Disney is literally my favorite company of all time ever. Disney has never, in its entire history, done anything wrong. That being said, recently there was a call by the NAACP to donate a portion of Black Panther’s proceeds to charity, and I have to say… I totally agree. Black Panther was a pretty average Marvel movie that ended up having the fifteenth biggest box office opening of all time. And given China’s general feelings towards people of color, you can’t really tell me that those were international numbers. A large part of Black Panther’s success can be chalked up to all the hype on social media about the film. Now I’m not saying Disney necessarily championed this cause or anything, but they did get a metric fuckton of free marketing from it. Honestly, they probably could’ve forgone a marketing campaign entirely, and this movie still would’ve been successful. And it’s not like the public is asking them to donate to the actual black panthers, they just want Disney to give some money to schools. I think everyone can get behind funding schools. Well, maybe not everybody…

*Update: Turns out Disney actually did end up donating some money. Good on ya, Disney.

Cinematography/Visuals

Black Panther? More like… There Won’t Be Blood. Got em.

I agree that this was a dumb choice, like people get stabbed and there’s just nothing. Does vibranium cauterize wounds or something? Idk. Overall, I don’t think the exclusion of blood really made the movie that much worse, but it was definitely unnecessary. There are a bunch of editing tricks you can use to show someone dying without actually showing them bleeding out, but this movie insisted on having the camera just linger. Maybe they were gonna do CGI blood but they forgot to put it in? Yeah, probably that.

 

Now I just wanted to say that the opening scene in this movie was fucking phenomenal. There was like this animated rendition of the history of Wakanda/the world, and it looked really, really nice. Unfortunately they blew half their budget on that, so the rest of this movie doesn’t look very good. Everything in the film that was done practically (y’know, like with real cameras, actors, and props) looked decent enough, but everything that was CGI/Chroma key looked stupid and fake.  

 

Now as to the action scenes. It wasn’t so much that they were bad, it’s just that there were way too many of them. And none were even that special? They all just looked like normal Marvel action. A bunch of movement, colors, and shapes all over the screen. Not very easy to follow. The issue is that you don’t really develop characters during fight scenes, so the more you cram into your movie, the less “movie” you actually have. And I get that kids like action scenes more than political drama, but I still feel like they could’ve cut a few of them out and it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

 

There were a few nice shots in the movie. The scene where Erik takes the throne and there’s like a 180-camera spin looked cool. The opening scene with the kids playing basketball, where they did the Birdman thing of not-actually-one-shot-but-edited-to-look-like-it-was-one-shot also looked good. Shoutout to Rachel Morrison for some good DP-ing.

 

Sound

 

So, apparently the album titled “Black Panther soundtrack,” is not, in fact, the actual Black Panther soundtrack. While I am a TDE fan, I guess I understand Marvel not wanting to have rap music over every scene in their movie. They did throw on a few tracks from that album into this film, so that was cool of them.

That being said, the actual score was pretty good in this. Ludwig definitely put in work. I thought the use of talking drums, koras, and other traditional African instruments was done really well. I also appreciated how they threw in a trap beat during Killmonger’s scenes. All they needed was Metro’s producer tag, and I would’ve given this movie a perfect score on the spot.

 

Conclusion

 

While Black Panther provides a nice detour from the bland, cookie-cutter framework of most superhero movies, it retains a lot of the same generic features. Its action, script, pacing, and editing are all similar to what we’ve seen many times over from films in the genre. While the movie certainly deserves praise for its cultural achievements, its socially-conscious status doesn’t really insulate it from criticism. I think this is a good movie for kids, but lacks the substance to really make it a great movie overall. Neat sets though.

 

Good for: Diverse representation in media

Bad for: Nuanced discussion of film

 

Bod R8s: 5.7/8

 

 

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