Black Panther (2018) Dir. Ryan Coogler
Now surpassing Titanic as the third highest-grossing film at the American box office ever, Marvel’s Black Panther has been a cultural and audience phenomenon. It has taught the industry a crucial lesson that superhero films can tackle complicated issues of race, representation and politics and still make huge profits.
The story concerns itself with the continuing tale of Chadwick Boseman’s T'Challa (Black Panther) who inherited the mantle of King of Wakanda after his father died in an attack seen in Marvel’s Civil War. Back in his homeland, Wakanda is an African country mixing traditional imagery of the continent with the possession of futuristic technology, but one they have hidden from the rest of the world. This issue that groups should get involved in the wider community is a running theme that Coogler tackles and permeates throughout. In Wakanda, a number of tribes fight for the right to be King but in America we find Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger making plans to take the crown himself.
Amongst this simple revenge plot, the film tackles family and arms dealing along with female empowerment. Letitia Wright plays Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and designer of Wakandan technology in a great role that echoes Q from the James Bond films. In addition, we have Star Wars’ Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia whilst Danai Gurira as Okoye is the highlight for me by giving a fantastic powerful performance as the head of the female fight-force that protects the Royal family.
So with an amazing cast, important social issues and the Marvel name behind it, the film is a runaway success, right? Well (takes deep breath), not quite.
Sacrilege I hear you say. But as much as I admired Black Panther’s positive messages the film never grasped me with so-so set pieces and on a technical level it reminded me far too much of Avatar in its heavily reliance on CGI. Never once did I feel I was outside the USA – heck not even outside a green screen room – and for a film set in Africa it would have been great to see the production actually film in the beautiful continent.
As with my concerns about Thor Ragnarok, I ask if the MCU is running out of steam – especially with its lazy CGI and technical elements. I was probably the only one but the film, at times, committed the worse crime of all. I found it drifting into dullness.
Coogler’s previous film Creed (2016) also with Michael B. Jordan was one of my top films of that year along with historical sports drama Race. In addition, Jordan Peele’s Get Out also tackled modern race relations and made our 2017 top 20. But Black Panther’s excellent message was lost in some dull council meetings (echoes of Phantom Menace) and the aforementioned poor CGI.
I feel for actors nowadays when they are announced as the next superhero. Previously, the feeling of putting on the suit during casting must have felt amazing but the character is so poorly rendered in CGI that Boseman’s excellent fighting stunts (seen in brilliant and brutal waterfall fights) are completely absent when the suit goes on. Bouncing around with no realism or weight, the computer generated models meant I couldn’t feel that we were actually “there” which was a flaw. I felt myself sighing as the rubber renderings bounced around like a cartoon.
So where does that leave Black Panther? Marvel have finally returned to the director-driven films they begun with. Branagh brought his experience of Shakespearean family feuds, also seen in Black Panther, whilst Joe Johnston’s Captain America used his previous 1940s comic book work on The Rocketeer. And Coogler does the same here – bringing his own class, a soundtrack which excels and the best group cast of 2018 to deliver his message.
Covering a whole range of ideas on race relations, positive black and female role models and questions about appropriation and inclusion, the director’s stamp is all over Black Panther’s central themes. I just wished it was done with some more entertainment and less CGI as, for me, much is swamped by a lack of believability in its standard revenge story.
But, let’s be fair here, whilst I saw it more as “Bland” Panther, the box office has proven any reservations I have about the film were not felt by the wide majority of the audience. And Black Panther’s position as an important film, and rightly so, is cemented in this colourful trip to Wakanda.
Midlands Movies Mike