‘Black Panther’? More Like Blah Panther

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa aka Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa aka Black Panther.

Lot of chatter about Black Panther and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Stevens aka Killmonger being ‘the best’. Here’s my awful take that will most certainly get skewered.

***DISCLAIMER: When I told my wife I was writing this post, she said “Be careful”, like I was handling nitroglycerin or a live grenade covered in snakes or juggling chainsaws covered in porcupines. My wife and I are a team and a partnership but she wants everyone to know that she liked and appreciated Black Panther and that I should tread lightly. In other words, she’s pulling a South Park…

We got to see Black Panther last night and wow was it meh on eh on shoulder shrug. And I hate using those words. It’s the ultimate fanboy nerd reaction. But, for me, there’s no other way that better captures the feeling or lack thereof.

I’m still grappling with why. Was I in a weird headspace? Was I tired? Was it too cold in the theater? Were we too close to the screen? Were we too freaked out whenever someone got up to go to the bathroom? Were we too freaked out by the one guy sitting by himself a couple rows ahead of us who kept using the FRONT exit door? Maybe I hate my office job so goddamn much that it’s poisoned my brain and made it impossible to enjoy anything? Or were we not captivated (enough) by the movie that the little things we wouldn’t normally notice had we been engrossed stuck out more?

I was yawning throughout most of the film. I’ve never been that “out” of a superhero movie in a long time (possibly ever?). Then again, I was also mostly unmoved by The Last Jedi.

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It’s my own fault. I built up this movie in my head way way too much. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination but hot damn if you’ve spent as much time as I have on the internet, seeing all the hype about this movie, it would be borderline impossible to keep your expectations in check.

Had I not seen all the headlines or the trailer or the promos or the talk show appearances or the interviews or the gimmicky YouTube videos, maybe I would’ve liked it more? Instead, I’m kind of doing a golf clap.

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At one point, ComicBook.com noted that Black Panther was rated the top-rated movie of all-time and the top action-adventure movie of all-time on Rotten Tomatoes. As of publish, Black Panther doesn’t appear on either list.

Here’s just a small sample of hyperbolic headlines:

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige Says ‘Black Panther’ Is the Best Movie Marvel Studios Has Ever Made (!!!)

‘Mudbound’ Director Dee Rees: ‘Black Panther’ Is ‘The Best Marvel Movie Marvel Has Ever Made’

Critics are creaming their jeans over Black Panther as evidenced by the 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, 78% of audiences agree. Not the biggest disparity but definitely significant. And yes, I know that a healthy portion of the ‘audience’ is comprised of trolls and racists and people so fed up with politics they can’t even entertain fictional ideologies clashing. But, here are a couple reviews that most accurately speak to what I’m trying to say:

Black Panther Rotten Tomatoes Audience Review

Black Panther has been praised for its progressive representation and social commentary. I’m completely on board with that. The reviewer in the first screenshot above gave it 5 stars without ever seeing it. The second reviewer (the anonymous avatar) DID see it and expresses many of the same feelings I had. The movie’s getting kudos for finally bringing the African-American / Black experience into the spotlight the right way, as it should. It’s a historic moment in cinema. A turning point. A sea change. A momentum shift. A HUGE step forward. But should it be getting ratings or points on aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes?

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In handing Black Panther awards and accolades without actually seeing the movie or reviewing its content with the same critical eye we judge other films, are we masking how mediocre the movie is?

  • Are there any scenes that really jumped out at you?
  • Were you entertained from start to finish?
  • Did you lose yourself in Wakanda?
  • Did you really care about T’Challa’s relationship with Nakia?
  • Did you really see any connection between Okoye and W’Kabi?
  • Were there any lines — other than Killmonger’s profound words on the cliff at the end — that you’ll never forget?
  • Any wow moments — other than a couple Killmonger maneuvers?

Black Panther GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

I totally understand what the movie was going for. I get the messages the movie was trying to send. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with people identifying with or relating to the characters and their experiences. It’s the first superhero movie that speaks to the African experience. It’s one of the rare big budget blockbuster to feature an all-Black cast. Message received.

The ‘colonizers’ mentioned are ‘white’ people, particularly straight white people who aren’t Jewish. Colonizers suck = white people suck. I put ‘white’ in quotes because ‘white’ encompasses a SHIT TON of ethnicities and nationalities and genetic makeup. French, Italian, Canadian, Scandinavian, Russian, German, Irish, Australian, British – there’s a LOT of white people, which means there are a LOT of shitty white people. From a numbers standpoint, it’s easy to make that statement: ‘White’ people suck. We’re not all great but we’re not all bad.

