Black Panther

Black Panther ★★★

Well-imagined with costume and productive design major standouts. That is something very lively about Wakanda, even though I wish the film showed more interest in the details of the society as a whole instead of focusing in the power struggles of the elite. Coogler is particular successful in turning something that was mostly white liberal guilt trip (the powerful super technological African paradise country from the comic origins) into a mythic origin idea that does have resonance (I think K Austin Collins Ringer review deals with that infinite better than I could). The action is very mediocre in the Marvel tradition (Coogler big one-take scene is a showy dead end) and the third act mechanics are rotten as usual, if at least slight better than most of those things. Coogler seems to have get a bit more freedom than the average Marvel director post first Avengers, save from references to Civil War it stands on its own more than most and is even allowed some personal detours, but one is sure he is fully aware he still operating as a caretaker to a major Disney product and that this freedom has limits. The cast is very fine, but Black Panther mostly lives on Michael B. Jordan charisma and he is their main weapon to complicate a narrative that could often feel a little easy otherwise. The major isolationism versus intervention question is a conundrum the film is not fully prepared to negotiate, because its politics can only be limited. Most of them is very much mainstream assimilated leftovers from Obama conciliatory days, but before one just reduce it to “let’s replace Sweetback with an upper class uncomplicated mystic royal that one can show on kids product and TV” and further proof that we are living in a neoliberal hellscape of our own making (it is that too, BTW, but that’s also an easy out), Coogler does try hard to keep the film more ambiguous. Jordan has charisma to burn and the film allows his Killmonger to make a lot of fair points, more important the movie is structure as his story in some ways more than T’Challa’s, it refuses to reduce him to a power hungry avenger (despite flirting with that) and his full arc is giving tragic weight. Black Panther also recognizes that his radicalization is both Wakanda’s isolationism first original sin (he is literally the Black brother left behind) and an inevitable consequence of the Black American experience. Yet, Coogler keeps his bets safe by going with the tried and true formula of making his villain a mostly right but dangerous fanatic (and double down on it by giving T’Challa a love interest that repeats a much vaguer non-excessive version of same). The end of the film after Jordan very powerful exit scene is pat, most because it is so ill-defined, maybe Coogler hopes to do so in a sequel, but I wish he gets his chips from this massive success and do his own thing instead.

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