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Leaping Over the Low Bar 2: A Black Panther movie review (no spoilers)

So I saw Black Panther and I for one am shocked — SHOCKED I SAY — by the lack of white people representation in this film. Ok, maybe not… the token two white members of the principle cast had far more to do than I expected they would. Martin Freeman was quite good in it in fact. And Andy Serikis was… there too… yep.

So yeah, now that that’s out of the way, I can get to my thoughts on the movie as a whole. I find myself comparing it to my thoughts walking out of Wonder Woman. It was good. Not great. But good. I enjoyed it. And I realize that by just enjoying it, I’m sort of positioning myself to be in a problematic place on the internet. You see, much like Wonder Woman it simply isn’t a great movie. But, as the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, The Weekly Planet, often point out, the internet only allows you to have two opinions on movies (particularly “geek movies”). It must be the best movie ever or the worst movie ever. You’re not really allowed to just kinda like something. Much like Wonder Woman was in 2017, Black Panther is not the best movie ever. It’s not likely to be the best movie of 2018. It very well may not even be the best superhero movie of 2018, at least not objectively. Wonder Woman certainly wasn’t for 2017… Logan was (sorry… but it’s true).

But they didn’t have to be.

What it had to be was average. It had to be successful. It had to be viable. The experience wasn’t really about that. It was about representation. In fact, neither Wonder Woman or Black Panther ever made any secret of that. They never pretended to be more. This was Marvel Studios doing an experiment. Can we make a viable Marvel movie that doesn’t star a strapping muscular blonde white dude named Chris? All Black Panther really had to do was be “good enough.” It had to be “adequate”

It was better than that. I don’t remember the last time I have been to a movie theater and saw that many black people that excited. Certainly never for a superhero movie. It was almost a cosplay event. People were there in their best dashikis and gomesis. People were wearing brand new Black Panther t-shirts. They were into it! And… and this is maybe even more important… there were white people there too. Maybe half the audience. And they seemed to enjoy it… at least as much as they enjoyed… I dunno… Doctor Strange or something. In fact, yep. It was better than Doctor Strange.

The nice way of looking at this film is to say that Marvel wanted to make sure that young black kids growing up across America finally had a hero that “looks like them” on the screen to idolize. And yeah, it definitely did that. But I prefer the more cynical view. It was a proof of concept film. In much the same way that Wonder Woman was about seeing “hey, can we make money if we put a chick on the screen?” this was “hey, can we make money if we book a brother on the screen.” And the answer is “if the movie doesn’t suck, then yes… and in fact, because everyone is so starve for representation, they’ll cry tears of joy and thank you for it.” So it wasn’t really a movie about being a movie. It was a cultural experience. It was about doing a thing.

The problem is we live in franchise world now… and that trick only works once. After you get past the novelty “hey look, black dude” you can’t rely on people to just come back without a reason. It’s part of why people didn’t just flock to Justice League just to see Gal Gadot be Wonder Woman on screen again. So how was Black Panther as a movie?

It was better than it had to be.

Like many Marvel franchise openers (especially from Phase 1), it was essentially Comic Book Stock Movie Plots #1 and #2. And it was good at being them, but there wasn’t much more than that. There were quite a few things that I liked about it. It was pretty. It was very very pretty. The cast was good, especially Michael B. Jordan. In fact, Jordan shined. I’ve had my eye on him for a while, ever since he had a recurring role on Parenthood (shut up!). And that kid is going to get an Oscar someday. Because he treats every performance like it’s an Oscar caliber role. I mean, this one isn’t. But he went for it and acted his ass off like it was. Furthermore, unlike Wonder Woman, this doesn’t fall apart in the third act.

That’s not to say it’s without problems. Where Wonder Woman beats this is having a pure moment (No Man’s Land) to hang itself on. This film doesn’t have that. There’s a scene that I *think* was maybe supposed to be that… it’s not. There’s nothing massively memorable about it. A big reason is that it’s trying to be a real movie instead of just a highlight reel to make a cool trailer from (though there was some of that too). But it needs more to get there. I also, for the most part, liked the special effects a lot better than I liked them in Wonder Woman but I didn’t actually like them. Much like in the old Spider-Man movies, I was constantly aware that he was a CGI character in some scenes (in one in particular)… and it was pretty bad in those.

