Movie Review: Say it Loud, he’s “Black Panther” and he’s Proud

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Africa saves “Black Panther,” Marvel’s Black History Month gift to Afro-centric fangirl and fanboydom. Africanness defines it and sets it apart from the many comic book adaptations that preceded it.

And that’s a necessary distinction, because these Marvel marvels aren’t so much scripted and directed as focus-grouped and engineered. The story beats, hero or heroine hurdles and fights and effects are so familiar as to be budgeted down to the penny. Broadening the appeal of your franchise ethnically is just smart business. In story terms, in character inclusions, in casting, pandering pays. You’d expect no less from Disney.

So you’ve got another cool costumed-hero tested with dead daddy issues, another “sibling” (or close relative) rivalry, another hidden world where superhuman heroes lay low.

But speaking of ideas borrowed from scads of predecessors, especially DC’s “Wonder Woman,” we’re shown the toughest, most interesting and fiercest female characters ever to grace a Marvel movie, a most welcome upgrade.

  Chadwick Boseman brings a self-assured swagger to the title character, T’Challa, Prince of Wakanda who becomes king of his “poor, Third World” African nation when his father is killed by terrorists.

Wakanda, we have been told, is more than meets the eye. It’s not just huts and shepherds, tending their flocks under African skies. For millennia, its people have masked the true nature of their advanced, refined civilization. Another magic Marvel metal is in play here (yawn). “Vibranium” explains their mag-lev trains, their force-field shields and sonic boom spears, and young King T’Challa’s superpowered Black Panther suit and African mask-shaped spaceship.

And as the “Unobtainium” of Avatar is…unobtainable, bad guys are hellbent on getting this glowing blue Vibranium. First among them is the Afrikaner racist Ulyssees Klaue, played by Andy Serkis with an “I’m not stuck in a motion capture suit” glee. He flings the South African accented  “You savages don’t deserve it” around a little too freely when talking about Wakanda and Vibranium.

His smarter but equally sadistic sidekick is Erik, aka “Kill Monger” (Michael B. Jordan of “Creed”), a trained American agent/assassin with the fighting and technological skills to get what they want, and the ruthlessness to not share it when they do. He’s got a bone to pick with the colonialist culture of Western Civilization, and Wakanda’s refusal to engage with it.

That’s the core conflict of the film. Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler, of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” fleshes out the picture with glorious texture — a fresh color palette, striking settings, costumes, hair styles and gloriously African standards of beauty, and cute set pieces that give novelty to the well-worn Marvel version of the hero’s journey.

Panther  The many tribes of Wakanda get to challenge fight the heir to see if they can place one of their own on the throne, a throw-down staged before a vast multitude at the edge of a greater waterfall referred by Forest Whitaker.

The palace guard of Wakanda could give Wonder Woman’s Amazons a fair fight, if the chips are down. They’re statuesque, bald and wild-eyed women warriors, led by General Okeye, ferociously played by Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead.”

T’Challa’s version of Q, his James Bond gadget-guru, is his smart alec baby sister (Letitia Wright). When they all get tangled up in a South Korean Vibranium buy gone wrong and a CIA agent (Martin Freeman of TV’s “Sherlock”) is hurt, sister Shuri has just the one-liner for that occasion.

“Great. Another broken white boy for us to fix!”

The script has few zingers as good as that, surrounded by verbal banalites. There are battles and brawls that offer few surprises and a whole lot of filler. Sacrifices are made, Black Nationalist speeches about the white West’s plundering of the art, culture and human beings of the colonized Third World have a righteous sting.

This has the attempted gravitas of “Logan,” the myth-building of “Wonder Woman,” and the same pacing problems as those two consequential, worthwhile but only occasionally  fun additions to the genre.

Because”Panther” is awfully slow on the prowl. The two hours and fourteen minutes just amble by. There’s little urgency to any of this, even the finale.

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I’ve loved Boseman in his survey of American Civil Rights heroes (Jackie Robinson in “42,” Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall”) and in his larger-than-life turn as James Brown in “Get On Up.” Here, he’s well-cast but somewhat unchallenged.

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o brings a radiant, competitive spark to her scenes with him, playing the Panther’s “ex” who happens to be the country’s most brilliant spy. Gurira and Wright dazzle, and Angela Bassett brings her regal presence to the Queen Mother. For all the fussing and fighting and grudge-settling among the guys, the women pretty much steal the picture. Jordan? All haircut, street sneer and Malcolm X without the humanity, a one-dimensional villain treated as such by the Wakandans.

You can praise “Black Panther” for being a movie that embraces vast corners of the American and global audience that such movies have neglected, praise it for being, like “Wonder Woman,” a movie of its moment, a genre picture whose demographic and political time have come.

But whatever its cultural significance, it’s just passable entertainment, a noble attempt at waxing mythical that never, for one second, delivers that out-of-body giddiness that makes popcorn pictures of its ilk burst to life.

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman

Credits: Directed by Ryan Coogler, Joe Roert Cole, based on the Marvel comics. A Marvel release.

Running time: 2:14

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23 Responses to Movie Review: Say it Loud, he’s “Black Panther” and he’s Proud

  1. Fred says:

    Passable entertainment you say, well a lot of film critics certainly see this film as something far greater than that. You’re definitely in the minority there. But you’re definitely entitled to you’re opinion and no film is going to get absolute praise from every film critic and I understand that. But this film certainly isn’t far from it.

