MCU's 18th instalment turns its attention to BLACK PANTHER, a character who first appeared on paper in the mid-60s and was previously featured in Captain America: Civil War. Following his brush with The Avengers, T'Challa – the new king of Wakanda - returns to Africa where he is officially anointed. Upon ceremony he inherits the power of the Black Panther and grapples with the responsibility of protecting his kingdom, his people and their place in the world. Wakanda is a secret kingdom, hidden in the middle of Africa and cloaked. Their wealth is immense and their technology is highly advanced, and while they reside in their metropolis, I should note that the greater continent of Africa lives in poverty (yes, Wakanda is a selfish kingdom). When two ruthless criminal figures (Andy Serkis and Michael B Jordan) conspire to bring down Wakanda, T'Challa and his all-female special force team join with a CIA agent (Martin Freeman) and fight to protect their homeland from being exposed to the outside world.
BLACK PANTHER obviously works on paper, and having endured 50-years of comic book issues he is clearly a beloved character. On screen, however, his story leaves a lot to be desired. It's an absurd notion to suggest suspending disbelief when venturing into a superhero movie, because it goes without saying that the very nature of such fiction is already far-fetched. And yet for total engagement within the Marvel Cinematic Universe there needs to be a level-acceptance of the truth presented on screen. For instance, characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Ant-Man are all the product of scientific misadventure, and so they occupy the same world comfortably. Yet characters like Thor, Doctor Strange and Black Panther are either mystic or otherworldly, and – for me – bring convolution to the narrative. Of course I must concede to MCU's ongoing evolution, and accept the cross-pollination (as frustrating as it is). For the record I felt the same about Thor as I do Black Panther until Ragnarok came along and Guardian'd things up a little.
BLACK PANTHER has been highly anticipated and various circles have touted it as an important milestone within the genre. This campaign of hype has reflected both a strong social movement and a fair amount of virtue signalling, and while its cast of predominantly black players is cause for celebration in itself, too much emphasis has been placed upon the fact, and less towards whether or not the movie is actually good!? It's not.
In fact Marvel's latest investment is an incessant mess. There's too much happening with little emphasis put into character-building or story-development. Once we accept the fact that such an isolated and technologically advanced culture exists behind a cloak of invisibility, we must then contend with an onslaught of silly rituals, faux accents and a clusterfuck of digital effects. Digital city scapes, digital waterfalls and digital animals populate an all digital universe... and when we are treated to some practical effects, they are digitally augmented to staggering digital depths.
I guess there's some worth to be found in the cast and their performances. Chadwick Boseman makes for a charismatic lead, whose on-screen presence is surprisingly sincere. Michael B Jordan makes for an equally charismatic villain, although his role is archetypal and riddled with cliché. Andy Serkis is fantastic on screen, if only less time was spent on close ups of his facial expressions (yes, we get it... he's Gollum). Martin Freeman offers a token “white boy” turn as a dumbed-down CIA agent with mad pilot skills. His role isn't necessary and the story would have benefited from his absence. Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira give strong warrior-type performances and balance the film's masculinity with a welcome amount of female empowerment. Daniel Kaluuya offers little as T'Challa's best friend whose view on Wakanda's sanctity holds a blatant mirror to the real world's current political climate. BLACK PANTHER may be a huge step up – financially speaking - from his incredible turn in Get Out, but it's a disappointing backwards step in terms of showcasing his talent. And of course Angela Bassett and Forest Whittaker contribute that “old school” flavour and do very little with their screen time.
BLACK PANTHER is not the bottom of the barrel for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that honour goes to Thor: The Dark World) but it is definitely a close second. It is an overlong, over-hyped mess of digital saturation, embarrassing accents, and hilarious armoured rhinos. Put this quote on the poster “Dumb!”.