To see or not to see. That is the question. By now, everybody’s gone to see Black Panther but you. But could this movie really live up to all the praise that is being spewed about it? Can it live up to all the hype? Should I go see it? The answer? Yes.
Not big on superhero movies? Doesn’t matter. Think it’s a “black film”? Doesn’t matter. Can’t find a sitter for the kids? Doesn’t matter. They’ll be fine, it’s only a few hours. See Black Panther. Right now. No. Don’t finish that sandwich. Leave the house. Right now. Go see it. I’ve read a few reviews about this film, and it’s been out for a few weeks so you probably have, too. How do you slog through all the opinions to the truth? Simple.
Listen to me.
The big question is can this film, which has been poised to blast all economic, artistic and social expectations, really be all things to all people? Comic book fans want it to honor to the source material. The producers want it to break box office records. The black community and the liberals want it to break down barriers. Blind dates want it to be a tolerable two hours. The feminists just want a damn movie besides Wonder Woman that doesn’t use women as props.
And the short answer is: yes. It can be all things to all people. There have been some reviewers who feel the movie falls short in some of these areas. But here’s why that doesn’t matter. Because it delivers in some measure in all of them. How many movies can you say that about? Black Panther does not need to be just a superhero movie or just a social statement or just a popcorn entertainment. And if it can do some of all of these things, that to me is a success.
Director Ryan Coogler, in his third major movie, has created a film that has something for everybody. While he has not reinvented the form of the superhero movie in the way Christopher Nolan did in his Dark Knight Trilogy, he also didn’t completely mishandle the form the way Ang Lee did in Hulk. He works within the form well. The action sequences are exciting and beautifully choreographed and filmed. The mythology of the story is presented clearly without getting too bogged down in deep and unnecessary (sorry fanpeople) detail. There is a touch of corny, clunky banter. There are some plot set-ups that predictably come to fruition later. There’s the obligatory Batman tech gadget walk through. But guess what, people? That’s comic books. And what Coogler did accomplish that A LOT of other directors of superhero films have not managed to do, is tell a story in such a way that makes us care about the characters. And not just the protagonist, either. He’s managed to create a hero/villain conflict that is nuanced and complicated and not simply good against evil. But more about that later.
The movie has already broken box office records, so the producers are happy. Second highest four day opening in history, fifth largest of all time. Largest February opening, largest winter opening, largest President’s Day weekend opening and highest Thursday preview (sorry, Deadpool). The producers are doing all kinds of little happy dances in a large meeting room somewhere at Disney HQ to the KENDRICK? from the soundtrack.
Ryan Coogler, whose first two films eloquently and brilliantly said a lot about the black experience. The strength, the beauty, the intelligence, the humor, the dignity, the grace, the honor, the style, the passion of the black people is celebrated with vibrancy and elán. Why did all those white people in Get Out fetishize being black? Because it’s awesome.
And now to my favorite part: the feminists. It’s tough to please a feminist. And with good reason. Superhero movies suck if you’re a woman. Comics suck if you’re a woman. (Let’s face it. The world sucks if you’re a woman.) But not in Wakanda! God, these women kick ass! And guess what? Having strong women in the film didn’t minimize the male characters! They all ended the movie with their penises intact! Woo hoo!
But the most interesting thing about this movie is the comments and questions it raises about America, about being black in America, about America’s role in the world, about isolationism, about evil, about corruption, about international politics. Coogler points an accusing finger at the standard American policy of helping (inserting itself into) other countries with the purpose of benefitting from what that country has to offer. It presents two different approaches to combatting the oppression of the black people. The “villain” Killmonger stands as a symbol for what crushing poverty and unfair and imbalanced incarceration has done to black male youth. Simultaneously he stands as a symbol for the enemies we create all over the world when we meddle where we don’t belong. Black Panther, the hero, in his Hamlet-like indecision, is no less complex as he struggles to know how to lead. We cannot love the hero, we cannot hate the villain. Coogler makes it more complicated than that. And in that respect he has one up on most superhero stories.
But for all the blind dates out there, it’s just a damn good movie. It’s beautiful to look at. The score is exciting. The story is simultaneously simple and complex. There’s a touch of the political, a touch of the social, a few laughs, a few tears. It isn’t all things to all people, as some of the critics would have it be. But what movie is? It’s not quite as two dimensional and black and white as a lot of comic book fare. Neither is it the Citizen Kane of comic book movies. It’s good, exciting fun. Go.