• Jules-Pierre Malartre

Black Panther – Believe the Hype?


Superhero movies are still going strong. We are living in a golden age of such genre movies, and while viewers are starting to show some signs of fatigue, Black Panther opened up with a record-setting first weekend.

Black Panther is the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has already released something like 18 movies. That’s a lot of movies, but how many is too many? Other genre movies died at the box office long before reaching the 10-feature mark: it’s almost impossible to get a hard sci-fi or fantasy movie green-lit in Hollywood nowadays unless you’re Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg. So why are superhero movies – particularly Marvel superhero movies – so popular?

Marvel appears to have found the perfect recipe for keeping moviegoers entertained and wanting more. And Black Panther does not disappoint. Does it live up to the hype? I don’t think so. It’s entertaining, but does it bring anything new to the genre? Yes and no.

We are bombarded every year by a slew of superhero movies. As fun as they might be, only a few of them offer anything new: Guardians of the Galaxy’s irreverent humour was a fresh approach; Deadpool’s extreme violence, rated-R language, and fourth-wall breaking humour shocked and conquered moviegoers; and Logan’s grit tore at viewers’ guts like the best dramas.

One of the main ingredients in the success of the Marvel superhero franchise is how the movies are all tied together. The films are not always sequels; they stand separately, but are all part of the same narrative. It’s well-known in the comic book industry that fans love nothing more than a crossover (an event where superheroes from one comic book make an appearance in another. Such events arguably saved both DC and Marvel from bankruptcy in the days when comic book popularity was waning). Obviously, someone at Marvel Studios thought it would be a great idea to apply that technique to the movies as well. And it works. You only have to see how many moviegoers stick around to watch the end credit scenes that inevitably tie the movie they just watched to the next Marvel superhero movie.

Speaking of that: you will definitely want to stay until the end of Black Panther, because there is the obvious end scene thrown in a few seconds after the credits start rolling, but there is also another one at the very end.

Does Black Panther bring anything new? It’s a much more human story. You could say it’s not a superhero movie at all if it weren’t for the spiffy high-tech cat suit and metal claws. It’s overall way too long – over two hours, which is becoming the trend, again.

The movie is filled with verbal explorations of right versus wrong and overt tones of social awareness. It gets too thick. Long sighs and overdrawn exhalations from the audience underline those overlong moments, and it’s almost as if director Ryan Coogler was aware of it; during a protracted conversation between Black Panther and his followers, the soul searching gets so thick that it’s finally another character, M’Baku (beautifully portrayed by Winston Duke), who voices the viewers’ irritation by stating, “are you done?”

Duke throws in a very much needed and timely dose of comic relief in a movie that is trying to take itself way too seriously. The social awareness tones of Black Panther are not subtle. Whether they deal with gender or racial equality, protecting the environment or developing a clean source of energy, are they stated clearly enough to make a difference? Probably not, but moviegoers will leave the theatre feeling they have been entertained, and they will definitely look forward to seeing Black Panther’s next appearance in Avengers: Infinity War later on this spring.

If you’re a fan or if you’re just tuning in to those marvel superhero movies, Black Panther is definitely worth seeing. Chadwick Boseman is convincing in the title role, but as is often the case with many superhero movies, the secondary characters steal the show. The screen belongs to Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o in every scene. Martin Freeman nicely fleshes out CIA agent Everytt K. Ross introduced in Captain America: Civil War and Winston Duke provides much of the movie’s refreshing comic relief at all the right moments.

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