Review: Black Panther finally wants to mature the Marvel Universe

It’s Valentine’s Day that the first Marvel feature film of the year 2018 arrives in our theaters. Black Panther, the African superhero, King of Wakanda, who we saw for the first time in Captain America: Civil War is now entitled to his own film. If he is certainly not the best known of the Avengers, the one who is actually called T’Challa had something to intrigue with a background more than interesting and rooted in the issues of our era.

With its 100% African-American cast and a director recognized for his notable risk-taking (Fruitvale Station, Creed), the new Marvel had to get tough before a much-awaited Avengers: Infinity War. Mission successful?

The king’s return
After the death of his father, the king of Wakanda, an isolated but technologically highly advanced country, T’Challa returns home to take his place on the throne. But when an old enemy resurfaces, his courage is strained. He is drawn into a conflict that threatens not only the fate of the kingdom, but that of the entire world. Confronted with treachery and danger, the young king will have to call on his allies and unleash all the power of Black Panther to defeat his opponents, and protect his people and his way of life.

What quickly strikes the viewer when viewing Black Panther is how close the context in which the events that are portrayed to us take place is to our reality. Unlike Captain America , Guardians of the Galaxy and other Iron Man who tend to take us to parallel worlds where socio-economic issues seem very different, the film has the intelligence to quickly concern its viewer. The superheroic vision of director Ryan Coogler is more relevant and inclined to move audiences than the endless questions of power and the struggle between good and evil that we are used to seeing on screen.

In this, Black Panther presents ideas relevant to an oratory that may well be surprised by the themes addressed: racism, colonization of Africa, slavery, violence against African Americans, etc. So many strong subjects which are explicitly denounced in the feature film and which have the intelligence to logically overlap with the original story and the character created in the 60s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Unfortunately, under the guise of having to stick to Marvel blockbusters and the image they must return, especially a few months away from a very important Avengers: Infinity War, we pass too quickly on ideals that the director would certainly have wanted to fight more aggressively. But it should be noted this real desire to take a stand in the face of societal problems that have affected many countries around the world and especially the United States in recent years.

Originality and (almost) good taste
Regarding the story itself, let us note that it is pleasant to follow, in particular thanks to an inventive staging which stands out somewhat from previous achievements. Instead of passing our hero off as an all-powerful character, the film strives to reveal his tasks, his sometimes unenviable position, and the weaknesses of men who could end up betraying him. By playing on the protagonists’ emotions, their desires, their history and their doubts, Black Panther is therefore revealed to be the most human of Marvel films. It should also be noted that the note of humor, sometimes omnipresent in previous productions, is more effaced as if to highlight a more serious tone which lends itself much better to the subject of the feature film.

Some flaws are nevertheless to be observed. The first concerns the rhythm of the film, which is very uneven. Lengths indeed come to hinder the narration and unnecessarily weigh down the narrative which was sufficient in itself. To this are added more than unforgettable passages which sometimes seem meaningless: we think in particular of the whole part in South Korea which has little interest except that of seeing the character of Ulysses Klaue, performed by Andy Serkis. We regret that the feature film sometimes takes the time to move away from its homeland, Africa, yet sublimated by the first-rate artistic direction of Black Panther .

Cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who previously collaborated with Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station , skillfully juggled darker colors and skin tones to bring out both the actors and the landscapes in the film. Some panoramas of this larger-than-life Wakanda (a kingdom located between Ethiopia and Kenya) are simply majestic, especially when it comes to real shots taken on African soil.

American overflow
Something is still in the way at the end of the screening. We have the feeling that, despite obvious goodwill, the director has not been able to avoid certain clichés which suggest an Americanization of Africa. Too bad, especially since it was quite possible to pay a much stronger tribute to this fabulous continent. Thus, we often notice that an appropriation of African culture takes place to the point of suggesting that these two civilizations are identical. However, this is not the case and it would have been more judicious to retransmit accurately what Africa is today. It is a shame to suggest, even unconsciously, that this continent and the countries that make it up have a life and desires similar to those of Americans. The message of ” We have so much to learn from each other ”only works little in the face of this very (too) patriotic vision of what the United States is.

The cast is irreproachable. We can only highlight the remarkable performances of Michael B. Jordan, very astonishing in his role of Erik Killmonger, but also of Danai Gurira (Michonne in The Walking Dead) whose natural charisma gives an additional charm to the film. Martin Freeman, unexpected and against the grain also amazes. Nothing to reproach Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyongo’o and Chadwick Boseman who pay homage to their respective characters. Note all the same that the character of Black Panther blends a little more into the crowd than his friends (Iron Man in the lead) and we hope that he will not be too erased in the next adventures of the Avengers.