Why “Black Panther” is an important movie…but not a great one

“As a black man – it is almost blasphemous to say that after seeing Black Panther that it was just ‘aight.'” – Me, a few minutes after seeing the movie. 

Thursday night, I left work excited to see Black Panther with my wife (Shout out to Annie for buying the tickets like a month in advance). I was wearing wearing all black for this special occasion. I was also proudly wearing the Black Panther King shirt that Annie bought me for my birthday a few days before. Thanks to the insane amount of hype surrounding the film, I expected to be disappointed. Since I’m more of a DC fan, I expected to be doubly disappointed. And I was.

Critics have been praising the newest edition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes as of Sunday night. The movie has stunning cinematography, is well-written, and terrifically acted. It’s emotionally evoking and intellectually compelling. However, I am in the minority as one who was not that impressed by the new film.

I feel that since I was such an early supporter of this movie only to become one of its harshest critics after viewing it makes me not only a traitor as a fan of the MCU, but to my people as well.

This WILL NOT be a spoiler-free review because I have a lot to say about the movie and why I was not a huge fan. I do, however, have a lot to say about its importance to the black community and America as a whole.

The Good

It’s an Important Film

Black Panther is a movie that is long overdue. The movie epitomizes a dynamic shift in the cultures represented on the big screen that has been ignored for generations. It’s sad that it took so long for a studio to put a big budget toward a black superhero in a black societal setting while boasting a black principal cast. This movie is to black people what DC’s Wonder Woman was for the female community (It’s still crazy to me that it took until 2017 for a woman to finally get her own superhero movie). There is no doubt that this movie will be breaking box office records and will be having a sequel in the works sometime soon. Director Ryan Coogler should be proud of his film. Regardless of my personal feelings toward the film, it represents a turning point in Hollywood.

The Politics Provide a Deeper Meaning

There are a lot of  politics embedded in the film. The media has been stating that the release of Black Panther is a historic, important moment for black people, and also that the film itself promotes important political messages. Let’s begin with Michael B. Jordan’s character Erik Killmonger. It’s well known that Marvel has a villain problem as no one ever really lives up to Loki. Killmonger might very well be the best villain in the MCU over Loki. Killmonger’s villainous motivation isn’t the typical desire for power or to take over the tri-state area. It’s to seize power, kill T’Challa (the son of the man who killed his father), and become king of Wakanda to use its secret metal resource, vibranium, to help oppressed black people fight back against their oppressors using advanced technological warfare.

Now, it’s impossible to watch the film and not see the parallels between T’Challa as MLK and Killmonger as Malcolm X. T’Challa doesn’t want to overthrow existing regimes,  . He wants to work with them to better life for everyone. Killmonger wants to give resources to oppressed people to help them overthrow their oppressors.

This makes him a great, nuanced villain. He actually follows all of the rules when it comes invading Wakanda and attempting to usurp the throne. When you learn his backstory, you find yourself saying, “Well yeah, I can see why he’s doing this” for at least some of his actions. His story is more refined than any other villain’s in this genre, and he helps to make the film what it is.

The Bad

Weak Character Development

This is an issue for me in any movie and Black Panther had some character development issues that I had a hard time looking past.

Even though I praised Killmonger’s character earlier in this review, I still think his character arc was weak. While he is a unique and distinct villain, I feel that making him look like a radical war machine took away from the character’s nuances. If Killmonger was a bit more tactical and reserved instead of full of fiery impulses, that would have made him scarier, which makes him seem more dangerous.

Killmonger returns to Wakanda and suggests using Wakandan power to help out oppressed people. Is he wrong? Of course not. He’s unequivocally correct. His case, that Wakanda should have helped out black people from being enslaved, murdered, and discriminated against, is right. And given the portrayal of the United States, his case that Wakanda should help out oppressed black people in America is right, too. However, Killmonger’s suggestion that the problems of modern-day black people can be almost entirely eradicated with money and guns is wildly oversimplistic. This is what makes Killmonger, on the other hand, a weak choice for a political statement.

“A dollar might just say forget them boys you came with”

In addition to the character development issues, too many characters were swapping allegiances for trivial reasons and with shaky backstories to try to vindicate those changes. Seeing W’Kabi (played by Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya) go from being T’Challa’s best friend and main confidant to throwing it all away because Killmonger killed the guy who killed W’Kabi’s parents years ago sounds like it was straight out of a soap opera. This happens more than once in the film and seems like these characters are just there for the plot instead of tangible people who we’d actually care about.

I know many people are screaming at their phones right now reading this saying, “Why does any of that matter? Just enjoy the movie!” But this movie is trying to be something more than just another superhero movie, and it fails in the respect of actually being a great, well-thought-out movie.

The Ugly Conclusion

Black Panther is by NO means a terrible film. It’s just not…a great movie. It’s definitely not as great as I thought it would be. While I was inspired by the film and have an immense feeling of pride seeing a dark-skinned superhero look like me on the big screen, I expected to see one of the greatest MCU movies to date.

The movie was a fun experience and had many solid performances from Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Letitia Wright. The new “Black Panther” handshake will definitely be the way I greet all of my friends now. And I know many people will go to the theater to see this move more than once.

I’m excited to see the change that Black Panther will create, but unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be seeing it again until it’s out on Blu-Ray. In the meantime, I’ll be reading Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates. And it’s still Wakanda Forever!

#ButStayWoke

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