But it certainly wasn’t awful. And in fact, it comes in at better than average. It’d be worth seeing even if it wasn’t really the first of it’s kind (and it’s not really… It’s just that cultural memory is shitty so people forget that they’ve been able to watch Blade movies for 20 years… and they fucking loved them.) And the cultural event makes it even more noteworthy.

So I will end with the same thing said for Wonder Woman. Will it be the film that everyone looks back on in 20 years and says “this changed everything?” No… it’s just not going to be. There are too many others, many of which  will feature women black people and chances are one has to be better than this… especially with less pressure on it. But it doesn’t suck. And given what it has had to compete with… that’s a high accomplishment.

I’m just sad that I’m going to have to listen to people complaining about how it has been snubbed for the Oscars in a year.

★★★¼☆ (3.25 out of 5 stars)

 

51 comments for “Leaping Over the Low Bar 2: A Black Panther movie review (no spoilers)

  1. avatar
    February 16, 2018 at 1:24 am

    Is it bad that I thought BP and WW were two of the better superhero movies? ?

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 3:43 am

      Well it depends. How many have you seen. I felt like they were above average. But not “the best”

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 3:44 am

      You haven’t met Brian, but I have seen every. Single. One.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 3:48 am

      Well. I mean. It’s better than doc strange which was mediocre. It’s better than Batman v Superman. Which was bad. It’s not as good as Logan which was excellent. And I don’t think it was as good as Thor Ragnarok which was pretty good. Same with WW.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 3:57 am

      So I hate hate hated Batman vs Superman. And most of the DC movies except the dark Knight series. I didn’t actually care for Logan! I did like Ragnarok, which was so much better than the first two thors. To me, this one (& WW) was more like the first Captain America. The plots were enganging to me, as a non comic book fan. Maybe because there was another level of plot than just bad guy pew pew? Plus I also love anything with kickass women in it probably ?

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 3:59 am

      Yeah. I think saying it’s on par with Cap 1 is pretty fair.

  2. avatar
    February 16, 2018 at 2:27 am

    Don’t you mean the two… TOLKIEN white guys?!??!?

    Lord of the Rings? Get it?!?!

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!

  3. avatar
    February 16, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Blade kicks fucking ass, but it’s been twenty years since Blade.

    So I get it.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:22 am

      (Also, let’s be totally fair about how the market for superhero movies has changed – Blade is a superhero, yes, but the movie is much an “action horror” film as a superhero film. More “Resident Evil” than “Superman”.

      Superhero movies are the de rigeur popcorn genre now. It’s a different market and a different audience era.)

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:22 am

      Yep. Mostly because the 3rd one was awful but that was only 2004.

      Really I’m not saying i don’t get it. I do. And what this film did was important. (Just like WW) But I wouldn’t be being a realistic critic is I pretended it was amazing just because it’s important.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:25 am

      No, I feel you. But I also know that all those little kids don’t and won’t give a fuck.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:26 am

      And I don’t think that’s fair. Blade is a super hero movie that is also a horror flick. It’s genre bending.

      But that’s true of many superhero movies. Certainly the best ones. To be pure would make it more formulaic.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:27 am

      Sure. People like what they like. That’s fine. But will they remember it?

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:28 am

      Remember it as a film or remember it as an event?

