Film Reviews

BLACK PANTHER

By • Feb 14th, 2018 •

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Bloated with every trope in the genre, too long running time, lack of investment in the villains and Jon Snow dies not once, but twice.

With the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the lack of diversity in mainstream movies and TV being recognized and addressed, its risky to criticize BLACK PANTHER. I have seen the sea-change. Black actors and actresses are being hired. They are being represented on TV series and in films.

The New York Times headline was “Why ‘Black Panther’ is a Defining Moment for Black America” might well be a true statement, but is it a good movie?

A big-budgeted studio film about a black action superhero with a nearly all-black cast is a huge step forward. However, I owe it to my readers to give my honest opinion about BLACK PANTHER. I am not intimidated by fear of being called a racist because I did not like BLACK PANTHER.

I love Africa. I have bona fides attesting to it: I have been to Botswana, Benin, Ghana, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Togo, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Senegal and Zimbabwe. I didn’t view these countries from an air-conditioned bus: I camped through the Dogons to Timbuktu, engaged in voodoo ceremonies in Benin and Togo and camped through Uganda and Rwanda.

Marvel’s decision to put big money into BLACK PANTHER is admirable and they will be rewarded with a massive box office. But the movie has problems. Big problems. If you want to dismiss them, so be it. But I am going to tell you exactly what is wrong with the movie. Complaint Number 1: Stan Lee’s cameo.

With my feet-on-the-ground view of Africa, to see a storyline about an African kingdom so highly advanced but hidden from the rest of the poverty-stricken continent is a grave disservice.

The world sees the Kingdom of Wakanda as one of Africa’s most impoverished nations. But it is hiding its true nature. It is a highly advanced technological nation with advancements that are hundreds of years ahead of every country on Earth.

The Wakandas have mined a substance called vibranium. I assume, recalling the history of finding diamonds in Africa, they want to keep it for themselves and not Jeff Bezos. It bestows magical powers. It can bring someone back from death, heal wounds and make women fierce warriors.

With such a powerful mineral and great advancements in technology, the many tribes still need to be ruled by a king. After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes king. He is beloved by his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his kid sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Shuri is the brilliant scientist behind invisible spacecraft, fancy 007 devices, and witty repartee. She’s not impressed with T’Challa as king.

As king, T’Challa has a chief advisor, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and Zuri (Forest Whitaker), his spiritual leader. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the head of a female-only security force, the Dora Milaje. Okoye has her nostrils constantly flaying and a zealotry that makes all her over-reactions look silly. Zuri ringmasters his role as the head of rituals. I was sure he was going to start singing Wakandas’ national anthem. T’Challa’s former girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), has no intention of being his queen. She’s too much of a feminist. If his ex-girlfriend isn’t impressed with him, should we?

Who started the concept of hereditary rule?

Few if any monarchies have not acquired and defended their hold on power through deceit, murder, war and oppression. (from Wikipedia). Regardless that he is his father’s legitimate heir, T’Challa has a challenger to his rule. M’Baku (Winston Duke) demands a fight to the end with the winner taking the crown.

Should T’Challa’s belief in hiding vibranium from his poor neighbors be considered heroic? Considering the breath and width of Wakandas superiority, they could have – at least – given the rest of Africa clean water and toilets.

Where is the villain? I was hoping it was Stan Lee but BLACK PANTHER’s director and co-writer Ryan Coogler, with Joe Robert Cole (and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), brought back Klaw. Andy Serkis could have made the role iconic. If he had stayed around long enough. A villain shouldn’t leave halfway through a movie. We want villains with commitment. Just when we were enjoying Serkis’ over-the-top giddy, madman laugh he’s gone. What could he have offered if he had fifteen more minutes of screen time?

If Klaw cannot get his hands on kryptonite, he wants a piece of vibranium. There is no black market for this stuff yet and China needs a sample.

Since T’Challa goes from his world to our world seamlessly, the action moves to South Korea for special effects, high speed action. T’cholla, Nakia and the ever-present Dora Milaje, with Okoye always spoiling for a fight, walk around Seoul. Now the CIA cannot let T’Challa roam the world with vibranium in his pocket without some overseer. Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) is a hapless interloper standing around with nothing to do.

The next villain to ruin T’Challa’s reign is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). He wants to market vibranium and make a lot of money. Not a bad idea when you see what vibranium can do.

The Black Panther is a quasi-diety and with the costume custom-made by Shuri – who works alone in her laboratory – T’Challa can just think his suit on. Somehow, in the grand finale flying through the air bout with Killmonger, Killmonger also dons a similar suit – but in a different color. How did that happen? Was Shuri working both sides?

Agent Rust demanded his place in the finale, so Shuri lets him pilot Wakandas’ newest purchase, a V-4X-D Ski Speeder from THE LAST JEDI. So the filmmakers unnecessarily threw in a flying craft special effects scene just like in STAR WARS.

The only thing that did not make it into BLACK PANTHER was an appearance by Thor.

With a bloated 2 hour, 15 minute running time, Coogler ran out of ideas, so he repeats a scene. Removing useless Agent Rust and dumping one resurrection, could have given Klaw more time to chew scenery and flirt with Shuri.

In my opinion, Boseman lost an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of James Brown in GET ON UP (2014). He was sensational but the title was all wrong for award season. The wrong title can kill a film. A BIGGER SPLASH comes to mind.

Coogler had his hands full with co-writing and directing this big budgeted film. The reported budget was $200 million. There wasn’t much time for directing and the actors and actresses make faces and are incapable of directing themselves. Mostly, Nyong’o, Gurira, Whitaker and Freeman made exaggerated faces in front of a green screen.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com

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