Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther (2018)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.

Release Date: February 16th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ryan Coogler Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

 


 

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t’s inspiring and historic for a superhero movie to be comprised of an all-black cast (or, at least, in all of its leading roles). It’s surely a watershed moment for cinema. But that has little bearing – nor does it save – “Black Panther’s” story from being just about the same as every other Marvel title. The first three-quarters of the film is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the origin pictures, built up from nonsensical, otherworldly, unexplained things, given meaningless definitions, and generating motives and purposes and conduct with broad strokes. It’s no more or less creative than its numerous companion pieces; it still relies heavily on random powers, invincibility, and the kind of luck (and cavalier attitudes) found in nearly every larger-than-life fantasy adventure.

It all begins with a meteorite that struck Africa thousands of years ago. A special, heart-shaped herb arose, giving super powers to those who used it, while the strongest substance on Earth was also mined from the crash site for use in weapons and technology. Warring tribes fought over these resources, with one praying to the panther goddess for guidance – which led to the first Black Panther leader, who ruled over most of the land (save for one rebellious faction), and who designed an invisibility forcefield over the realm of Wakanda, to protect its people and to prevent the magical elements from falling into the wrong hands. All of this is summed up in a montage of CG-laden imagery, making about as much sense as any spontaneously-derived legend derived from alien components.

From there, audiences are treated to a woefully uneventful cold open, which acquaints a few of the key players, though they are the 1992 versions of themselves. It will take about half the movie to pass before this introductory sequence clarifies its significance, along with the corresponding present-day iterations of the characters. Most important is Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is about to be crowned the new king of Wakanda. At the ceremony, he’s accompanied by ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother (Angela Bassett), his uncle Zuri (Forest Whitaker), trusted general Okoye (Danai Gurira), and compatriot W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya).

Conflict initially presents itself through the rich, detailed culture and traditions and religions of Wakanda. Despite the society being extremely advanced technologically, it still relies on barbaric customs, including a physical, ritual combat for ascension to the throne. On more than one occasion, this trial establishes a dictator who must be obeyed without question; the Wakandans can only pray that they get a good supreme ruler, since a hand-to-hand duel (momentarily sans superpowers) ultimately determines leadership. While they’re exhausting their ancient practices, Shuri (the equivalent of James Bond’s Q) and a network of spies figure out that terrorist Ulysses Klaue (a very fitting Andy Serkis) is plotting to sell a Wakandan artifact to an American buyer in South Korea.

Once T’Challa is pronounced the king, he immediately embarks on a mission to frustrate this arms deal – since, seemingly, he has no pressing duties as the new sovereign of Wakanda (as a monarch, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t have to sit in on bureaucratic affairs). Sadly, all of the action that ensues is noticeably unoriginal. Melees, showdowns, heists, car chases, and battlefield brawls all possess Marvel’s typical structuring, replete with dramatic posing, the continual defying of gravity, and unlimited superpowers being dispensed left and right. When in a pinch, everyone can simply activate a previously undisclosed bit of technology that just so happens to save the day.

A few social issues crop up, though they’re primarily afterthoughts, while the notion that fear prevents virtuousness is amusing yet certainly not exclusive to this superhero endeavor. Fortunately, “Black Panther’s” plot largely takes place on their hidden world, which means that it doesn’t depend on the rest of Marvel’s universe to function; this might be the single episode least intermixed with the rest of the franchise – and it’s better for its self-sufficiency. Plus, the music is outstanding, and the finale is nicely robustious. But the few highlights aren’t enough to distinguish it from the practically innumerable entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s just one more indistinct, overlong chapter in a never-ending series of computer-augmented sci-fi spectacles.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10