As with Wonder Woman, there is an unfair burden placed on Black Panther. It has to excel because it has the weight of representation on it. Justice League, Batman vs Superman, these can suck and that’s shrugged off. If either of these movies had sucked execs and white audiences would be going “oh well, let’s not try that again.” This is unfair, but on the plus side it results in films that eschew the self indulgence of a Snyder movie (which is another form of inequality – self indulgence may give us films akin to digging wet clay for two hours, but it also gives us great movies that overreach themselves like Apocalypse Now). It’s like Chris Rock said of his neighbourhood, where the only black people were superstars like himself, whereas his white neighbour was just a dentist – representation of inequality has to excel to be placed on a level with white mediocrity. For the movie goer this does give us the boon of some great films though.
The film, directed by Ryan Coogler (who’s Creed was one of the best movies in that series), focuses on the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda, which has chosen to remain hidden with its advanced technology. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa battles for leadership with outsider, Michael b Jordan (also from Creed). In this plot structure it addresses issues of colonialism, the legacy of imperialism and civil unrest. That’s a lot for a comic book movie.
It is this centering that really raises the film – superheroes are fighting to save a country in Africa! I was beginning to wonder if they had a travel ban that precluded them from saving anyone outside of the US. The actors speak mostly with African accents. The Black Panther is surrounded by strong women (Okoye definitely needs a film of her own). It’s not hard to see why white supremacists and mid-level racists hate it. Of course all of these factors can be found in other films, particularly ones from outside the US. But few of those penetrate the multiplexes of middle America. In this it marks a shift, a kind of Copernican cultural shift from the geocentrism of US-only view to the heliocentrism of multi-culturism.
In terms of tone and pacing, I’d suggest it doesn’t quite compare with Wonder Woman, which was near perfect in those respects, but it has superior supporting characters. It avoids the comedy approach of the recent Thor and Guardians movies, which have been the best antidote to the ponderous DC movies, but has enough lightness, mainly via the interaction with Letitia Wright’s
tech savvy Shuri. It’s also a tad overlong if one is being critical, but these are small misgivings against the easy manner in which it bears the weight on its shoulders. And yes, it gets bonus points for creating a world where Wales is an independent UN member.