After watching Thor: Ragnarok (2017), there was only one film left to see in our journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe leading up to Avengers: Infinity War (2018): Black Panther. While the buzz about the film was good, we went in with a little more trepidation than usual. After all, the bad guy was Michael B. Jordan (who we last saw fizzling out in Fantastic Four (2015)). To add to that, all the critics seemed to be raving about was that Marvel had broken the color ceiling by creating a movie centered around the first black superhero, which is actually completely untrue. Even if you don’t include goofy folk like Blankman, Marvel already created a trilogy around a black superhero a while ago…or has everyone completely forgot about Blade (1998) and it’s sequels?
With the false hype, we were a bit worried about how Black Panther would stack up. Would this be the ultimate lead-in to Avengers: Infinity War (2018)? Or would the false hype (and the hope apparently generated by Jordan after his redemption with Creed (2015)), bring this film crashing down around itself?
Chadwick Boseman, who put in his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War (2016), returns as T’Challa/Black Panther in Black Panther. While the whole movie is basically centered around him, this relative unknown does a solid job in his role, and creates a conflicted hero that viewers will try to cheer on. However, the film itself hardly lets them do this, as just when his strength – both physical and mental – is needed most, he’s continually upstaged by the characters around him.
Among those who upstage him is the villain of Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan. A tragic villain, he seems to be the better of the two men throughout most of the film. Sure, he’s trying to buck tradition and there’s that whole world domination thing, but he manages to make it seem almost noble. He’s the more complex of the two characters, and his Panther persona seems nearly better than Boseman’s. It almost makes the viewers wish the roles had been reversed. It’s an odd shift in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the film, while still about the hero’s redemption, seems instead to be played to portray the villain as the one more in need of redemption.
While Jordan’s “evil” guy upstages Boseman, he’s not the only one in Black Panther to commandeer each scene they are in. Both T’Challa’s sister and general, played by Letitia Wright and Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, also do more than hold their own when standing with Boseman. Both are strong female protagonists, and their characters seem interesting enough for each of them to get their own films, and viewers will enjoy their various sequences on-screen.
Black panther, while staying true to the tried-and-true origin story paint-by-numbers that Marvel has perfected, seems to be so oriented on social commentary as to forgot that their focus should be on the hero. By developing such interesting characters (and villains), it makes T’Challa seem like somewhat of a disappointment, and viewers will wonder why the film is about him at all. He’s all for tradition, until he gets knocked from the throne, then comes back (with his power restored) to fight for the kingship. While it’s true his superhero costume is based on a big cat, viewers didn’t really need such a re-telling of The Lion King (1994), did they? No, they didn’t. While the social commentary angle is spot-on, it also takes a bit away from the film as a whole, and, unfortunately, this leaves most of the major plot points entirely too predictable.
WHile Boseman is decent enough, it’s odd that he seemed more exciting in Captain America: Civil War (2016) than he does in his own film. Still, with a spot-on social commentary that will resonate with viewers of today, and a supporting cast so strong they overshadow the main character, Black Panther, even though it’s rather predictable, is still interesting enough to deserve a look.
It is odd, however, that in this, the final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that Black Panther is the first movie since The Incredible Hulk (2008) that distances itself as much as possible from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And sadly, fans who were expecting to see an appearance by Captain America (which seemed likely, after seeing the AVENGERS 3 trailer where he emerges from Wakanda at the head of an army) will be sorely disappointed.
Still, for a first film, it’s not bad. With such a strong supporting cast, and Chadwick Boseman given lots of room to grow further in his role, the future looks bright for this trilogy. Let’s just hope Avengers: Infinity War (2018) doesn’t cut all that short.