The UnPopular Opinion: Black Panther

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


2018 has been a phenomenal year at the movies. From big budget studio tentpoles to sleeper indie hits, this has been a year of top quality filmmaking. But, like any year at the box office, some movies blow away the competition. While AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR was the global champion with a haul of over two billion dollars (putting it at #4 all time), it was Marvel's BLACK PANTHER that was crowned the domestic winner with $700 million, becoming only the third movie in history to gross that much money. While the success of BLACK PANTHER is a substantial moment in film history as it represents the missed box office potential for minority-led films, it suffers from the same issues as WONDER WOMAN. DC's female led superhero movie was a critical and commercial darling when it hit theaters and yet no one wants to talk about the fact that both WONDER WOMAN and BLACK PANTHER are incredibly formulaic and do not do anything to set themselves apart from other films in the genre. But, unlike WONDER WOMAN, BLACK PANTHER has even more problems at it's core.

First and foremost, BLACK PANTHER suffers from having an incredibly bland leading man. Chadwick Boseman's ascent to the A-list continues to baffle me as the man gives T'Challa about as much charisma as Finn Jones as Iron Fist. At least on that Netflix series, Jones showed some emotional range and depth. Here, Boseman just moves from scene to scene with his gravelly whisper of a voice. Any time he is out of the Panther suit, the character suffers from zero energy. I had high hopes for him in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR as he brought a mystery to the character and the unknown origins of Wakanda gave him a lone gunslinger vibe on his quest for revenge. Headlining his own film, Boseman simply fails to rise to the necessary gravitas to be taken seriously as the reigning leader of Wakanda. It also says something when all of your supporting cast are able to upstage you in every scene.

action, Adventure, comic book, Chadwick Boseman, Andy Serkis, Joe Robert Cole, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Ryan Coogler, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Black Panther, 2018, The UnPopular Opinion

Every actor aside from Boseman works in their roles. Lupita Nyong'o is fine but is given very little to do. Angela Bassett plays a believable matriarch but her accent is painful to listen to, as is Forest Whitaker's. Martin Freeman is serviceable as the layperson discovering the secrets of Wakanada and Daniel Kaluuya is fine as T'Challa's best friend who conveniently turns against him when the plot requires it. BLACK PANTHER does work as a breakout showcase for Letitia Wright as Shuri and Winston Duke as M'Baku, but the best work in the whole film comes from Andy Serkis. Serkis' Klaue was a scene-stealer in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, but in BLACK PANTHER he gives a thoroughly unhinged performance that could be his best work not in a motion capture suit. Unfortunately, Ryan Coogler and the powers that be decided to kill him off rather unceremoniously to focus on Michael B. Jordan's KIllmonger. While being heralded as one of (if not the) best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jordan's performance may be the most overrated part of this movie.

Michael B. Jordan has been growing steadily as a performer with CREED serving as a brilliant showcase for his talents as an actor. Retearming with Ryan Coogler for the third time, he continues to shine and makes Eric Killmonger into a formidable opponent for T'Challa. For the first half of the film, I was invested in his quest to restore his father's name and take the throne of Wakanda. Instead, he repeatedly monologues his desire to burn everything down and militantly arm his oppressed brothers around the world to take down the status quo. When his quest was personal in nature, it felt more authentic but instead turns into a maniacal and cliche villain plot. BLACK PANTHER deserved so much better than such a generic climax. Jordan himself deserved more for his character whom he imbued with the most nuance and realism of any bad guy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, he is relegated to the exact same plan that every comic book bad guy comes up with.

Of course, there are political overtones to BLACK PANTHER. It would have been impossible to make this movie and not address the disparity between races across our planet and for the most part this movie adequately straddles the line between being preachy and inspiring. Overall, I found that element to be in line with how Coogler faced similar themes in FRUITVALE STATION where it was impactful without hitting you over the head with it's message. In that way, BLACK PANTHER never fails. It is just in every other possible way. Some have drawn comparisons between this film and THE LION KING, which is pretty hard to ignore. But, like that Disney classic, you can tell that most of BLACK PANTHER Is animated using antiquated tools. There are so many moments in this movie ranging from the rhinos to the mountain-top ritual battleground to the atrociously choreographed final fight scenes that it makes me cringe to think this movie made it to theaters and no one noticed how poorly executed the effects were. Look at any Marvel film released in the last two years and none look as pisspoor as BLACK PANTHER.

BLACK PANTHER's box office results are also grossly inflated by the fact it was released during a dead period at the box office. Hitting the four-day President's Day weekend, BLACK PANTHER capitalized on only having FIFTY SHADES FREED as competition. Marvel's brand presence and marketing push made sure that every demographic was targeted to see the movie and that left weeks of repeat viewers to hit the theater. Critically, the overwhelming positive praise for BLACK PANTHER glosses over the shortcomings of the film and ignores them in favor of the cultural significance of the film. Again, I fully agree with how the African-American representation in the cast and crew is so vital and will hopefully change Hollywood for the better, but we cannot ignore the fact that this comes on the back of a truly mediocre film.

action, Adventure, comic book, Chadwick Boseman, Andy Serkis, Joe Robert Cole, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Ryan Coogler, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Black Panther, 2018, The UnPopular Opinion

The most glaring problem with BLACK PANTHER, however, comes from the same problem that has plagued so many of the standalone films in the MCU. With each new superhero added to the Marvel canon, expectations are that they will top what came before it. Eventually, we will suffer from diminishing returns and BLACK PANTHER is the biggest example of why that won't change the way Marvel Studios does things. When you can get away with mediocre special effects and cookie cutter writing and still make more money than AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, you are not going to change your formula. BLACK PANTHER will definitely get a sequel and that follow-up will make a ton of money at the box office. But, it will never come close to making as much as this movie did because the lightning in a bottle that was BLACK PANTHER will not be replicated. I like this character and the setting of Wakanda too much to see the same story time after time. If the sequel can manage to do something truly distinct from every other Marvel Studios offering, I will be first in line to buy a ticket. But if they think they can sucker me into paying for outdated special effects and a movie I have seen many times over, they have another thing coming.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!


About the Author

5919 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.