“You’re a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be King.” – King T’Chaka, Black Panther (2018)
James Cameron said in an interview some months ago that he hoped “Superhero Movie Fatigue” would set in to moviegoers soon. I agreed with him, hoping for some change to the beige world of the superhero genre. Just something that wasn’t contrived, cliche and above all, boring. The critically acclaimed Black Panther would hopefully provide me with said changes. I was hopeful, but came away extremely disappointed. I should’ve expected that to be honest, right?
Well, no, not entirely. Sure, I was all Marveled out at that point, but I was excited to finally say I had seen every Marvel film ever released. Having said that, Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) is out this week, so I’m back to square one now. What was the point in binge watching them all if I’m only going to be able to catch up for a few months at a time? Regardless of my own personal issues with the franchises, I was fairly excited to see what the latest Marvel film (at the time) would hold for me. I mean, presumably it’d hold at least something, right? I couldn’t have been further from the truth on that one.
What it held really wasn’t all that much. Casting wise, the film doesn’t get much better. Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Michael B. Jordan and Forest Whitaker are all marvellous in the majority of films they lend themselves to. With Black Panther though, something seems very off in regard to their performances. Whether that’s because of the overtly Marvel tone to it and its strict and rigid structure, or maybe it was the poor writing. Either way, the film was truly obnoxious and at times became almost unbearably grating. These are all very talented actors, with Freeman being a personal favourite of mine. The performances themselves range from mediocre and short (Serkis) to baffling and ignorantly dull (Freeman, everyone else).
My main irk with Freeman is that, he’s putting on an American accent. Similar to what he did in The Eichmann Show (2015) and identical to his Sherlock counterpart Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (2016). The only difference is that Cumberbatch can sort of pull off an American accent. Freeman, and by extension, Cumberbatch, work better when they’re not putting on voices. They’re no Seth MacFarlane that’s for sure. Still, Freeman’s role in Black Panther is so mild and unfiltered that it isn’t anything but forgettable. Pretty much every performance in the film is forgettable. All I remember about Serkis is that he doesn’t bother to show up for the latter half of the film and is replaced by someone equally as mediocre.
See, the film doesn’t have a consistent problem the whole way through. For the most part the opening scenes are actually quite well done. Although they follow the obvious Marvel format, it’s a tried and tested system that, for the most part, provides some enjoyable bits of cinema. Considerably so in the opening, where there are some solid performances and certainly enjoyable pieces of dialogue. It’s a shame that this level of quality didn’t make its way into the rest of the film. Furthermore, the costume design and overall settings throughout the film are vividly colourful and really compliment what remains of an otherwise bland story.
In regard to the casting, although the performances really aren’t worthwhile, the chemistry is definitely there. With some better writing and direction I could’ve attached myself to these characters quite easily, but instead I find myself with the same problem I have with a majority of other superhero films. There are definitely characters in here that I would hope receive larger expansions on and even standalone films. Serkis’ Klaw character is marvellous and hopefully makes some form of return at a later date. I doubt it though, in the same way that Tim Roth once played Abomination in that abomination of The Incredible Hulk (2008).
But you can’t connect to these characters in the same way you could connect to the varied cast of The Thing (1985) or the excellent portrayals displayed in The Dark Knight (2008). The primary reason is that the writing is dogshit. It’s your standard can-can of superhero cliches and at this point I’ve sat through twenty or so identical movies. My patience has snapped for this sort of filmmaking. The only real changes being character and location, the rest of the story writes itself, lazy work all round really. There’s no excuse for it, you cannot mask poor writing with overbearing visuals or explosions and CGI galore.
When you boil it down, Black Panther becomes this envious cliche, mocking its way through the runtime, trying its absolute hardest to be like Doctor Strange or Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) or something equally as interesting. Origin stories are ten a penny at this point, there’s an overabundance of them, specifically in the Marvel universe. It’s why we’ll never get that Black Widow standalone movie people apparently want? A Nick Fury standalone movie, now that’s where it’s at. But I digress, origin stories are now a truly oversaturated market. With two competing superhero universes (Marvel/DC), they all begin to blend together in the worst way possible.
Everything about this film is fucking useless. The writing is cliche as I had expected, but I didn’t realise it’d get this bad. Quite genuinely the film starts with “Let me tell you a story”. The last film I watched that did this was Conan: The Barbarian (2011), and that was shit. No really, that was genuinely one of the worst films I have ever seen. Black Panther was nowhere near as bad as that, but it’s surprising as to how many tropes the two of them have in common.
For the most part, the Marvel films have often failed to exceed a “good” rating (something I would deem a 3.5/5 or higher). While I did initially have some hope for this being one of those higher entries into the series, this may be the penultimate worst of the bunch. Obviously nothing will ever be worse than the abomination that was Thor: The Dark World (2013). But Black Panther comes fairly close to replicating that horror. Maybe it’s the terrible writing, or maybe it’s the tone deaf performances of some of its cast. Who knows, but what I do know is I’m completely done with Marvel movies.