One of the joys of Black Panther, at least in its first half, is how fresh its structure feels. Having been introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa aka ‘Black Panther’ is presented fully-formed – no tiresome origin story to be found here. By the end, sadly, the film has returned to safer, cookie-cutter ground for superhero films, with the T’Challa and friends facing off a horde of poorly rendered CGI foes. This is, frankly, bizarre – for all the claims of this film’s uniqueness and cinematic bravery, its reliance on tired tropes such as this prove that Marvel isn’t quite ready to take risks yet. Additionally, the quippy humour so characteristic of the genre is present again here, in some places wearing thin – a throwback to a 3 year old meme had this reviewer rolling his eyes.
Boseman does a fine job as the titular hero, comfortable in the role that he’s sure to reprise several more times in coming years. As villain, Michael B. Jordan performs well. His character ‘Killmonger’ seems to be be following in the wake of Michael Keaton’s ‘Vulture’ in last year’s Spiderman: Homecoming – a somewhat complex, understandable character, with motivations more interesting than the usual ‘world domination’ plot.
Released just over two months prior to Avengers: Infinity War – which Marvel has been building up to for a decade – one would expect the film to spend considerable screen time tying itself in with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the most part, this isn’t the case; although the film picks up plot threads established in the last few Captain America films, director Coogler manages to keep the focus on Wakanda, the hyper-advanced African nation in which the majority of the film takes place. Despite this, visually Wakanda remains surprisingly underutilised throughout. Beyond the sweeping landscapes, glittering skyline and singular bustling street we’re treated to, much of the action in Wakanda is relegated to the same few indoor sets. The result is that one leaves the cinema having heard a great deal about the wonders of Wakanda, but lacking a proper feel for the place.
For the visual presentation, strange choices have been made. Although for the most part interesting to look at, with vibrant colours and inventive camerawork, the lacklustre visual effects cannot be ignored – as previously touched upon, the final fight looks hokey and lacks gravity, and earlier scenes such as the first ritual utilise poor greenscreen work. Additionally, though Black Panther is markedly more violent than other Marvel films, it appears Disney still refuse to show blood on-screen. This would be fine if the violence didn’t involve so many edged weapons; one sequence in which a character’s throat is clearly slit remains blood-free against even comic book logic.
Overall, Black Panther is a fun, action-packed addition to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not a groundbreaking film – but it is a fun one, and will no doubt entertain audiences looking for their latest superhero fix.C