Marvel’s latest superhero movie is, in my opinion, bright, bold and colourful, but ultimately just ok. I found myself quite charmed and won over by the initial stages of the movie, loving the design work and the characterizations, but by the second half I was nodding off as the film descended more and more into the Marvel cookie-cutter mold. It’s fine, nothing terribly wrong with it, but beneath the surface it’s just more of the same.
I was very impressed by the casting of the film. Chadwick Boseman is T’Challa, king of Wakanda and the blank-slate hero archetype designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. He does have a charisma that makes you care for him, though. Michael B. Jordan is a compelling arch-villain as Killmonger, out to usurp the throne. Lupita Nyong’o is wonderful as T’Challa’s love-interest/partner Nakia and I really loved Danai Gurira as Okoye, the top general of Wakanda’s army, but Letitia Wright stole every scene she’s in as T’Challa’s tech wiz-kid sister, Shuri. Andy Serkis is fun as one of the villains and Martin Freeman rounds out the cast as the token white guy, in what amounts to a fun inversion of usual Hollywood racial casting tropes.
The design of the film is absolutely splendid, a really beautiful style I’d describe as Afrofuturism. The sets and costumes are all top-notch, though some design choices I felt bordered on being silly, but then again it is based on a comic book so silliness is to be expected to some degree. I enjoyed the colour and variety on display and found the action sequences mostly pretty good, if somewhat predictable.
However, things droop in the second half and especially in the third act. There are definitely scenes that drag and the narrative gets pretty murky and uninteresting after Killmonger takes the throne of Wakanda. The movie then sets itself firmly on the rails of formulaic restoration-of-thestatus-quo amidst a sea of CGI spectacle and predictable action beats that is the bane of nearly all Marvel movies, in my opinion. Also, the themes of community and reaching out, while interestingly unpacked during the first half of the film, are a bit too on-the-nose in some scenes, particularly the preachy speech at the finale which I frankly could have done without.
On the whole, I found Black Panther to be a refreshing change of colour from previous Marvel outings, but at its core it is not all that original. These kinds of movies rarely are, however, so I appreciate the effort by the filmmakers to alter the palette a little and offer kids (the target audience) a wider range of stories than Whitey Saves the World. I think Black Panther is a culturally important film, much like Wonder Woman, but it lacks the playful subtlety that made that movie so much fun. Bottom line: I liked the new clothes but it’s an otherwise old horse.