Movie review: “Black Panther” makes solid effort, falls short of perfection


Photo by Kat Owens

Photo Illustration by Kat Owens

MITCHELL KRAUS Editor-in-Chief

Marvel’s “Black Panther” feels a lot like watching a very promising athlete get a silver medal at the Olympics.

“Black Panther” is by all accounts a very good film. It challenges its characters with dilemmas involving nationalism, isolationism, power and greed. An excellent script and visionary direction are unfortunately not enough to make it a great movie.

Director Ryan Coogler stuffs his cast full of great actors putting on top-notch performances, even in small roles. Relative newcomer Letitia Wright and motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis, who gets to use his real face here, stand out in a talented crowd.

Spreading the talent around so evenly draws attention away from the Black Panther himself, played by Chadwick Boseman. It feels more like a movie about Wakanda, the fictional African nation, instead of a movie about the titular hero. But that is not a bad thing; the people of Wakanda are some of the best-written (Coogler co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole) characters ever for a comic book movie.

There is a lot of well-written dialogue here; fans who watch comic book movies for the action scenes might find the gaps between the fighting to be too long. The first big fight is marvelous and takes place in a set that would feel at home in a James Bond movie.

It is a sleek, sexy mission that devolves into a fight between guns and collapsible spears. At one point, Okoye, the head of Wikanda’s all-female elite warriors, makes a quip about the uncivilized nature of guns just before disabling the bad guy’s SUV with a spear.

The battle at the end is a lot of fun, but again the supporting characters take a lot of the attention away from the main hero.

The projector in the theater could be to blame for this, but some of the scenes are just too dark. In a film where dark-skinned people wear dark clothes, having long scenes take place at night and in dark rooms is an interesting choice, and here it feels like an accident instead of an artistic decision. When Batman hides in the dark, viewers can tell he means to. In this movie it feels like the production crew just forgot to turn some lights on.

Every scene that takes place in the daytime is beautiful; the sets and costumes are designed with bright colors and bold patterns. Suspension of disbelief is required to truly enjoy the spectacle: nearly every outdoor environment relies heavily on green screen, and a lot of it looks too good to be true, if you think too much about it.

There are also a couple times where the CGI looks artificial, resulting in airships that look fake or human movements that are just not possible. Time will tell if this movie ages well, or if a few more weeks for the visual effects artists could have polished the look.

“Black Panther” is built around a conflict between two men with opposing ideologies. Neither is perfect, and they are surrounded on all sides by a brilliant cast of supporting actors who sometimes steal the show. It is a good movie, but a few small things hold it back from being a truly memorable experience.