My grade 7/10
Talk about getting hyped for a movie - 97% critics grade on Rottentomatoes.com, 5th biggest weekend opening in box office history (in February of all time frames!), and justified Oscar buzz for Marvel for set and costume design.
But as I stepped out of the movie theater I couldn't help feeling that sting of sour disappointment at the Black Panther not really leaving up to its potential. It is yet another enjoyable Marvel film, giving us a fascinating origin story of not only the titular hero but of his entire society and mysterious country.
But a masterpiece, as some critics hailed it? Sadly, far from it.
For all it grandeur and cultural importance the Black Panther is dragged down to the level of just another merely entertaining popcorn flick because of some very uninspiring writing. I am not talking about plot holes per se, although these are also certainly present. But the kind of writing that me, as Musezoo's official plot-bad-cop, will give Ronen hell about had he settled for in one of our projects.
So here are some of the reasons why I think Black Panther missed out on true greatness...
Obligatory spoilers warning...
Killing Ulysses Klaue
Klaue is by far the most engaging character of the movie. Heck he completely dominated Age of Ultron as well with a single scene (not that this was too hard). His maniacal menacing presence made him into that very rare villain, the kind that give you a visceral creepy feeling (exemplified in the way he holds agent Ross' shoulder in the casino) while at the same time makes you unable to take your eyes off his performance. Yes, kind of like Heath Ledger's joker!
Ok... before you crucify me for making this comparison just let me clarify that I am not saying they are in the same league, but rather in the same mold. If you need more convincing I challenge you to mention any more charismatic villain in the entire MCU other than Michael Keaon’s Vulture.
With the MCU constantly being criticized for failing to produce memorable villains, it was a huge WTF moment when Killmkonger just wasted Klaue like he was nothing but a second hand henchman. Did this just happen? Is he really dead? Is he not going to haunt future Black Panther installments with his rage, singing (yes singing), and uncanny ability to escape?
So yes, his untimely demise was a useful plot device, allowing Eric Killmonger to make his grand appearance to the Wakandan elders. Still, Eric could have just as easily use his lip tattoo to grab their attention. It would have certainly been less dramatic, but a fair price for having more future Klaue appearances.
T'Chaka killing his brother instead of simply blocking his gun
The catalyst for the entire story of Black Panther is king T'Chaka, father of protagonist T'Challa, killing N'Jobu, his own brother, to save Zuri, a not so significant informant. The scene is intense and dramatic. It provokes such emotions in all the actors involved, directly or via flashback, that you kind of ignore how little sense it makes.
T'Chaka is wearing a Black Panther Vibranium suit. He is bullet proof. He can just put his gloved hand over the muzzle of the gun to prevent the tragedy (and bring his brother to justice). He can even just try and divert the gun away with his super fast reflexes.
But no! The course of action this esteemed and wise leader takes is to stab and kill his brother with his Vibranium claws. Think of it - N'Jobu could have still pulled the trigger with his last breath and kill Zuri. This is way too much redundant suspension of belief and could have been easily fixed by N'Jobu grabbing Zuri from behind and pinning the gun to his head. This way T'Chaka would have had to really attack N'Jobu to disarm him.
The fake drama of T'Chala dying
Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri - T'Challa's gadget making sister, does a good job selling his death with her animated performance (Angela Bassett, on the other hand, just seems to be running on auto-pilot). The scene is faithful to the comics origin, but from the moment Killmonger tosses T'Challa over the edge of the waterfall every viewer in the audience is starting a countdown for T'Challa inevitable return from the dead.
So if nobody believes the hero of the movie is dead, than why even bother pretending? In the next few scenes the supporting cast is busy surviving and escaping and seem too occupied to grieve... which comes out almost that they themselves don't believe T'Challa has died.
This entire sequence feels as one of the most fake moments in the entire MCU. seriously why bother?
Why not instead follow T'Challa as he plunges into the water, almost drowns, and struggles to the river's bank. He is than found by the fisherman. You can cut right here, but you can also show how the Jabari tribe treat him and one of their doctors can say he only had a few days to live.
Of course we know he will survive somehow in any case. But his struggle is so much more interesting and involving than that fake drama over his death. Think of Bane breaking Batman. We don't spend the next few scenes exclusively with Alfred or Selina Kyle. We spend them with Bruce Wayne struggling to heal and figure out how to beat Bane. This is captivating storytelling.
Nakia conveniently steals the heart-shaped herb
I really dislike plots that that solves important problems for their character with coincidental lazy solutions. And this is a prime example - Nakia stealing one last heart-shaped herb is way too easy. She sneaks to the herb garden just before Killmonger order it burnt. Yes, she is a spy and probably good at sneaking (even without Shuri’s special sneakers). But the whole perfect timing of this and the zero drama and effort on her part makes the above point about T'Challa's death feels even more fake.
We all know the heart shaped herb is the key to T'Challa's return. But writers did nothing with this and wrote an astonishingly lazy scene that feels like nothing more than a time-filler. They had to make Nakia work harder for getting the herb.
Black Panther's jet poor CGI compositing
Amazing that with such a huge production and impressive CGI background of the Wakandan skyline, the jet itself feels so artificial. There is something about the angle of shooting (too close behind the engines most of the time) and the lighting that makes it seem like a miniature model in front of a green screen.
It is a small detail, but I couldn't shake this feeling off and it ruined the whole fantasy of the Wakandan futuristic landscape for me. From the studio that brought us Doctor's strange dazzling effects I expected much more.
The motley crew design of the elders and tribes
Traditional elements can do a nice job enhancing a story. But Black Panther took it way too far. Do you really believe all those dramatically different tribes makes one nation?
For a movie with possible Oscar buzz for costume design this gives the impression that the designer was leafing through an African tour company brochure, picking the most exotic looking images. Namely that guy with the tea saucer in his mouth is an obvious imitation of the Emu tribe from Ethiopia, and even those guys just do this unique look as a show for tourist.
More originality and restraint would have done much better for the movie and would have made Wakanda look so much more cohesive and genuine.
Now despite all of these problems I did like the Black Panther. It’s defiantly a fun movie, but I would probably only rank it as the 10th or 11th best movie of the MCU, right in the middle of the pack. It’s a shame because with a little more effort and planning I just feel it could have been so much more, so...
Here are a few of the small moments I did like...
• "I call them sneakers" - best science geek of the entire MCU?
• Okoye and the rhino - Gurira performance is so fierce that her tender moment with the charging rhino provides a perfect comic contrast.
• "You couldn't protect your father" - Killmonger, as an expert military strategist, is attacking T'Challa psychologically. But at the same time this also reflects on his own pain of losing his own father. Nice charachter depth here.
Tell us what you think about these problems with the Black Panther and your own favorite moments.