Black Panther ★★★

My objections to Marvel movies have always been their monopoly over everything, I don't know enough about them to reject them on artistic grounds (like I do with Star Wars and LOTR, which are very bad and their creators should feel bad), though I have my suspicions; my track record is I sat painfully through The Avengers and hated it, then Deadpool and hated it more, but also Guardians of the Galaxy which I didn't mind for the first half or so but also completely forgot before the credits finished rolling. This is better than any of those, and I don't think it's just because of the demographic boxes it checks, although there's a certain gleeful energy in seeing so much Afrofuturist-derived imagery in mainstream entertainment (all praise to Ruth Carter, who more than earned that Oscar); we're a long way, thankfully, from Grace Jones' undercooked cameo in A View to a Kill. It's also nice to see an ensemble cast comprised almost totally of black actors, but I do wish they were given better things to do than the usual exposition-spouting with occasional extremely strained "quip." The latter struck me as the biggest cop to the usual MCU tone, since otherwise this seemed to aspire more than anything to the earnest over-seriousness of 1950s-early '60s Hollywood epics, and about the only way a film this carefully engineered by corporate entities (with the potential for actual revolutionary social change of course baked into the villain's dangerous politics) can be at all subversive is to repopulate movies like Ben-Hur and Spartacus and The Robe with people of color so brazenly excluded by the film industry of those times.

As is typical of large-scale films like this, the whole thing loses its way near the climax, when Coogler is forced to stage entire scenes through bad CGI and all possible drama stops dead. But even before that, there's a serious hole in the center of the story in the form of the title character himself, who is permitted almost no grace or heroism and is so bafflingly ineffectual I would sound like one of the online weirdos who accuse Daniel Craig of being a "cuck" or whatever if I laid out all the ways that his wishy-washiness does him in. It's not that he's a shrimp, it's that he's specifically neutered and passive in the most boring ways; the story is predicated on a situation in which he could exercise power but chooses not to, then arbitrarily decides to anyway when the narrative makes it convenient, but still does almost none of the work. Chadwick Boseman is compelling, but Michael B. Jordan wipes the floor with him and is given too little time to do so. But the way everyone stands around stiffly making proclamations about duty and loyalty and all that silliness was oddly reassuring to me; it felt like something I might have watched with my dad when I was eight, and I was only embarrassed to be watching the thing -- a tradition with movies like this -- when the fucking rhino things were summoned. Again, I won't remember this long, but it's reasonably entertaining.

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