Anghus Houvouras on Marvel’s Black Panther…
Black Panther has finally come out and the internet has blasted into Vibranium-powered overdrive to heap praise upon the finished film. Since the first reviews started surfacing online, the amount of hype and praise felt instantly excessive. And I’m not even talking about the 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (which has come down since then) or the reviews that called the movie a game-changer before paying audiences even had a chance to watch. CineVue’s Zoe Margolis managed to go even further in her praise.
Black Panther  https://t.co/v135wD9x7n
"Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is the film that will change everything. When you see it, you know that from here on in, everything will be different…A masterpiece of filmmaking." – CineVue's Zoe Margolis pic.twitter.com/91ZiwfnsOf
— metacritic (@metacritic) February 14, 2018
The film isn’t only a ‘masterpiece’ but apparently ‘everything will be different’ which is another way of saying ‘game-changer’. Film reviews have become so hyperbolic over the years that none of this feels particularly surprising. It does, however, feel absolutely crazy to hear someone say. I feel like Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride questioning whether or not she understands what ‘masterpiece’ and ‘game-changer’ actually mean. To put it another way, CineVue’s Zoe Margolis has been huffing the fumes of hyperbole so hard that I wonder if she’s done permanent damage to her cerebellum.
Is Black Panther a masterpiece? Personally, I didn’t think so. It was a very entertaining blockbuster with a crazy-good cast and some heinous special effects and lackluster action. The final battle between Killmonger and T’Challa is a master class in how not to stage an action sequence. Take two guys in black, put them in a purple cave with constant motion blurs and have them duke it out with no sense of geography. However, declaring a masterpiece is an act of subjectivity. What I deem as a masterpiece will be radically different from someone else. Although if we’re being honest, I’d have a hard time putting a movie like Black Panther next to other films often considered masterpieces.
Calling Black Panther a ‘game-changer’ though is something I can dismiss with facts. What is a game-changer? In the world of cinema, a game-changer is a movie that redefines the cinematic experience. Something that makes other studios stand up, take notice and attempt to recreate. Game-changers are rare, and for the most part impossible to identify within the 72 hours of the movie’s release.
You also have what I would refer to as a movie with a strong cultural impact. Something that feels unique and leaves a lasting imprint on the cinematic culture. A movie that ends up being appreciated for many years after release and ascends into the rarefied air of cultural significance.
Star Wars had a strong cultural impact. The strongest of any film in my lifetime. You could also refer to it as a ‘game-changer’ because of the groundbreaking special effects and merchandising. However, not all films that make a significant cultural impact are game-changers.
For example, let’s look at 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. This is a film with a significant cultural impact. It latched on to the cultural zeitgeist and took it for a ride. It was the first wildly successful found footage movie. However, it wasn’t a game-changer. The game-changer was 2007’s Paranormal Activity which took the same model and launched a found footage gold-rush in Hollywood. Blair Witch Project will remain the most culturally significant found footage movie, but Paranormal Activity was the game-changer, i.e. the movie that had a significant impact on found footage movies being made and released.
Another example would be Titanic. A huge movie with a massive cultural impact. However, it wasn’t a game-changer. You didn’t a significant shift in the industry and what movies came out because of its success. Sure, Disney tried with the woeful Pearl Harbor, but you didn’t see a whole lot of Titanic clones. You could make the argument that Titanic was a game-changer because it helped usher in an era of photo-realistic effects work, but the industry was moving towards that goal already. Cameron just gave everyone a high bar to push towards.
Black Panther isn’t a game-changer for a couple of reasons. First, it’s already part of an actual game-changing cinematic trend: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Studios have been trying like hell to replicate their success and usher in similar shared-universe franchises to mixed results. Second, what exactly will change because of Black Panther? More black superheroes on the big screen? Looking at the production slate, I’m guessing the next black superhero movie to hit the big screen will be Black Panther 2. There’s still talk of a Cyborg movie, but I’m guessing Marvel will get a sequel to the massively popular Black Panther out while Warner Bros. continues to kick that cybernetic can down the scheduling road.
It feels like film writers want to be the first to plant their flag into the dirt with identifying exciting new happenings in the world of cinema. A movie like Black Panther gets unfairly saddled with expectations and designations that it has neither deserved or earned. It felt the same way for Wonder Woman last year. People were so invested in the idea of seeing a female superhero on the big screen that the movie’s success felt more important than the quality. So many reviews felt focused on discussing a shift in the paradigm rather than the actual quality of the film. People started having serious discussions about Wonder Woman as a Best Picture candidate, and I couldn’t help but laugh. These were not people who could be taken serious, cinematically speaking. These were people with plastic bags huffing hyperbole until the common sense part of their brain was catatonic.
Black Panther is a really good film, and one that I believe will have a strong cultural impact. However, calling it a game-changer or a masterpiece is kind of crazy. Put down the bag, film writers. The inevitable discussions about Black Panther as a Best Picture contender; shut it down. There’s nothing wrong with loving a movie, but when you take that love to a delusional place you end up looking an addict.