  2. Fred says:

    But you still seemed to like the film enough, you just didn’t love it and not every one is going to love something regardless of how good the film might be to the majority.

  3. Jason says:

    I found the movie quite boring in parts. Everybody’s performance was great however. The anti white jabs were distasteful and only served to further distract me from what little plot there was. As far as I was aware, this was a movie based on a comic book and not current left wing identity politics? I liked Black Panther in Civil War, but not so much here. I’m sure this movie will be milked, hyped and warped to fit whatever message people want it to portray.

  4. Luis Guess says:

    Everyone is scared to give this movie a bad review because of the threat of social backlash from people who will take it as a personal insult to black people and are depending on this movie to validate their lives and their place in this world. Im glad some people can judge a movie for what it is and not let politics and social backlash determine how they rate a movie.

    • That fear is attached to any fangirl/fanboy blockbuster. The social backlash you speak of may play into it on this particular picture, but critics at mainstream publications tend to lean into “It’s going to be a hit,” and go along to not seem irrelevant or out of step with the audience. Marvel and Disney have taken to cherry-picking which reviewers see which films first, creating the “bandwagon” propaganda effect. It’s true in the “Star Wars” movies, and was true of “Black Panther.” Black opinionmakers and fanboys got the first look at it and swooned, and that creates the studio-mandated consensus. They mastered that with Pixar pictures decades ago. Not everybody falls for it.

      • webslinger48 says:

        This is so interesting to me that studios are able to essentially bubble wrap their films by picking who will see it early to give it extra critical buzz so everyone else falls in lockstep. Never realized that. That would explain why nearly all of these massive Marvel and Star Wars films get high Rotten Tomatoes scores yet that seem largely undeserved. To your point, I think too much attention is given to the Tomato-meter which is merely a measure of what percentage of critics like a movie, but not HOW MUCH they like it. To me the “average rating” (out of ten) is a much better indicator of a film’s worth.

    • Dot says:

      Says a white man who has long been represented in media and films. Long live mediocre white films???

  5. Wanette says:

    Unfortunately, your microaggresive title tells me everything I need to know about you. Bias opinions vs facts. No thanks.

    • Um, “Wannette,” it’s a review. Which is “opinion” writing. Reviews are “biased.” And the bias IN THE REVIEW, is that Chadwick Boseman is above this, etc. Commenting out of bald-faced ignorance of that simple fact is never ever going to win an argument for you. I am guessing, too, that you don’t even realize Boseman played James Brown.

      • webslinger48 says:

        Roger, I found your website because I noticed that your reviews cut through the veneer of the movie marketing and analyze the films for what they are. It would help if these knee-jerk armchair critic haters would actually read your reviews before spouting their bile. If Wanette thought your take on Black Panther was tough, she should read your review of Force Awakens! Keep fighting the good fight and leave the hyperbole to USA Today and Entertainment Weekly.

    • Pat Kubasiak says:

      Yet here you are…

    • Mister Smitthee says:

      Wanette — that hard flat reflective surface in front of you?

      That’s called a mirror.

      PS: What the hell are “bias opinions?” Opinions … about bias?

  6. Dirs says:

    Wow! You really butchered this movie, Roger. Was this because you liked or disliked the Wonder Woman movie?

    • No, it’s a mixed review for a mixed-bag of a movie. It’s a puerile, repetitive genre, with a limited supply of fresh ideas because the studios are scared to not give the audience exactly what they want. Take away the African setting and it’s the same piffle, same “stick the superhero landing,” as all of them. Only slower. On a par with “Wonder Woman,” the lesser “Avengers,” not nearly as witty as “Iron Man” or “Deadpool,” lacking the heart of the best “Avengers” or “Captain America.”

  7. Alan says:

    About the only real concise review of this movie out there. It’s a good movie, but there is ridiculous hype out there on this one that I can only attribute to racism. Whatever, I mean good for Disney to represent all races in the genre, just don’t make those of us who love movies and take them seriously as an art form, pissed off at the entire industry by giving this movie tons of undeserved oscars and awards for “Best Picture” or “Best Performance” because it’s just not.

  8. The Devil says:

    I liked the playfulness about it. All the gadgets and power drinks and ancient rituals I know kids will love. I did. But you got it right, it did drag a little. If the audience is talking during a show, and I don’t mind drifting back into my own problems, it’s a weak movie. The audience should be captivated into complete silence. I remember even babies stopped crying during The Dark Night. The formula seems too obvious in this movie. Even though there was a lot at stake, it didn’t feel like it. I feel that way about a lot of movies lately.

  9. jj says:

    You have lost touch with movie reviews! Get another job because you must have not seem the same movie…

  10. Titus Regal says:

    Long live the king!!!! Bless you angry white man. Your disgustingly biased review proves the success of Black Panther and the fear of your dying breed and race. Long live the king!!!! BEST MOVIE EVER!!!!

    • Way to engage the review and argue its merits. Didn’t even read it, did you? There is “bias” and “racism” here. And it’s staring you in the mirror, “Titus.” BTW, LOVE you on “Kimmy Schmidt.”

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