“Black Panther,” the smashing and much-anticipated 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), has taken reviewers’ hearts captive. Americans are chomping at the bit to see the movie, and for a time it even had a “100 percent” perfect score on the film review site Rotten Tomatoes (it is still holding at 99 percent).
“Black Panther” looks impressive, seems rather promising, and will likely set forth a compelling tale of a black African superhero to broaden the horizons of the MCU and add more diversity to the stellar “Avengers” franchise. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) provided impactful leadership and character in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), and audiences have long awaited his full movie.
Despite the effusive praise given to the forthcoming film (which releases on February 16), reviewers have not necessarily white-washed the movie. This is welcome news for Ben Shapiro, who cunningly quipped, “If ‘Black Panther’ is bad, will we ever find out about it?”
If “Black Panther” is bad, will we ever find out about it?
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 30, 2018
Below are five criticisms leveled at the film, to balance out the hype.
Of all the elements in a great film, pacing seems one of the most difficult to master. The best director knows how to present exposition without giving the audience the impression that they are being preached at, and without losing their interest. Repetition can also kill good pacing, if the audience senses that the story is not moving on, but getting stuck in a rut.
This latter failure marks “Black Panther,” according to The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde. He warned that, despite thrilling moments of action and fascinating world-building, the movie can seem too repetitive.
“It’s these thrilling moments that make the film’s occasional pacing lapses forgivable; not to give away too much of the plot, but the story is structured in a way that several key moments are repeated or revisited from another angle (There’s a lot of rule-of-threes in the storytelling here.),” Duralde wrote.
The “rule of three” principle suggests that a trio of events or characters tends to satisfy an audience more than a straight, unencumbered narrative. Duralde criticized this style, but that does not mean it will fail to satisfy or entertain audiences.
2. The main character.
Review after review of “Black Panther” emphasized the vibrance of the supporting cast of characters, often suggesting that the villain or one of the excellent supporting actresses “steals the show” from Boseman’s T’Challa. This helps explain the 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to one reviewer, however, this was the central weakness of the movie.
Nerdist’s Marc Bernardin wrote, “Every character’s wants and needs are clearly defined, with one exception: T’Challa’s. When the film opens, he wants to be king. Ten minutes and one ceremonial duel with rival tribe-leader M’Baku (Winston Duke) later, he’s king. After that, he wants to maintain the status quo: Preserve the Wakandan way of life. But the status quo, by definition, is static, and stasis isn’t drama.”
Bernardin also suggested that T’Challa’s romance with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is underdeveloped and “never exceeds nascence; by the time the film ends, you might’ve forgotten they had ever been ‘a thing.'”
The damning conclusion: “For too much of Black Panther, the Black Panther has everything he wants.”
Bernardin did not stop at that, however. “On top of this, he is also almost entirely devoid of flaws,” the reviewer noted. “He’s a deadly martial artist, a stalwart friend, well-educated, even-tempered, quick to smile, and, despite all that, he’s humble. Flaws are the grooves, the nocks that add depth. Perfection in fiction, unlike in life, can be boring. I mean, even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.”
The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez argued that “Boseman might be the least interesting part of the movie as the titular lead, which says a lot about how well the rest of the characters are written and cast.”
For this reason, reviewers have suggested that the villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) or T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) steal the show. If Bernardin is correct, that may entirely be the case.
3. Feels like an advertisement for Wakanda.
Many reviewers praised “Black Panther” for finally achieving true world-building success in the MCU, boosting the Rotten Tomatoes rating. While other movies such as “Thor” (2011), “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), and “Doctor Strange” (2016) introduced audiences to new worlds or realms, the story did not give those worlds enough character that they transcended a basic setting, or so these reviewers argued.
Not “Black Panther.” This movie introduces audiences to Wakanda, a fictional African country that is secretly rich and technologically-developed, powered by a prevalence of the secret and powerful metal vibranium (see: Captain America’s shield). The country is insular and yet diverse, made up of many competing tribes. The very plot of the film centers on this wondrous place, and what it means for mankind.
All the same, the time spent on Wakanda might be overkill. Empire Online’s Jimi Famurewa suggested as much.
Famurewa appreciated the scenery and the development of Wakanda, but he noted that the scenes in this new world “foster a tone that feels awkwardly caught between Marvel’s trademark quippy interplay and the rapt wonder of a djembe-banging broadcast from the Wakandan Tourist Board.”
If “Black Panther” portrays Wakanda as too much of a black paradise, that may actually detract from the world building. For example, Middle Earth in “The Lord of the Rings” is wondrously inviting, but every part has its pitfalls, and even the Shire may end up being overrun by orcs.
4. Video game-style action.
Another potential pitfall could be the action. The trailers make “Black Panther” look stellar and pristine, but that is their job. If the longer action sequences stall or rely too much on computer generated imaging (CGI), their weaknesses might distract from the story.
Rodrigo Perez, at The Playlist, suggested just such a failing. “The action is a bit of a mess,” Perez wrote. “And one-take shots are nice and all, but not so much when they look like CGI’d video game fare. Additionally, the movie leans rather dubiously on its futuristic technology to the point of breaking suspension of disbelief; is there really nothing Wakandan tech cannot do?”
That is one of the strongest pitfalls of world-building. The world cannot just be fascinating and breathtaking — it has to have internal logic. Nature in a fantasy world doesn’t have to behave exactly as nature in the real world, but it does need to abide by its own rules. Even in the MCU, technology is not invincible.
The Verge’s Bryan Bishop echoed similar complaints. “In some action scenes, Black Panther’s suit looks more computer-generated than realistic, and the hand-to-hand combat sequences can come off more chaotic than compelling,” Bishop wrote. He cited Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as a similar example — though not everyone thinks that stellar trilogy had shoddy action sequences.
5. Distracting preludes.
This may also fall under the pacing complaint, and it is a common complaint for superhero films, but at least one reviewer specifically noted that the beginning sequences were distracting. “Black Panther” opens with two flashbacks: one for the title character T’Challa, and one for the villain Killmonger.
“While those aforesaid expounding preludes are flat and patchy, once ‘Black Panther’ gets out of its crouching position and goes on a sprint, it’s an engaging ride that rarely lets up,” Perez wrote in The Playlist.
Most flashbacks tend to be “flat and patchy,” because they seek to establish something foundational about a character that enables the film to frame a story of growth or tragedy.
All the same, this weakness appears to have been notable enough that Perez remarked on it, even though he thought the film overcompensated for this flaw.
Again, “Black Panther” has racked up an astounding number of stellar reviews, and the trailers promise an epic show. Perfect scores on Rotten Tomatoes are rather rare. This movie will likely be a hit.
In the unlikely case that it isn’t, however, one of these five flaws might be the reason why.
Watch the trailer below.