Review for Black Panther
In my wholehearted, if rather belated embrace of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m getting tantalising close to the result of over ten years of build-up and narrative interlinking. I’m almost at Avenger’s Infinity War and Endgame, the culmination of the story that commenced way back with Iron Man. I just have one final brick in the foundation to partake of, one final piece of the puzzle, the first Black Panther movie. The character got quite the introduction and story arc in Captain America: Civil War, but that was just one man’s journey of vengeance and self-discovery. Now I get to see the world of Black Panther in all its glory.
Following the death of his father King T’Chaka (Captain America: Civil War), T’Challa has to return home to be crowned king of Wakanda. He’s also returning home to a country at unease, having to choose between remaining isolated from the wider world, and finally joining it. Even then it’s a decision with two paths, whether to face the world with strength, or with diplomacy. It’s an unease that threatens to turn into unrest, when an attempt to detain the criminal Ulysses Klaue fails. It’s an unrest that an outside force can take advantage of, when the sins of the father have to be paid for by King T’Challa, the Black Panther.
Black Panther gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English, and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 Surround French and German, with optional subtitles in these languages and Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English Audio Descriptive track. The surround is nice and immersive, putting you in the middle of the action just as it should, making the most of it, and the music soundtrack, while keeping the dialogue clear throughout. The image is clear and sharp, with no visible signs of compression, and detail levels are excellent as they should be on a recent film. However, Black Panther does eschew the slightly subdued colour palette that most other Marvel movies use to add a more realistic grounding, to instead go for bright and vivid colours. There is also a whole lot of CGI at work in Black Panther, easily the most for any Earth-bound Marvel movie, and maybe even more than the Thor movies.
I managed to get the version with the o-card slipcover, although your mileage may vary. You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, and the disc boots to an animated menu after playing a trailer for Ant-Man and The Wasp. You can play the film with or without a 1:23 introduction from director Ryan Coogler.
The following extras are also on the disc.
-Crowning of a New King (5:34)
-The Hidden Kingdom Revealed (6:57)
-The Warrior Within (6:08)
-Wakanda Revealed: Exploring the Technology (6:16)
Gag Reel (1:38)
Deleted Scenes x4 (6:53)
From Page to Screen: A Roundtable Discussion (20:27)
Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years – Connecting The Universe (8:39)
Exclusive Sneak Peek at Ant-Man and The Wasp (2:26)
Audio Commentary with director Ryan Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler
I am feeling a little torn about Black Panther. At the heart of the film is a really good and thoughtful story, which you might expect to be enough to appreciate and enjoy a film. But there is so much that is off-putting about the film that it just keeps knocking it down in my estimation, to the point where I was second-guessing myself as the end credits rolled; wondering if I actually enjoyed the film or not.
The biggest narrative problem with the film is that it just doesn’t conform to the more grounded “Earth-based” films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Captain America films and the Iron Man films felt tied to a realistic world-view, their more fantastic elements balanced with motivations that were easy to empathise with. Black Panther on the other hand exists in a heightened reality which is more akin to the Asgard portions of the Thor movies, or the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
We have the most advanced nation on Earth, Wakanda, hidden away from the rest of the world, albeit with a tribal system where leaders are chosen through lethal combat. I could just about buy into that, but then we have such advanced tech, that it approaches magic, with just one metal Vibranium (the insanely strong shield that Captain America wields is made of it), also acting as an energy source, and a medical panacea. It may be that way in the comics, but there’s only so much I can take before the suspenders of reality snap back and sting my nipples back down to Earth.
There is that strong story however, informed in no small part by the African American experience, There is that impressive sense of defining Africa in terms of itself and its various cultures, not in comparison to other nations, yet there is the irony at first that Wakanda faces the same dilemma that many European nations and the US itself face. Does Wakanda become less isolationist, open up to the outside world, even let in refugees from less fortunate nations? Do they face the world with strength or with compassion?
The antagonist of the film, Erik Killmonger is motivated by the bloody histories between the colonisers and the colonised, recognising the oppressed, and wanting to give them the tools to stand against their oppressors and turn the tables. T’Challa sees this as well, although he would seek a different solution. Neither is wrong in their goals, which makes for a very interesting and thought-provoking character conflict. Except it would, were it not for the aspect of Black Panther that turns me off from it the most.
It’s the CGI of course, which is taken to ridiculous levels in a film that should be more grounded. I’m often hard pressed to notice any live element on screen in certain scenes. The behind the scenes footage in the extras offers a sea of green or blue-screen, and it’s only the quality of the CGI, and the intricate production design in the sets that elevate it over digital backlot films like Sky Captain or 300. Despite all the wide open vistas, it still feels like a studio-bound film with countless digital set extensions. I also have a suspicion that they didn’t use stunt performers in the film so much as they used digital doubles. There is some ridiculous, rubber-band physics used in the action scenes, and worst of all, I think the climactic battle sequence was inspired by the Gungan vs. Droid Army battle at the end of The Phantom Menace. CGI characters fighting on the plains, a dogfight in the sky, all that was left was to give the two Panthers lightsabers as they fought in the city and it would be a perfect match.
There is a good story at the heart of Black Panther, but it’s buried under so much CGI and fantasy hyperbole that its relevance fades, the allegory diminished. And most of all, it feels like an outlier in the MCU, almost taking place in one of Doctor Strange’s parallel universes. Having now seen Black Panther, I can certainly see the entertainment value in it, and it’s not a bad film; rather a good film saddled with bad production values, but in the end, I by far prefer my Panthers to be Pink.