Performances, Style and Energy Help ‘Black Panther’ Transcend its Familiar Flaws

Black_Panther_film_posterThis is the least-Marvely Marvel movie in quite some time… and I’m here for it!

“Black Panther” is based off the superhero of the same name, played by Chadwick Boseman. After inheriting the throne of his African nation from his deceased father, King T’Challa must stop a mysterious challenger and learn how to become a true leader. Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis also star as Ryan Coogler directs and co-writes.

When Boseman made his Panther debut in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” many people agreed he stole the show in a role that felt shoehorned into an already bloated film. When it was confirmed he was getting his own feature, made by a black director and starring a predominantly African American cast, the internet went nuts. In recent months, people have been anxiously awaiting the release of the film and even have started campaigns to fund tickets for children who can’t afford them for themselves. So to call this “just another Marvel movie” would be a disingenuous understatement, and it manages to bend the cookie-cutter outline just enough to stand out from the pack.

Like I said, Boseman (along with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man debut) was the best part of “Civil War” and he has shown he is a talented actor (mostly in the biopic category). He is solid once again as T’Challa but he is often soft-spoken and relatively one-note as a character and in fact, despite being the person the film is named after, T’Challa is outshined by most all the rest of the cast.

Michael B. Jordan showed everyone he was a force to be reckoned with in “Creed” and he gives us one of the best Marvel villains to date (for whatever that’s worth to you, since Tom Hiddleston and Michael Keaton are arguably the only two solid ones). He has a sense of humor and charm about him and we understand why he is doing what he is doing but much like “Star Wars’’’ Kylo Ren he is just going about things the wrong way.

Blazing a new path for herself is Letitia Wright, who play’s T’Challa’s younger sister. Smart and pretty, Wright has a few fun quips (wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without them) and is responsible for giving Black Panther some pretty cool gadgets. She certainly is a bit of a Q to T’Challa’s James Bond, but the idea that a 16 year old is smart enough to design anti-gravity trains and tiny EMP grenades may take some deus ex machina suspension of disbelief, even for a Marvel movie.

Quickly I’ll mention how Andy Serkis’ character (introduced in “Age of Ultron”) is awful and a complete cartoon that ruins every scene he is in with overacting and bad jokes. Serkis is so incredible when he does motion-capture work I just hope he sticks to that, because real-life comedy is not his strong suit.

As far as production value goes this is for the most part very impressive. The score by Ludwig Göransson, who did director Ryan Coogler’s first two films “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” does a nice job of mixing in the “basic superhero thrill” beats with modern, hip-hop vibes (side note: the film’s soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar is absolutely fantastic and deserves a listen). Ruth Carter, who designed the costumes, was smart to find color schemes that complement each other (namely purple and black) and to give each tribe a distinct look and feel.

“Black Panther’s” biggest issues lie with its narrative, in that it is basic and pretty predictable. No character does anything you don’t expect them to do and (without spoiling anything) there is not much of an arc or personal journey that any character has to take, a la Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” or Peter Parker in last year’s “Homecoming.”

Also, for a $200 million Marvel film, some of the effects and green screen are laughably and distractingly bad. This doesn’t knock the film as a whole but in the moment it can take you out of things which is a real shame.

“Black Panther” will mean a lot to many people and on some levels it is ground-breaking cinema due to its black central superhero (if you don’t want to include “Blade,” “Hancock” or “The Meteor Man”). But just judging it on a film and entertainment level, it does a fine job giving the audience characters they enjoy rooting for (or love to root against) and despite some wonky CGI and too-close shaky cam there is plenty of action to watch while you stuff your face with popcorn. So is “Black Panther” “one of the greatest superhero movies ever made”? No, certainly not, but I would say that along with “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Thor: Ragnarok” it has Phase 3 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe on a great track.

Critic’s Grade: B+

Walt Disney

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