Black Panther has been one of the most anticipated Marvel films of recent memory. There’s always a certain level of hype around Marvel’s superhero outings but the real, looking forward to it all week, booking tickets early, arriving before the crowds kind of eagerness only comes out with the big get togethers or the big risk films. Black Panther quite possibly fits best in the latter category but while other films are risks in terms of money or for the franchise, Black Panther is a social risk.
It’s unlikely that you won’t have heard by now that Black Panther is the first superhero movie to feature a predominantly black cast. The hero is black, his love interest is black, he hails from a black country full of black people, his house guard is made up of black women with shaved heads, his sister is a black genius providing tech support, his best friend who betrays him is black, the villain is black, the rival who winds up supporting the hero is black. If there’s a trope that you can think of it’s almost certainly in this film and it’s played by a black person.
Some of you might be wondering what’s the risk? Black people have been in movies for years. But some other people are also questioning why this movie had to be made at all. Afterall acting is about talent, not the colour of the actors skin. And that would be fine and true if we lived in a world where such things as acting weren’t influenced by ideas of marketing and profit. So it becomes a case where many black people aren’t cast in films because a white actor might bring in more money or because of some notion that only black people go to watch black people in films. Like you could make a film full of black people and show it in some black neighbourhood in America and it would sell well but it wouldn’t sell as well outside of that area.
Therein lies the risk. Black Panther is a battle cry, a standing up and being named and shouting in its loudest, proudest voice that it can make just as much money as any Marvel movie full of white people. The risk is that if it doesn’t work and people don’t see it or it doesn’t make its return then it will seem to confirm all of what people say about black actors in film. They’ll say that it appealed to a key demographic but failed to get anyone else into cinemas. Though as it stands, that’s unlikely to happen. Black Panther is currently set to outstrip Captain America: Civil War in terms of opening numbers.
Beyond race, Black Panther is just a very strong, entertaining outing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther is dramatic and funny, balancing between an almost Shakespearean premise and a very modern representation of the oppressed seizing power. T’challa’s relationship with his little sister is light-hearted and natural, the fact that he’s king never seeming to intrude on their familial closeness. Contrast that with his cousin, Erik Killmonger; two men with drastically different life experiences who can’t connect because of the troubles of their fathers. Black Panther has one of the most complex protagonist-antagonist relationships yet and there’s a whole lot more that could have been explored which the film just doesn’t have time for.
The actors themselves really sell the roles. Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan are the linchpins of a strong cast but it’s Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira who steal every scene they’re in. Honorable mention goes to Winston Duke as M’Baku who stands out despite a very limited appearance. In the hands of a lesser actor, the role could have been one dimensional, but Duke brings a real personality to the character.
For all that Black Panther does right, its flaws lie in the final battle between T’challa and Killmonger. The battle takes place in vibranium mines on the track of a hover train between social pillars while the two costumed characters fight. The result is a very CGI heavy fight which fails to impress because the visual effects distract from the actual combat. There’s also nothing intense about the fight. I enjoyed the build up but it’s clear that T’challa has to be around for Thanos’ arrival, so of course he’s going to overcome Killmonger. So all in all when it comes to the final fight, it’s just sort of lacking.
Part of the reason for this disappointment is because Erik Killmonger is a very well developed antagonist. The film spends almost as much time depicting Killmongers journey as it does to T’Challa. So much so that it almost feels like he deserved more than one film. Instead his life long ambition is snuffed out relatively quick but the repercussions are felt thereafter as Wakanda does become less isolationist. It’s rare for an antagonist to actually change the hero’s ideology in a superhero movie.
So Black Panther has a lot to be celebrated, whether it be culturally, racially or just purely from a cinematic perspective. Or maybe you thought it out and out sucked? Well then get on the comments below and let me know. Or if social media is more your speed, I’m on most of them so fire me a tweet, a post or a message on your preferred platform. Also, if you want to read more from me, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, available to read over on swoonreads.com. As ever thanks for reading.