This is my reaction to BLACK PANTHER after seeing it at a special screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music a couple of days before the official release. After the screening director Ryan Coogler did a Q&A during which he was a little thrown off by having Spike Lee sitting in the front row.
Despite my desire not to end up with people coming after to me for not loving BLACK PANTHER without question (hey the guy sitting in front of John, Bully and myself said he would “fuck” anyone who dared think the film wasn’t the best of the year) I do find that I want to make a couple of comments- that will undoubtedly- piss someone off.
Foremost understand that I love the film. On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give it an 8. I laughed and cheered with the audience. It has some killer action sequences and the moment when Okoye climbs out of the car in Korea is equivalent to Wonder Woman’s climbing into No Man’s Land. This is a wonderful action film.
Also remember that absolutely nothing I say should be taken to have any sort of problem with the cultural significance of the film. BLACK PANTHER is a sea change in popular culture. It is a milestone film that will reset the table. Any of the quibbles I express have nothing to do with the film on anything other an artistic level.
First Killmonger is grossly underwritten. While his speeches in the final third of the film audibly and visually moved the people around me, there is no lead up to them. For a good portion of the film he is a non-entity, he is there, but not. Because he is played by Michael B Jordan we know he is important, but from a dramatic standpoint he is as much of an arrival out of left field for the audience as he is for the people of Wakanda. While we can understand where he comes from, thanks to some powerful speeches, there is a sense that Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole went into a shorthand mode counting on us to fill in the gaps with what we bring to the film. His late in the game stepping up to the plate and mad dash to take over the world in heartbeat feels more like a plot device to drive the film on toward it’s climatic battle rather than something that is fully earned. Yes he’s a kick ass villain but he should have had more so we really had a sense of how dangerous he is.
The film also suffers from Marvel time and logic. If you stop and think about the time frame of anything none of it makes any sense. Even allowing the speed of travel of the quinjet things simply happens way too fast. Yes I know this is a comic book movie but it still has to have internal consistency which isn’t there. This is especially true when Killmonger takes control of Wakanda and we are on the mad dash to the end. While I shouldn’t get crazy about it, the fudging of time is something that has bothered me in many of the Marvel films which simply resort to and this happens.
I have to say that the CGI effects are at times embarrassing. Watching the CGI rhinos saunter up early in the film is okay. However things fall apart in the final battle as bodies fly about exactly as they can’t in real life. Body dimensions change. If we weren’t connected dramatically we wouldn’t buy it. The free fall fight between Kill Monger and T’Challa is really bad.
Lastly I have to quibble with many of the reviews for the film which are being force fed to everyone via endless TV ads. This last bit is not directed at anyone connected to the film but to by brothers and sisters who have amped up the hype machine a bit too much. While on cultural level the film is a major change on a the most basic level the plot line of the film is not ground breaking. We have been here before in a good number of other stories. This is one of the classic superhero origin stories retold in modern terms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this especially when it is so beautifully refurbished. If Joseph Campbell were alive he would be delighted at how an ancient and universal story still has the power to kick ass.
As important and vital as Black Panther is on a cultural level, it is not quite perfect on an artistic level. It shows director Ryan Coogler’s skill at crafting a film and telling a story but at the same time it suffers because the great god Marvel needs it to do certain things and hit some pre-arranged points within a specific running time. I suspect that left to his own devices (and based on his earlier films) Coogler would have paced this slightly differently.
Ultimately my quibbles will mean nothing. I’m one guy with a small website quibbling about a film that is going to make a billion dollars and thrill audiences and change what films are made in Hollywood and who gets to make them.