Black Panther ★★½

Coogler's Creed is one of the best films of its kind, a work that confronted and gently but pointedly revised the racist underpinnings of the Rocky franchise and then happened to make the best movie in the whole series by its own rules. Black Panther, by contrast, is the latest reminder, after a few wilder, looser entries in the MCU, that when it comes to Marvel, the house always wins. Glacially paced and burdened with action so busy yet clumsy that the man who pieced together the stunning fights in Creed is left looking like the latest filmmaker to be made a klutz by Marvel's abysmal action style. The film also feels a bit like Captain America 2 in the way it frequently comes right up to the cusp of a blistering social comment—in this case, how the premise of a country like Wakanda existing in an otherwise "normal" world of white supremacy is the nation's acceptance of African and diasporic misery for its own benefit—only to retreat from the full implications of its subtext. Thankfully there's nothing in this as egregious as Winter Soldier ultimately blaming its corrupt surveillance state on external infiltration, but it nonetheless feels like the film never quite makes good on its surprisingly damning portrait of Wakanda's negligent isolationism. The best and most incisive moments are largely relegated to the margins, contained in lines given just enough breathing space to emphasize them as Serious Points before the relentless grind of plot takes back over in the foreground. Still, some of those observations are shocking in the context of any mainstream film, particularly a massive superhero blockbuster; to pick one of several examples, there's a line that Michael B. Jordan's fascinating villain (easily, easily the most compellingly motivated MCU bad guy to date) says about would-be slaves jumping to their deaths during the triangular trade that is absolutely bone-chilling in its direct reckoning with the atrocity of history. Would that the rest of the film more sharply honed around such moments.

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