I use to say that it was hard for me to keep my expectations leveled for Marvel films, but honestly, even the responses to Marvel films have become as formulaic as the films themselves:
A trailer comes out and is speculated upon endlessly.
Fans constantly gush about how much they’re looking forward to it.
The movie opens with amazing reviews including one or two hot-takers that say it’s “The Best Marvel Film Yet”.
Everybody who sees it says the usual glowing remarks.
I end up watching it and see an enjoyably-good-but-unexceptional movie.
Now I really liked Black Panther. The filmmaking and story telling was at the same great level as many other Marvel movies. But exceptional, it is unfortunately not.
Everyone does really great with the roles they’re given. Not only the Black Panther himself (Chadwick Boseman), but all the supporting characters like Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Daniel Kaluuya were all fleshed out enough to care about and invest in. No one in the film ever took me by surprise, but Black Panther at least handled its entire ensemble better than most movies in the super hero franchises.
Michael B. Jordan is absolutely fantastic as the villain despite the fact that once again, the Marvel formula never gives him enough to be compelling or memorable.
The Tolkien white guys are also good.
Black Panther bore quite a massive burden on their shoulders when it came to Wakanda world-building. However, everything presented within the universe created makes sense. I also enjoyed the bits of subtle storytelling and universe building in the background.
The soundtrack was pretty great.
This movie also attempts to add a little political commentary into the story. Now typically, whenever a superhero movie (or kids movie in general) decides to have some sort of political messaging, it almost always comes across as ham-fisted, unsubtle, and/or awkwardly placed. With Black Panther, this is not the case. The film found a way to not only be straightforward with their political messages but also integrate into the story that made sense to the situations and characters with in the film. I liked it, and it gave me a respect for this film that I rarely ever have for kids movies.
I would go deeper into the political messaging, but I’ll wait until later when I guest host in a film podcast later next week.
I guess that I should also mention that even though Black Panther tries to be funny sometimes, it is rarely at the expense of the film’s tone or character development… so right then and there, it’s already better than Thor: Ragnarok.
Now I also have a few complaints about the film, but they’re all relatively small.
Some of the exposition in the movie is really lazily put in. There’s a small handful of moments, especially during the ending, that are really cheesy and forced. And I know this happens a lot in many superhero movies, but just how frequently Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan take off their masks for their face shots really took me out of a few scenes.
But the only real complaint that I have about this movie is something that is true of pretty much every Marvel movie: the film can never find a way to garner true emotional weight. Every single time that the film tries to deal with adult themes and with extreme loss and consequences, it is comparative to that of a child who puts his toe in a cold pool and then yanks it out quickly because he’s afraid.
Like I said, this is something that plagues pretty much every Marvel (and Disney) property. But unlike mundane films like Antman, Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, etc., Black Panther isn’t mediocre.
If this movie wasn’t tied to a corporate entity (that is more concerned with money than storytelling), then it could have possibly been so much more.
In short, Black Panther is as good as a Marvel movie can be. I know that’s enough for most people, and in regards to basic enjoyment, it’s enough for me too. However, I can’t give a Marvel movie a 10, or even an 8 just for being as good as Disney will allow it to be.
Sorry… I don’t mean to be a downer. This movie is great. Maybe I’m only upset because I’m tired of giving these films the benefit of the doubt and giving them the chance to be something more.
Go see this film. It deserves your money. Black Panther may very well end up on my Best of the Year list, but it will likely hit the bottom of the list, and I just wished it had the potential to be higher.