Initial thoughts on Black Panther (2018)

bp1.pngUnderwhelming. I actually watched this last weekend and have hesitated regards posting a review simply because I thought I would re-watch it again, give it another chance. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to do so due to illness so here I am, writing this post based on initial feelings that might be subject to reappraisal later.

Hype springs eternal. Maybe that’s the problem. I missed this film at the cinema but was well aware of all the praise it was getting and its impressive box-office numbers that likely surprised even Marvel. The film clearly struck a chord with audiences.

But of course you just never know what films audiences will engage with and lots of truly great films get ignored while many bad ones become hugely successful- just look at the perplexing success of the Transformers films. Disney seem to have been unstuck by the response to the recent Solo movie – a film that again, I have not seen, so can’t really comment on, but some people whose opinions I value seem to think it was pretty good and yet oddly ignored by audiences. Well, if a film that grossed $323 million worldwide can be said to have been ignored- I suppose its really a matter of scale and expectancy; a Star Wars movie, albeit one that had a troubled production that cost anything up to $300 million to make, might be expected to reach that magic $1 billion easier than most movies. Instead Solo fell well short of that particular measure of success.

But was Solo any less formulaic or uninspired as Black Panther? Or am I being harsh? Are superhero movies, particularly one with a clearly positive racial message, more in tune with the current social/cultural zeitgeist than a movie based on an ‘old’ franchise from the 1970s (I love the dichotomy of considering Star Wars movies as old and dated when all these Marvel movies are based on comics-trips of the 1960s and 1970s)?

Black Panther grossed something in the region of $1.3 billion, so if box-office is a measure of anything, it was clearly doing something right. But yes, it left me a little underwhelmed, even bored. Playing that utterly meaningless box-office card once more, Thor: Ragnarok, which was for me clearly a much better Marvel movie, grossed $850 million worldwide, so what, that means it was actually a worse movie than Black Panther? Okay, while we’re here lets be naughty and play these box-office charades again- the woefully insipid Justice League movie grossed nearly $700 million, so Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t as great a movie as I thought by that comparison (or maybe the DC fans watched Justice League out of morbid curiosity, like some kind of celluloid car-crash). Anyway. Box-office is meaningless when appraising movies, unless you’re a studio executive.

I don’t know why exactly Black Panther didn’t really engage me. Maybe I thought it would  be more original/daring, more culturally significant, less of a (I hesitate to use the word, but here I go) ordinary or formulaic genre movie. Sure, it was never going to be a Deadpool or a Logan, but all the same, it slipped into that dangerous trap of these superhero movies, of degenerating into too much cgi hysterics and less the drama that I had hoped for. I suppose I shouldn’t criticize a movie for being faithful to the original comic, but I think the film would have been more significant if it had addressed the genuine  plight of poor black people in America and involved a typical black kid with limited social mobility/options and neighborhood issues of poverty and drugs and gun crime. I suppose that is some other movie, some other hero. The Utopian dream of Black Panther may be life-affirming and full of positivity, and maybe that the point of the film, I get that.

Was I maybe expecting Marvel by way of Shaft or Superfly? Well, maybe that was the hype. I don’t know. Its not a bad film (certainly not in the DC realm of misfires) but Marvel seem to find it so easy making these films popular that I wonder if they really need to stretch themselves more- after, what, eighteen movies or whatever it was by the time Black Panther came along, you’d think the Marvel Studios formula would be getting a little tired and disengaging audiences- instead they seem to be just lapping it up, eager for more.





4 thoughts on “Initial thoughts on Black Panther (2018)

  1. EditMSM

    Two quick comments:
    You can attribute Black Panther’s box office to more black people going to see the film.
    It’s that simple. Every Marvel fan and casual weekend viewer went as usual, but because a strong black superhero movie is so rare, it also pulled in a demographic that might otherwise not be that arsed about watching Tom Hiddleston or Chris Hemsworth again.

    As for Solo…. yeeeeeah. Your friends are lying to you. It’s not really any good. It’s not exciting or interesting and it delivers 100% unnecessary fan service*. The best quote I heard to describe it was that it was ‘like a comedy with all the jokes cut out’. It’s not bad, as such, but it’s just a limp shrug of a movie. A Diet Pepsi Star Wars.

    *I accept that this might be what your after, as your reaction to TLJ wasn’t especially accepting of moving in new directions.

    1. My dislike of TLJ wasn’t so much regards it moving in new directions but rather the path those new directions went in, but that’s an old wound I won’t bring up again. I do think that Solo has likely suffered from the post-TLJ backlash from many Star Wars fans, but even so, Solo is a totally unnecessary movie, even more so than a sequel to Blade Runner (how amazing is it that that particular film turned out so great- an indication that Solo should/might have been much better in spite of our negative preconceptions?).

      I take your point regards Black Panther bringing a new audience to Marvel. I suppose it means that next year’s Captain Marvel may benefit from a large female crowd. In some ways it saddens me, in my ignorance I rather thought the appeal of all these superhero films was universal anyway (good against evil and all that jazz) but not so. Cultural divides still exist, and our world isn’t as enlightened as I would like to think..

  2. I do think Black Panther fits within the Marvel formula, to a certain extent, but it’s all a matter of degrees. I mean, list any three or four recent Marvel movies and they’d all “fit the formula”, and yet they’re also all different from each other in various ways. I think Black Panther picked up a lot of praise for bringing different flavours to that formula, with its African-influenced designs, cultural behaviours, etc, as well as for solving Marvel’s much-discussed “villain problem” by having an antagonist with genuine motivation and a proper role in the story.

    I think its success with minority audiences is less to do with them not being able to relate to white heroes (they’re used to it — when it comes to mainstream/big budget movies and TV, they’ve had relatively little choice!), and more to do with finally seeing themselves, to an extent, on screen. But such issues of representation and identification are a whole complicated thing, so I think there’s a lot more to it than simply “that guy’s skin is the same colour as mine!”

  3. Pingback: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) – the ghost of 82

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