That said, as a straight white person who isn’t Jewish, I just couldn’t get into Black Panther. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t cry. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t nod. I didn’t shake my head. I had little to no reaction.

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I’m not completely sold on Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.

Daniel Kaluuya‘s W’Kabi was just sort of there. Maybe it was intentional but I didn’t get a good read on him at all.

Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) was one of the few characters that actually elicited any kind of response. He was wild-eyed and had that crazy prosthetic arm gun. He was emotive and felt unique.

Letitia Wright‘s Shuri was kind of fun. She provided most of the comic relief but it felt more like Full House studio audience comic relief than anything. Her character was likable as the little sister but Wright was more dynamic as the bad-ass Nish in Black Mirror. 

Winston Duke‘s M’Baku showed a little range and mixed in some comedy.

Forest Whitaker was awesome but when he is he ever not awesome?

Martin Freeman was the unremarkably vanilla white guy. Fairly one-dimensional, very one-note. He was the physical embodiment and sole representative of ‘White’ People.

The one thing I was most looking forward to was Michael B. Jordan‘s Killmonger. The best movies — not just superhero blockbusters — have great villains. You could argue that we haven’t seen a truly legendary villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto was arguably a distant second. So, when I read that Jordan drew inspiration from both Ledger’s Joker and Fassbender’s Magneto, and I read this motherfucking headline:

All Hail King Killmonger, the Best Superhero Villain Since Heath Ledger

I was like HERE. WE. GO.

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Jordan’s Killmonger has the bad-ass scars covering his beefed-up body. He’s got the Sideshow Bob hair. He’s got the look of a cool villain. My eyes kind of lit up when he first appeared on the big screen in the theater. He was in a Bane-esque jean jacket and camo pants and Benjamin Franklin-lookin’ glasses. It had the makings of being a dynamic intro…

…and then it kind of sputtered out and was all downhill from there. I never got back on the Killmonger Express.

He got a sympathetic backstory. He had what was supposed to be the biggest tear-jerker scene in the Oakland apartment with Sterling K Brown as N’Jobu, the KING of tear-jerking actors delivering another knockout performance. The Killmonger character was more humanized than any Marvel villain (though Mickey Rourke did his damndest with Whiplash in Iron Man 2).

But, putting Jordan’s Killmonger on the same level as Ledger’s Joker? Are you out of your fucking mind, dude? Ledger got a goddamn Oscar for playing a decades-old comic book bad guy that had seen other actors play the role.

The article (above) comparing Jordan to Ledger owns up to the fact that Jordan’s performance is not on Ledger’s level. The author also cites Thor‘s Loki and Winter Soldier from Captain America as other memorable Marvel villains.

If anything, the exaggerated praise for Jordan’s Killmonger is more a sad statement on how bad villains have been and not in the good way. (SPOILER ALERT) Killmonger expediting his own death is ‘hardcore’ and not a cop-out? If he were so dedicated and driven to change things, why choose to die? Why not let Black Panther save your life and keep fighting so you can actually get revenge? And then show how Killmonger would process and digest that revenge? If the character’s that good, you’d keep him alive.

Then again, would Black Panther have opened the institute and went public with Vibranium if Killmonger lived? Probably not. At first glance, Killmonger died in vain but maybe he didn’t. Regardless, dude’s just as forgotten now as he was when (SPOILER ALERT) his dad was murdered. Cold but true.

Rotten Tomatoes released their ranking of the 20 best superhero movie villains on February 22nd — six days after the movie released in response to all this ‘Killmonger is the best’ talk — and Killmonger didn’t make the cut.

I know what you’re thinking. What the fuck, Neal? You couldn’t just let ‘us’ have this one, huh? You couldn’t just celebrate history? I know I’m coming off as a hater. But, I’m not. I want Black Panther and movies like Black Panther to be better. Strive for greatness. Push the envelope even further. And that’s the beauty of Black Panther. Just as ‘Get Out’ revitalized the horror-comedy-satire genre, Black Panther will open doors for superhero movies and action movies.

In the long run, when we look back at Black Panther, the praise will be for its trailblazing and pioneering, for being ‘the first’. I’m for sure glad that I was alive to see it. I can’t wait to see what comes next. Even if I am just a colonizer*.

* My paternal grandfather’s from Ireland. My paternal grandmother is from Italy. My mom’s lineage is New Jersey for a few generations, descendants of the Scots and the Icelandic. We don’t colonize unless you’re talking about taking control of the remote.



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