The Hollywood Reporter recently pointed out the obvious; even Jennifer Lawrence can’t open a movie. Studios don’t look to big star names any longer, but to brands like Marvel.
I’ve always thought that superhero – or comic book – movies, were just empty calories. Marvel makes me feel like I overindulged on Haribo candy (and the DCEU feels like toothache).
Black Panther is the latest product to be added to the Marvel cinematic universe. Set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, it’s a kind of kid-friendly Game of Thrones, complete with warring cousins and factions, where the future of the kingdom hinges on revelations about an individual character’s parentage.
There’s some detailed world-building: the costume and production design draw heavily from real African tribes and cultures. To the outside world Wakanda appears to be a dirt-poor, but proud nation. Thanks to some magical alien gobbledygook element called Vibranium, it’s actually a futuristic, high-tech wonderland.
Despite this, it’s still pre-democratic. Wakanda has a hereditary monarchy, and the crown has just passed to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). He’s no flashy show-off à la Tony Stark, even if his royal duties include dressing up in a panther suit. He’s actually a noble character haunted by his father’s death, who is trying to protect his people while overcoming his people’s isolationism.
The superhero is king, the superhero is the brand, but the performances should be key. And it is to Boseman’s great credit that he doesn’t get blasted off the screen by Michael B. Jordan’s swaggering, vicious Erik Killmonger, a rival to T’Challa, who wants to swipe the throne and the panther suit, in order to lead the country in a more hawkish direction, establishing a Wakandan empire.
Jordan would have all the showmanship, looks and charm of a mega-movie star, if the species hadn’t been declared extinct. We’ll have to be content with seeing Killmonger claw his way into ‘Top Ten Movie Villains of All Time’ lists instead.
Naturally it wouldn’t be Marvel without at least one migraine-inducing, CGI-heavy car chase scene I had to close my eyes for. Action scenes are inevitable in comic book movies, but they’re so mindlessly executed all they do is destroy the tension and feel like watching a video game.
For all lot of the running time Black Panther transcends the conventions and expectations of the superhero genre. If you try really hard, you can enjoy it is a standalone fantasy about family, duty and honour.