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:33 am

      As a film. They’ll only remember it as such if there are no other good black super heroes. The more there are the less special the event becomes. Being first (or first good) does buy you a bit. Same as WW. But only so much.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:34 am

      That’s fair. The first Superman only sort of holds up on the virtue of Reeve, Kidder, and Hackman all being phenomenal.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:35 am

      I mean, Christopher Reeve did it in a way that nobody else has ever been able to touch, but as a FILM? Sheesh.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 5:56 am

      i thought the “representational” criticism of Blade was that you could replace Snipes with a ripped blonde named Chris and have it still be the same movie.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 5:58 am

      That’s not necessarily bad.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 5:58 am

      (Or good. It’s just a way of doing it)

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 6:04 am

      I don’t disagree – just that if you’re looking for a story that is irrevocably tied to the elements of American culture that are explicitly tied to Africa, Blade doesn’t meet that criteria.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 6:05 am

      Sure. But neither does Black Panther. Without going into spoilers, BP is far more about the geopolitical stage and africansim than it about the African American experience. Only like 5 min of screen time takes place in America at all.

    • avatar
      February 18, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      Back now: this film will live on for sheer HOLY SHIT alone. A theater in Atlanta booked *84* showings on FRIDAY ALONE.

    • avatar
      February 18, 2018 at 3:30 pm

      yeah I’m pretty happy with how well it is doing. I hope it keeps up for a while. That will certainly inspire hollywood to try more stuff like this, and that’s a good thing.

    • avatar
      February 18, 2018 at 4:32 pm

      I know Atlanta is a weird case because it’s Atlanta, but this town has gone batshit.

      Like people being turned away from the theater at 1pm and told to come back at 10:30.

      There are gonna be kids named T’Challa and Shuri.

    • avatar
      February 20, 2018 at 10:12 am

      I rewatched Blade before Black Panther, and I’m kind of surprised how well it holds up.

  4. avatar
    February 16, 2018 at 4:48 am

    1) As a more casual movie goer than critic, i loved this movie. There were constant reminders of being in a superhero universe, but the political and familial themes were more important than the superheroics. It wasn’t just about stopping a bad guy with similar superpowers. Motivations were mostly believable (even Klau, to a degree).
    2) People remember Blade, but forget Meteor Man. Or the Invisible Boy in Mystery Men.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:50 am

      Or Spawn.

      (People even forgot that “All-Star” was in Mystery Men BEFORE it was in Shrek!)

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:51 am

      Invisible boy wasn’t the star. Meteor man counts though. As does Steel, Blankman and Spawn. There’s been several black superheroes. This is arguably the best one. Much like Wonder Woman was for females.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:51 am

      Dammit. I thought of Spawn yesterday, then forgot this morning.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:52 am

      Invisible Boy was the star in my eyes. Clearly the best power.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:53 am

      I’m still waiting for DC to announce an Apache Chief movie.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:57 am

      It’s weird because the other day I got in an argument with someone who’d never actually seen Mystery Men about whether or not the Blue Rajah character was racist – that and this is the most I’ve thought about that movie since shortly after it came out.

      (my take was the character’s entire CONCEPT was “yes, this is a white dude who clearly thinks colonialism is cool, but he’s ALSO an oblivious sad sack loser we aren’t exactly meant to identify with, so as these things go there’s probably worse shit in that movie?”)

  5. avatar
    February 16, 2018 at 4:51 am

    I plan to see it, but I’m pretty discerning about what I’ll shell out money to see. Worth it to see it in the big screen?

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:52 am

      Yeah. It’s definitely pretty. My only visual problems with it were when he became CGI. And that’s probably less of a big deal for most people.

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:55 am

      I’m not a fan of intrusive CGI (e.g. THE MATRIX sequels).

    • avatar
      February 16, 2018 at 4:56 am

      it’s not THAT bad…

    • avatar
      February 20, 2018 at 4:07 am

      Chris Maverick There were a few scenes that came close to Neo in the playground, let’s be honest here.

      That said, if you don’t focus on the actual superhero characters, the rest of the production design is quite stunning at times.

  6. avatar
    February 16, 2018 at 9:51 am

    It was very paint by numbers and yet if it was close. There was something missing in it and i am not sure what it was.

    • avatar
      February 18, 2018 at 6:50 am

      I don’t know that it was “missing something” for me. Actually I thought it was a very very good instantiation of the Marvel formula. But it was an instantiation of the Marvel formula and that only goes so far.

