SATURDAY REVIEW: Black Panther raised the game, but got stranded in the details

You know that feeling of excitement before a first date. You chatted online with somebody for a while, and you finally plan to meet them. All the expectations, and the worries, and then finally the day comes. Black Panther certainly did not make for a bad date, but for a sweet and frustrating one. It promised so much, and… nearly delivered.

Note: As most movie goers and Marvel fans have already seen it, I will not put a spoiler alert here. 

 

The black superhero takes it a few notches higher

He wears what possibly stands for the slickest, most elegant and most hi-tech costume in the history of superheroes. Sorry, Iron Man, but Black Panther got you on this one. Despite all its nanotechnology and AI control, your red armour still looks bulkier, more industrial and just robotic. But this guy’s suit absorbs cynetic energy and uses it against the attacker. How cool is that touch of Aikido principle?
Not to mention that it his little geeky sister designed it for him. Do you have a geeky sister of your own built all sorts of techy tricks for you, Iron Man? I guess not. You have your AI.

Even the review in The Atlantic shames you, Stark, in comparison with the supergeek girl. Eat your heart out!

© 2017 – Disney/Marvel Studios

Besides this, T’Challa reigns over a highly advanced hidden country, with stunning landscapes. A flower born out of the impact with a meteorite powers his enhanced physical strength. On top of that, fierce and loyal women warriors stand in his personal guard. Surrounded by amazing women, from his very dignified and wise mother, to his cheeky geeky sister, and his former and future girlfriend, this young king superhero inherits the reign over all of these through less fortunate circumstances.

The villain carries a social warning

So far, so good. Just as seen in the the trailer which built our expectations up, Black Panther surely holds great superhero traits. The story also sits on powerful social engagement ideas. But now we move towards the unfortunate aspects. We only discover those deep thoughts really late in the movie. The villain himself emerges out of nowhere mid-movie, making the first half look too much like a joke. I won’t be too harsh, so I will admit I mean a good joke.

Possibly one of the most human villains I have recently seen, Erik follows into his father’s steps of misguided social anger and frustration. A victim turning into an oppressor, he carries a strong message with him: one day, the oppressed can turn against the ones who one abused them. They will seize power as the only way to sooth their past traumas, plus the only thing they were ever made to value. Not a psychopath, nor motivated by an inflated ego, Erik earns our compassion when he ends at the hands of his superhero cousin.

Leave the past behind to create the future – the hero’s way

T’Challa, a king much sooner than he wanted or expected to be (not enough emphasised in the movie), knows that violence and revenge only muster more violence and revenge. His keeps on the right path and takes his predecessor’s work one step further: opening into the world, leaving the past behind, working together for a better future. True, he receives support from a wide and very consistent network. And he succeeds what the villain failed to do – win the inner battle with his own disappointment over his father’s deeds.

To me, more than the action, the compelling tech, the amazing women, and Martin Freeman‘s great acting, this is what gives the Black Panther movie strength and uniqueness.
However, the storytelling stays on the surface and fails to make a clear stand on any of these. Why did T’Challa say nothing to his dying cousin in terms of: “You, fool, we could have made it all better together! We could have turned our pain into gold and guided everybody else with what we know”.
Unfortunately, that crucial moment between the two remained yet another wasted opportunity.

Five best things about Black Panther

Besides the core idea, the new Marvel movie displays some great features:

  • The women warriors
    (photo) Beautiful, agile and clever, these women can make any men soldiers basically shit their pants. Many reviews applaud the presence of these extraordinary characters.
  • The princess warrior
    T’Challa’s former girlfriend actively fights against injustice in the world. A free spirit and a humanist, she plays a major role in convincing the young king to open his country’s resources and be more involved.
  • The geeky sister
    Despite never leaving Wakanda, Shuri shares in her brother’s fights by the wonders of the VR propped devices she develops. I absolutely loved this little detail!

© 2017 – Disney/Marvel Studios

  • M’Baku – the mountain leader
    (photo) We affectionately nicknamed him Gorilla Boy. His stern demeanour, his mad sense of humour, his determination and his clear values make him one of the most complex and captivating side characters.
  • Martin Freeman
    Some of the best played scenes in the movie are owed to him.

At the same time, the African inspired music worked and transported the viewer into the landscape of the continent, not only geographically, but culturally as well.

Five worst things about Black Panther

The overall failure of the movie resides in the weakness of each major element. None of the great ideas which could have turned it into a very powerful movie was fully developed. Instead, the Marvel production stays very entertaining, but confusing.

  • The villain
    First, the guy who collects weapons made of vibranium, Klaue, is nothing but a suburb joker. While making you wonder how such a stupid jerk can make superheroes tremble, the fake villain card could have been better played – more hints, less mocking about.

  • The mistake
    It made no sense to me that the old king had to kill his brother. Yes, he guy tried to shoot Zuri, whom the king himself sent on a secret mission to keep an eye on the brother. But surely, dressed in the Black Panther suit, T’Chaka could have just impaired and stopped his mad angry sibling?
  • The relations
    So T’Challa stops a convoy transporting captive girls (good hint to Boko Haram there) and runs into a covert operation by this gorgeous fighter woman. Obviously, they fancy each other. Still, have they ever dated? Were they going to date? No clarity is given until the very end of the movie.
    Also, the woman general’s relation with one of the tribe chieftains gets lost in action. This could have been another element to add depth and gravity to the choices each of them has to make. Still, when the two faced each other in battle my face just dropped with puzzlement – oh, I forgot these two were meant to be lovers!
  • The theme song
    The conflict between son’s admiration for his father and his disappointment when he learns about the old king’s dirty secret weighs heavy in the story. All I can remember form the song of T’Challa’s journey into the land of his ancestors is that it features a cello. After that, the song fails to deliver a compelling theme.
  • The fighting
    The most cinematic scene in the whole string of action remains the one I have seen in the trailer. Seriously? With so many important fights, for me (a 90% visual person) none of Black Panther’s really stick with me. Sure, the high speed train and two glowing suits stay in my mind. But then I can remember much more from the fight scenes in Ant Man than in this movie.

These being said, Black Panther will last as an important piece of the Marvel universe and the superhero world. I just wish they employed better story telling!

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