Is Black Panther really that good?

2018-02-25 00:00
Black Panther represents a momentous achievement for black people in the realm of arts. But is this a good film or are we just simply over joyed at seeing a predominantly black cast?

During the opening week of Black Panther, I lined up alongside many other Marvel fans to watch the film that’s high on the buzz of a momentous achievement for black people and cinema.

For a while, I almost forgot that this was actually just another big budget franchise from Marvel Studios. The vision was birthed by director and co-writer Ryan Coogler, who spent time in Africa to research the film. He nailed it stylistically, but perhaps put too much focus on representation at the cost of entertainment and story value, which, in the end, suffers slightly.

There were subtle differences in the expected style and, of course, other moments when the norm was upheld. I was expecting a superhero movie with that awe-inspiring epic feel of DC’s Man of Steel.

What I now realise has happened to black people is that we’ve praised a corporate machine for using traces of our culture as a large-scale gimmick. Yes, it’s amazing to see a predominantly black cast in a big budget Hollywood film and yes, they spoke isiXhosa and wore incredible African clothing. And let’s not forget that the women are immensely fierce.

But the film is painfully average. It does so much in every area but actually tell a riveting story. Starting with the highly publicised soundtrack produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar ... I always figured the idea behind a soundtrack was that you’d hear the featured songs in the film. Maybe they’ll be broken up, shortened or used innovatively – this barely happens, which isn’t a train smash.

However, the story is. Michael B Jordan’s character Erik Killmonger doesn’t seem to be that menacing. I was hoping for a demented villain along the lines of Dr Doom or the Joker. He didn’t have any thrilling dialogue or present the hero with a morally crippling choice like the Green Goblin once did to Spiderman.

Killmonger gets help to find Wakanda and then takes the throne of the greatest African state – but he does so alone. As is usually the case in films, the more militant leader dies, even though vibranium saved the life of Martin Freeman’s character, a white guy. They Malcom X Killmonger, who was basically trying to unite the diaspora, leaving the more placid and euro-friendly Chadwick Boseman in charge. Granted, his intentions were to do harm, but they should have let this play out to an extent.

The only time I have seen the world almost entirely taken over was either by Decepticon robots, or strange beings like Ultron in the Avengers or En Sabah Nur in X-Men Apocalypse. When will the brothers and sisters get to shine on the imperial tip?

The graphics also need work. The scenes of the “ancestral plane” that feature John Kani are so obviously filmed on a green screen. It’s 2018 and they still haven’t figured out a way to mask that flat synthetic feel in these kinds of images? Why couldn’t they have just filmed these in the actual savannas in Africa? CGI for a scene of dialogue didn’t make sense to me.

The story fails and, deep down in your heart, you know the action sequences are simply fair, not out of this world. The two fall while fighting their final duel. As they fall, they throw punches at each other because we all missed that in Spiderman 3.

I recall seeing Marvel’s Luke Cage put on headphones with the Wu Tang Clan’s Bring the Ruckus playing. Then he dispenses justice like you wouldn’t believe.

Go and check the scene out, then ask yourself if there was anything remotely that cool in Black Panther.

Black people have been craving this type of movie for a long time and it was all rather festive at the packed cinema house.

We fell for this gimmick, hard. The film took in more than R16.8 million in the South African box office with nearly 200 000 viewers during the opening weekend – making Black Panther the most successful Marvel film to hit our shores, and a pivotal moment as far as black representation in pop culture is concerned.

Mara the story is lame. They used our culture as a drawcard. I can say that the strongest element of this feature is the portrayal of the Wakandan women, particularly the strongest Wakandan warrior Okoye, played by Danai Gurira. Seeing her throw her wig off and refer to it as ridiculous was the peak of the political subtext in this film.

I did not enjoy seeing Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker being so underused in this feature – that budget should’ve rather been spent on fixing the green screen.

Don’t believe the hype. Beyond our continent and culture being used as a backdrop, this did very little for me as a black person. It is literally just the first black Marvel movie.

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April 5 2020