2018 in Cinema:
Black Panther, 2018
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
The final film on the road to DC’s Justice League was Wonder Woman, a superhero film led by a non white-male character. Now, Marvel are following suit with their final film before Avengers: Infinity War with their own non white-male leading character, Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Carrying on from his father death in Captain America: Civil War, we now see T’Challa ascend to the throne as King, fending off a challenge from a rival in combat before Wakanda is threatened by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan . . . I wonder if he put the ‘B’ there to separate him from the other Michael Jordan) as he returns to his father’s homeland as a wannabe leader, to gain revenge for his father’s murder.
A very solid film, no surprise with the films in the MCU, but it unfortunately will languish somewhere in the middle of an overall favourites list; not competing with the best nor suffering with the worst. But that still doesn’t mean it wasn’t a thoroughly entertaining superhero film. The special effects are wonderful; with the two Black Panther suits and the constant use of purple carrying the same quality the whole way through, and the fight scenes are very well choreographed. It all feels very exciting, with the right soundtrack backing certain scenes and some wonderful location (the fight on the cliff having a very tense feeling to it because of their location) all add to the general excitement of this film as a visual spectacle.
The acting is also very fine, which isn’t a major surprise considering the talent hired; with Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave (who plays Nakia) and Daniel Kaluuya (who plays W’Kabi) both Oscar-nominated actors and a fine lead in Chadwick Boseman. However my favourite performance was from Letitia Wright (who plays Shuri), and it’s a performance I feel will go slightly under the radar as she wasn’t one of the standout characters, but she managed to combine a few of the character tropes: that of the comic relief, the gadget-man and the family damsel-in-distress, and I felt she managed to subtly combine all three tropes without it being obvious that she was all of these. I didn’t particularly care much for Michael B. Jordan’s performance, but that may be because the quality of company he was with, anyone giving less than stellar is noticeable.
A couple of issues were raised by this film, or more specifically its place in the MCU timeline. I completely understand the benefits of having the final film before a massively anticipated film being one starring a non white-male character; it’s probably a cynical point of view but if you place this film in the middle it can be lost in the shuffle, but here there will be more eyes on the product because the next Avengers film is around the corner. However, this film and Thor: Ragnarok should have been switched around. The final episode before a series finale should build up the excitement as much as possible for that series finale, much like I believe this, being the final film before Avengers: infinity War, which arguably the MCU timeline has been building towards (I know there’s more MCU films, but the Avengers as a team are done with their movies and everything form the Infinity Stones to the villain has been building towards this epic showdown), should have fully propelled the excitement, but instead I don’t feel more or less excited for it. Thor: Ragnarok was its own film but the final post-credit scene set up Thanos’ final journey to earth, whereas this film really kept itself away from the whole MCU timeline (bar one small post-credit scene). I know I complained in Spiderman: Homecoming that it was too much of an MCU film, but the position of this film warranted more involvement in setting up all the pieces for Infinity War. But, that’s not an issue with Black Panther as a film, more so its location.
And bringing issues back to the film itself, I felt the script wasn’t as strong as it could have been. I follow the argument that there’s no such thing as a film that’s too long, just a film that can’t sustain the audience’s attention for its time span, and some of that is down to the script. In Black Panther there are a lot of exposition scenes, and one or two you can possibly get away with, but when it begins with an explanation of Wakanda and vibranium, before having a back-story explanation of N’Jadaka and their family’s trouble and Shuri’s gadgets being explained and them once-again explaining Wakanda and its technology to Everett (Martin Freeman) and once again explaining their issues to M’Baku (Winston Duke) when they want his help; it just felt so much of this film was explanation (which is difficult to avoid in a film about a new character with a slightly convoluted story). And the final issue, which connects to its script, was N’Jadaka’s desires. He wants the throne and what he wants it for is to send Wakanda’s aids and resources to all the black people around the world so they can rise and revolt against white men. It’s an extra addition that felt unnecessary; simply wanting the throne due to his family’s history with Wakanda and the former king is enough, but bringing race into it wasn’t necessarily warranted. One of the best things about Wonder Woman was how it embraced her being a woman but didn’t let it drive the film in any way, whereas Black Panther fully embraces their African origins, but wanting racism as a means for the villain felt like they were trying too hard to hammer home that they’re non white-male.
I also disliked the Avengers: Infinity War trailer just before this film in the cinema because it confirmed that T’Challa will survive everything, so when he’s fighting a battle for his life I never had the same worry as with other films because I’d seen a film advertising his life at a later time in the timeline. But, again, that can’t be seen as a criticism for Black Panther, more against Marvel. But, those criticisms don’t stop Black Panther from being a thoroughly enjoyable ride, with fantastic performances and a solid visual presentation and a fine story. A few niggling issues, but nothing too disturbing.
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