Friday, March 9, 2018
Tracking The Black Panther!
Went to see Black Panther the other day and even two weeks after its release I was sitting in a packed house. There's no denying the financial success of Marvel's latest entry into its movie universe, but sadly I have to report that it was not the successful effort in terms of its absolute storytelling. This one fell short only in relation to the absolute success of some of its predecessors, and still is an entertaining diversion, but it's not a great adventure movie by all measures. If you haven't seen the movie tread carefully, as SPOILERS are in evidence.
The biggest challenge facing any of these fresh epics is the totality of the background info needed to be absorbed by the audience before they can even get a handle on the wide cast of characters. This movie tries diligently to get the back story of vibranium and the long history of Wakanda into the record, but to my ear failed to get it done cleanly, so I became confused at to when things happened and to whom. This is a multi-generational saga and needs careful attention to the motivations of its characters. Frankly I lost track of exactly who was related to who and why they might've borne a grudge. Enemies become friends and friends become enemies.
Also there's a nagging problem all movies about kings have and that's the implicit endorsement for monarchy that such tales deliver. Wakanda is a modern nation in all respects, a land of secrets and presumably a land in which the citizens do suffer privation or hunger. But still and all, this modern, high-tech nation feels encumbered by myth which cloaks the elevation of certain clans above others. Royal families give me an ache and no less so when they are benevolent rulers, the very notion that some are "better" than others is anathema to me and I groan when I find it lurking in fiction. That might seem weird coming from someone who adores pulp fiction which is rich with such fanciful and often racist notions, but I'm able to parse the attitudes of long ago with those of today. Making T'Challa a king in the modern world gives me pause.
I love "Panther's Rage" by Don McGregor, Rich Buckler and Billy Graham, but I did not see any credit given to these talents for the story on the screen despite the use of Erik Killmonger as the key villain and scenes from "Panther's Rage" being ripped right from the pages nearly intact. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby do get screen credit though and that's not nothing, but I for one wish the Stan Lee cameos would wrap up. They were once delights, little gems to be anticipated, but now they are just dull. This one didn't work for me all that much.
There is plenty of action in Black Panther and that's a plus. I was not happy with Klaw's departure nor with his presentation. Klaue as played by Andy Serkis seemed like a joke villain in this one where as before in the Avengers appearance he seemed far more capable and deadly. Martin Freeman's appearance was mostly a waste of time and effort as he ended up not contributing much of anything necessary to make the story work. Drop him out and almost nothing changes of any real significance. Did love Man-Ape, though of course I realize they cannot call him that. M'Baku (Winston Duke) steals all of his scenes and is the real surprise of the move for me. He has the heft and size I expected of Killmonger. The actor (Michael Jordan) who plays Killmonger is pretty good,but for my tastes I wanted a bigger guy, a more imposing physical figure. But that's a small complaint.
The other actors do creditable jobs and it's all dandy but I just never got all that concerned. To be honest there's no real demise of consequence in the movie though death does touch characters. Danai Guria's character, a powerful warrior loyal to T'Challa seemed a likely candidate or even T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) for a potent demise. But we don't really have that moment and so the cost of the decisions that the Panther makes are not really consequential in the way I felt they should've been to maximize the impact of the story. And that leads us to Chadwick Boseman who looks exactly like what the Panther should look like, but falls short in scenes of delvering the emotional connection a lead must have.
All the pieces are here, some of them very well delivered, but the sum is not the equal of the parts. The parts though are still pretty diverting and even at times entertaining.