Latest posts by Oliver Ledingham-Smith (see all)
- Avengers: Infinity War Is A Success That’s Ten Years In The Making - December 10, 2018
- Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Is, By Default, The Franchise’s Best And Bloodiest - November 29, 2018
- ‘A Monster Calls’ Capitalises On Liam Neeson’s Voice To Deliver The goods - November 21, 2018
The DCEU may be able to claim that they had their first female superhero, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe grabs the prize for its first POC superhero. And, before you get all high and mighty, I said the MCU, not Marvel – I’m fully aware that Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, was released in 1998. Because it’s the MCU, there’s a bunch of interconnectivity, which at this point works to practically every MCU film’s overall credit, as it means that they can introduce characters into other films before gifting them with their own movies. That’s not always the case, but it was with T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who first appeared in Captain America: Civil War in 2016. This meant that audiences and fans alike were treated to the movie-version of the character, and so were aware of him before even the first trailer for his film came out. And when it did, the trailer was so eye-poppingly spectacular that we all knew we were in for a treat. What we didn’t know was just how much Black Panther was going to make, or how many records it was going to break. In short to both: lots.
The primary reason as to why Black Panther captured the zeitgeist in such a shocking and all-encompassing way (it literally steamrollered over other would-be tentpole films as if they weren’t even there) is that it was the movie that people wanted. It wasn’t just a superhero film, an action film, or yet another MCU entry, but was a film unlike anything seen before, in that it represented those who don’t usually get representation in big budgeted Hollywood movies. Because of that, it not only broke the record that was previously held by Deadpool on that February weekend, but clawed its way to $699.9 million domestically. As of this writing, Black Panther is still in 28 screens across North America, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s going to stay in cinemas until it gets to the $700 million mark. Because of the fact that it’s domestic opening weekend was $202 million, it threw down the gauntlet for the following MCU entry, the culmination of nearly every Marvel film that we have seen up to this point: Avengers: Infinity War. Black Panther acted as if there was no competition at all, sweeping up everything in its path in an effort to rake in all the cash. And can you blame the film? Based on the trailers alone – and this is before early reactions – it was clear that this was going to be a killer movie.
I think I’ve waxed lyrical about Black Panther‘s astonishing success at the box office for long enough; by now we should all know that the movie took the phrase ‘exceeded expectations’ and fired it to the moon. But I will just say this: another record that the movie stole was that it was the first solo outing of a superhero in the MCU who wasn’t Iron Man that took in more than $800 million worldwide ($1.34 billion as of this writing). That should most definitely be something to be proud of, but it couldn’t have done it without a) the previous success and outright authority that Marvel commands within the industry as a whole; and b) the fact that, at the end of the day, Black Panther is actually a pretty damn good movie. Okay, so I only saw it twice in cinemas – once on opening day, the second time with my girlfriend – as opposed to the usual three times that I go to see a Marvel movie if I think it warrants being good enough. Sure, Black Panther is more than good enough, and it manages to stand on its own two legs without the need for any cameos from more well-known Marvel superheroes (sorry, Spider-Man: Homecoming), and it tells a decent-if-slightly-by-the-numbers narrative that allows you to get properly acquainted with the character.
Not only do you become acquainted with the titular character, but also T’Challa’s family, such as his sister, Shuri (Letita Wright), who is posited as the female version of Tony Stark; his mother, Ramonda (Angel Bassett), who doesn’t really have that much to do, and is probably the least developed character out of the entire cast; his ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Wyong’o), who is her own free agent and is essentially wanting to do what the main antagonist of the film, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) desires to do. Back along for the ride is also Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), the latter of which is far more than just a glorified cameo, thankfully, and ends up having a fair amount to do when we finally get around to the third act of the movie. I say ‘finally get around’, because Black Panther is 134 minutes long, which, for a Marvel film is not only a bit on the lengthy side, but also demonstrates that there’s a lot to pack in for T’Challa’s first solo outing. Nevertheless, despite its rather lengthy runtime, at no point do you feel as though anymore could have been left on the editing room floor (the rough cut came in at a staggering four hours), and everything was where it needed to be.
