Disclaimer: The following article includes spoilers for the movie Black Panther.
Based on my personal experience, you either have one of two reactions after watching Black Panther. One, you’re excited because you’ve watched what is likely the best standalone film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past few years and you’re already reliving the most awesome scenes in your head. Two, meh.
In case it wasn’t obvious enough, I am an unshakable member of Camp #1, and here’s why: I have been a fan of the MCU for years, I’m a strong advocate for cultural diversity in entertainment (in fact, I wrote an article about diversity in the anime industry awhile back), I love movies that put smart, talented, and powerful women at its helm, and to be completely honest with you, MCU films have been getting pretty stale lately.
The past handful of movies have kept to a format that, while successful, is overly predictable and frankly shallow. Even though I enjoy an impressive action sequence as much as the next movie goer, the only way Marvel has been able to up themselves lately is by introducing chaos on an even larger scale than before. Eventually, things will get boring. I’ve already watched every iteration of god, alien, and sentient machinery attempt to destroy Earth in every possible manner. What’s next?
Going into Black Panther, I harboured the same doubts albeit in a slightly different form. My main concern was that we knew very little about where Marvel was going to take this character. He came across to me as the “token black guy” of the crew – that was it – and I was worried that his solo film was going to be a throwaway just to please fans begging for diversity. That meant, more violence, more action, and even greater stakes to please the wider audience. Thankfully, I found myself disproven.
Black Panther turned out to be an incredibly thoughtful movie; an adjective I thought I’d never use to describe a MCU film. But that’s what it was. Ryan Coogler had managed to craft a story that simultaneously pulled its viewers into a fantasy world, all the while commentating on a real life issue faced by African-Americans in present day.
The movie was an outright political statement, and frankly, I ain’t complaining. Not when the way it pulled everything together was so beautifully symbolic. From Wakanda’s origin story being narrated by N’Jobu to his son N’Jadaka, to the betrayals of the past generation coming to haunt the current one, the opposing beliefs of T’Challa who is a traditionalist and N’Jadaka who is a modernist, wrapped up in a perfect ending where we were left with no stereotypical battle of good versus evil, only injustice and conflict of beliefs.
When you compare it to any of the Avengers’ films, the differences are even more pronounced. The Avengers are a group of larger than life characters who dominate every space they enter. Any movie that they are in leaves little to no room (between the witty banter and deux ex machina-like displays of power) for a substantive story to be told. In many cases, directors don’t even want to head into that direction for fear of losing out a large portion of their audience. So they pander to the big explosions and intergalactic wars, but things are the opposite with Black Panther.
Black Panther is by no means a flashy film, it isn’t as straight forward as it could be, neither does it involve some crazy end of the world scenario (although it does contain armored rhinos for some reason). It doesn’t ride on the shoulders of its titular character. Rather, it tells a story that is far larger than any of its characters combined, while focusing on relatively ‘small-scale’ issues – internal conflict, childhood psychological trauma, family betrayal, the strength of their loyalty and beliefs.
All these things may not fit the traditional MCU mould, but they’re what has helped Black Panther build compelling and layered characters, as well as a plot with meaningful stakes. I believe that’s what made it a standout film despite its relative lack of action, and its success is only an indication of what potential this direction could hold for the future. Personally, I definitely prefer movies with stories that simmer in my mind for weeks, rather than ending in a bang and I forget about it in two days. Unfortunately, I also wouldn’t consider myself an average consumer.
Other movies that have gone down this line include Logan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and even Rogue One. All of which I loved and were met with mostly positive but otherwise mixed reviews from people who disliked the movies’ slower pace. Even though those films did great justice to the characters and the story, this lack of mass appeal is why it’s unlikely that Marvel will break out of the mould that they’re currently in. We can only hope that Black Panther has made a big enough dent to change things.
But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours? Do you think future Marvel films should follow in the footsteps of Black Panther? Or should they continue to show off their CG by causing more havoc? And do you have any thoughts on Black Panther as a movie? Leave me a comment below!
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