Given that Black Panther has become a cultural phenomenon, there’s been a lot of hype and backlash around the discussion of the film. Stripping all that away, how good is it?
Firstly it’s a good example of an action adventure – the characters are likeable and spark off each other; there’s a compelling story that flows through the film and doesn’t overstay its welcome; the locales (in both Wakanda and South Korea) are colourful and engaging; and there’s some really spectacular and fun action set pieces. That is the primary scale that Black Panther should be judged against, against films like Doctor No, Armaegeddon and the like. By that standard it measures up well – I’d be surprised if there’s many better action films released this year.
Secondly, its a film which has many prominent, narrative-driving roles for black and female characters – which often isn’t true in big budget, high profile action films. Different is good. Being different avoids repetitiveness and boredom. Even more so if you happen to belong to one or both of those groups – as a working class white male I can sort of understand what it feels like to belong to an under/misrepresented group (the first of the three) but not totally. Given the years spent waiting for Marvel to make a Black Widow film or for MGM to cast a coloured James Bond, Black Panther is a feast in the desert.
And finally the politics are more smart and subversive than would be expected for this type of film. There’s intelligent debate over whether it could be moral for a technologically powerful African nation to wage a war of colonialism against the rest of the world. It’s a clever setup, reversing the power dynamic of typical discourse around colonialism, with Africans in the position of strength, and the white west in need of mercy.
Black Panther is a very good example of an action adventure film, which occasionally rises above that, delivering provocative ideas to a wider audience than an art-film reasonably could. Even the small things are done well – Andy Serkis is the funny but creepy secondary villain that Micky Rourke was trying to be in Iron Man 2. There are times when the film stretches credulity a little, but that’s par for the course in the genre. Definitely worth watching.
Verdict: it’s still a big budget action film, with all the superficialities which that involves. But it’s one that asks big questions, while still being fun and engaging.
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