    • avatar
      February 18, 2018 at 7:28 am

      True

  7. avatar
    February 17, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    As somebody who has also seen “every superhero movie” (ok, except the latest Fantastic Four, it just never got high enough in the Netflix DVD Queue yet) I have to say I got a lot out of Black Panther… and like I was the complete opposite demographic in some ways.

    1. Scrawny white dude with little to no interest in a lot of things someone could quantify as ‘black culture’ (music, art, the country of Africa’s history, etc.)
    2. For those reasons I was never really into the character of Black Panther (or better yet never gave him a fair shake beyond his stint in Hell’s Kitchen which I absolutely loved.)
    3. I’m burnt out on superhero origin movies, and possibly even superhero films in general unless they buck the trend in a major way (Deadpool, Logan, etc.)
    4. Not a big fan of Africa or Jungles or anything of the sort as a setting regardless of the genre of film (or game or book or whatever.)

    So, with all of that being said, somehow despite all of these factors that should’ve been working against me, I enjoyed the absolute hell out of Black Panther. I think the tropes that it leaned into, it leaned into really well (for example, this feels like one of the first times where the villain and costume were being just an evil version of the main character made sense in the plot.) It had a lot of cool concepts and usages of the technology. It was just visually appealing as well, with how it worked in all this stuff I’d consider myself uninterested in and then presented it in a way that I suddenly found myself invested in?

    I don’t think the movie deserves any Oscars or anything (I mean, maybe some awards for costume designs?), but for me personally it’s easily going to stick out as the most memorable superhero film of the year I think. I know we’ve got a lot coming out down the road, but… my gut is telling me I’m going to remember this as something special. Maybe less because of the content of the film but more so because of the individual impact it had on me and my preconceptions.

    • avatar
      February 18, 2018 at 6:56 am

      I actually have seen Fant4stic. I don’t think I ever reviewed it because really… Why?

      I don’t really disagree with anything you said. I don’t know that it will get a costume nod for the Oscars. That’s hard to predict because it really depends on what else comes out.But yes, that’s it’s best shot. It won’t get special effects, or it shouldn’t, because they’re just not good enough… they aren’t innovative and, as I said, there were some problems with what was there.

      But yes, you nailed it, the strength of the film is absolutely its impact OUTSIDE of what was actually onscreen. Same with Wonder Woman. As for what occurred on screen, this is actually probably a slightly better movie than WW was. It’s definitely worth watching.

      I think what it comes down to is when you’re scoring a movie on cultural relevance and barrier breaking you sort of have to take into account how will it stand up if the barrier breaking holds. If there are more diverse superhero films on the horizon, will WW on BP be as relevant anymore. That is to say, if there are better examples, will it matter that these are “first” especially since they aren’t really “first” they’re more “the first good ones.”

  8. avatar
    February 18, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    I live in Vermont and I’ve never been in a movie theater with this many black people ever! Powerful cultural awareness was all around me and my six year old son as we watched this newest addition to the Marvel franchise.

  9. avatar
    February 20, 2018 at 4:08 am

    Saw it last night. I agree with you. It was fine. Not great, but fine.

  10. avatar
    February 21, 2018 at 4:52 am

    I liked it a lot. I appreciated the character development not just of him but shuri and his dad, etc. I know it’s because most people didn’t already know black panther and needed to be spoon fed the story, but I hate when they cut out motivating factors for characters because they assume you know why.

    So in full story completion, I liked it more than most of the marvel movies.

  11. avatar
    February 21, 2018 at 4:58 am

    Like someone posted upthread, I appreciated how relevant this one was as well. Like, ok, you’re a superhero but there’s all this immigrant, wakanda first, blm stuff going on as well.

    John pointed out the last scene before the credits when they were back in Oakland and he has on a very 60s black panther style overcoat and bought up the block to invest in the community center, ya know, like they did.

    I think this was so good because it spoke to issues we actually need saving from. (Sorry, Hydra, I’m just not that scared of you)

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