T’Challa’s journey is one of self-discovery, almost. Black Panther takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and T’Challa is returning to his hidden home country, Wakanda, a technological marvel that has been obscured from the rest of the world so that they don’t see how advanced the Wakandans are, nor that no enemies are ever given the opportunity to attempt to steal their precious Vibranium. And because Wakanda has been hidden from the world, it means that writer-director Ryan Coogler, along with Joe Robert Cole, were able to give us a brief history of the country, how it came to be, as well as how the mantle of the Black Panther came to exist, through the medium of some pretty cool special effects. It set the scene for the movie, as Coogler and co. set up the debate of whether Wakanda should come out of the shadows or not. Thus enter the primary antagonist, Killmonger, who saw what had happened to those who had been oppressed and wanted to do something about it. As unconventional as his methods were (it’s never a good idea to arm people just for the sake of arming people in an effort to stop oppressors from hurting or killing you), there is no doubt that Killmonger is perhaps one of Marvel’s better villains as of late, and certainly one that you can empathise with.
The reason is that the argument that Black Panther is trying to get across makes it so that the people of Wakanda, holed up in their self-imposed solitude, are actually the ones who could be seen as the bad guys, because they’re not sharing their weapons and technology with other POC throughout the globe. Yet this in turns brings up the moral quandary of privilege and being in the right place at the right time. It forces T’Challa to have to choose between what is right and what is easy. Yeah, that may seem like an age-old discussion, but it’s one that lots of characters – and in fact lots of people in real life – have to face, so it’s at least believable. However, if there’s one issue with the Killmonger section of the film, it’s that it takes Killmonger so many years to reach this point where he can return to Wakanda, that it does almost feel as if it’s out of the blue, as if Killmonger is aware that the film has a time limit and decides to rush the plot along. Before this point, T’Challa and his advisors are more interested in capturing Klaue, a story thread that results in the best car chase sequence that we have seen for an extremely long time – in any film.
Another good thing about Black Panther is its use of the female characters. Everyone these days seem to have jumped on the bandwagon with the whole ‘oh you need strong, female characters’. No. You need female characters who feel authentic and more than your historical two-dimensional characters who are only there as either eye candy, or to fill the role of damsel in distress. If you female characters act like female characters, are fleshed out, complex, and human in their traits, mannerisms and actions, then you don’t need the backhanded defence of ‘you need strong, female characters’. Marvel have a slogan going round at the moment of ‘Fight Like a Girl’, and they’re using Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters, who are badass and believable and unbelievably fleshed out (well, after five seasons, you’d fully expect them to be). Anyway, tangent aside, Black Panther takes this trope and implements it here with the Wakandan King’s guard: the Dora Milaje, which is made up entirely of Wakandan women, and led by Okoye (Danai Gurira). They kick serious amounts of ass, and even introduce audiences to the concept of wig-fu, which was not only an inventive fighting manoeuvre, but also quite funny if you stop and think about it.
Another issue I take with Black Panther is arguably the pacing. Yes, it’s a long film, but there’s no real way around that, as it kind of needs to be, and at this stage in the MCU, that’s completely fine. Having said that, the lead up to Killmonger – at least from T’Challa’s perspective – is virtually nonexistent, and so when it happens it is actually surprising and sudden for the character more than it is for the audience. It did feel a bit as if Coogler realised how lengthy things were becoming and decided to speed things up a bit, so that the end result is that the first two acts of Black Panther are languid and relatively easygoing, but the third act is rushed. I didn’t really notice it the first time around, but I definitely picked up on it the second time: there is no denying that the final climactic battle is over and done with in a rapid amount of time, so there is barely any time for the stakes to be continuously raised, and instead it feels almost as if you’ve been a bit short shrift. With that being said, Black Panther is still a great movie, and shows that Marvel are able to draw in crowds and rake in the millions even when the lead isn’t Iron Man.
If you like what you see, head over to https://ollieauthorofxma.wordpress.com for more film reviews like this one.