Ryan Coogler’s latest film, Black Panther (2018), is blazing a trail at the box office. Marvel Studios’ latest flick and their final solo superhero outing before the much awaited Avengers: Infinity War (to be released in the summer of 2018) is riding high off with overwhelmingly positive reviews from nearly all quarters- the few dissidents have been all but silenced by claims of racism and threats of violence. Does this reviewer dare to express an unpopular opinion?
The first thing that I should establish is that I’ve been a fan of Marvel Cinematic Universe films . I was as excited on my walk to the movie theatre as I would be for any other Marvel film. Perhaps it was the high expectations that Marvel films are held up to, or perhaps the tremendous hype surrounding the movie, but Black Panther left me slightly underwhelmed.
Make no mistake: Black Panther is a cultural milestone, and one the likes of which the world has needed for a while. Boasting a very impressive nearly all-black cast and a black director, Black Panther debuts the world’s first mainstream black superhero (sorry, Blade) and is the film thousands of black people the world over, who have often felt that blacks have been underrepresented in cinema, have always wanted. Holding a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is obvious that there are hordes of people out there who believe that the film is the cat’s whiskers. The slightly uncomfortable question I wish to ask is: Would the reception to a first-of-its-kind all-black film like Black Panther have been as positive even if the film wasn’t that good?
The answer to this question is equally unsettling – yes. Before we proceed further, I find it important to point out that I did not by any means find Black Panther a bad movie, or even a substandard one. I simply thought it was extremely mediocre, considering some of the other films in the Marvel pantheon that it is currently competing against for the title of “Best Marvel movie” which some people seem to have unhesitatingly dubbed it. The kind of praise the film has been showered with is unprecedented, and in my opinion, unwarranted.
Yes, Black Panther showcases an African country as a beacon of technological superiority in a world which generally looks down on the continent. Yes, the film places its women in positions of relevance and significance, each outshining the next. And yes, the action sequences are good. But is that enough to justify the kind of monumental applause the film is receiving? There are other films, with better action sequences and better female roles and better CGI far more deserving of the hype surrounding Black Panther. And therein lies the problem.
Through subtle references to slavery and oppression in the United States, Black Panther plays the race card with a deft hand. Here is a movie which glorifies blackness, and all that comes with it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s something the world sorely needs, especially in the wake of the recent surge of racism in America. But to say that Black Panther is one of the finest films ever made is unjust as well.
There have been hushed reports from across the world of critics and Marvel fans covering up their indifference for the film. Given some of the reports of the trolling of certain critics who panned the film, many feel that Black Panther is a film they’re not allowed to dislike. One could argue that the sort of backlash negative reviewers are facing today by fans of the film is no doubt a result of the racist-fuelled plans by certain individuals to boycott Black Panther critically even before its release.
While I personally don’t dislike the film, I think the social commentary definitely needs to be turned down a little. At the end of the day, as a film, it falls noticeably short of the kind of commendations it has received from cinemagoers and critics. Emancipation of the oppressed and the presence strong female leads are ideals which are always important for a society looking to reconcile its differences and celebrate its diversity, but that need not necessarily make a film great simply because it showcases these aspects.
In conclusion, it is this reviewer’s humble opinion that enjoyable as parts of Black Panther were, the movie is a good one, not a great one. To those who haven’t watched the film yet: go see it and decide for yourselves.
– Contributed by Prithviraj
Picture Credits: cnbc.com