There's a lot to say about hype these days. Internet culture is built around it. "OMG you have to see this amazing cultural touchstone that will be a classic because it caressed my soul pieces." This week's hype machine is centered around Black Panther, the newest Marvel movie that succeeds in being about something more than a guy in tights but not much else.
Set right after the events in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa is returning home to the hidden and advanced kingdom of Wakanda to be their new king. Drop in a backstory with a few bad dads and conflict arises in the form of Erik "Killmonger" Stephens coming in to take over Wakanda. Then, throw in some globalization conflict and resource management and you have secondary villain Ulysses Klaue out to rob and steal all the technology Wakanda has to offer.
The villains steal the show, as is the norm for comic book villains. Andy Serkis was told to just have fun out there, kid, and so his manic cartoonish villain is enjoyable and understandable. Michael B. Jordan gives a more nuanced performance, a hurt and broken man who is striking back at the people he feels abandoned him with a wide range of skills he earned. The conflicts each of these villains represent are deep, effortlessly moving between the personal and the public, from father and life issues to serious implications of global infrastructure and history.
After all that, though, this is a basic blockbuster comic movie. The action is too smashed together, as if a child was playing with toys and bashing them together. The chase scene in Korea is awesome but has little scope. Abilities are represented, things are destroyed, but never on the screen do we see this in full. I wish Marvel would allow the camera operators to pull back a little, although the bright hand to hand fights in this movie are a step up from most.
The main characters live and breathe in this world much to the detriment of the title character. I'm honestly split here. The cast is a family, they joke and are enjoying being with each other to the point where I felt this movie is more about Wakanda than Black Panther. For a time, he's out of the film and despite knowing he's coming back (it's a superhero movie), I didn't miss T'Challa. The supporting cast more than make up for his absence. I can't tell if that's a good thing, but I enjoyed myself so I'm for it.
And the ending… When someone pointed this out, I laughed and said no and then thought about it: Black Panther has the same ending as Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace. A personal superpowered fight with random intervals where the people are separated by a glowing thing. A land battle with glowing shields where B-characters has it out. A flying bit where the "hey that guy needs something to do" character gets a moment to say "yeah!" It's just fun to see that done so much better.
Overall, one of the best Marvel/blockbuster movies because it leans on its supporting characters and seems to have something to say. I'm not entirely sure it's saying Best Picture worthy things, though, but I'm excited to see where they go. If Disney has the balls.