Critical reviews are always subjective opinions. So in general, you can’t really say a reviewer got it objectively “wrong.”
Unless, that is, you’re referring to the first negative review of Black Panther, courtesy of the Irish Independent’s Ed Power. Because even a staunch defender of every critic’s right to their own opinion, taste, and perspective will find it hard to justify what Power takes issue with.
In essence, Power appears distraught by the film’s ambitions as a superhero movie to elevate meaningful themes, wishing instead Marvel had done its first African superhero justice by sticking to the usual, rote Marvel movie formula.
He does give the film’s main action sequence (seen in many of the Black Panther trailers) ample praise:
A neon-splashed early chase sequence in Korea is in the tradition of Marvel’s best action scenes – as with justly praised airport slug-out in Civil War it goes on forever and is confidently marshalled by director Ryan Coogler in his first excursion into popcorn filmmaking.
But he follows that up by reducing the film’s climax:
But from here Black Panther spirals into a stodgy tale of internecine feuding, in which T’Challa is required to come to terms with the sins of past generations.
What he doesn’t get to do much of is jump around beating-up bad guys. That’s a shame. Marvel has finally given us an African superhero. The hope surely was that he would be allowed do superhoeroic things.
That “stodgy tale of internecine feuding” that revolves around Wakanda’s reckoning with the “sins of past generations” refers to the final sequences that left other critics in tears. You could argue these sequences raise the typically vacuous third act superhero battle to new heights, with stakes and consequences that actually carry the weight of issues facing our real world.
Not for Power, though.
Earlier in the review, he also complains that the movie is “expected to stand for something bigger than itself,” as if some Marvel executives forced director Ryan Coogler to use this historic milestone for black culture as a platform to explore black experiences. Power goes as far as to say this results in Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa feeling “strained.”
According to Power, a white man in Ireland who assumes the authority to wave away the film’s representation of racial realities in America:
In the context of the place United States finds itself today, and where it has come from, Boseman knows he can’t wise-crack his way through the film in the fashion of, for example, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, and the responsibility to be at all times sincere weighs on him.
God, can’t all our superheroes be glib, substance-less playboys with no ideals!? Urgh sincerity is sooo overrated.
Funnily enough, Boseman can very much be seen bringing levity and humor to the serious subject matter of the movie, making it more of a celebration of African heritage rather than the solemn experience described by Power. The opening scene is riddled with jokes (that might’ve gone over Power’s head), and Boseman’s comedic timing had this reporter’s theater roaring with laughter.
And, god, if the critique is that T’Challa is too perfect and without flaws, I’d love to hear Power critique the perfect and faultess Captain America.
Curiously, while nearly every other outlet showered the almost all-black cast with praise, Power instead chose to only award praise to one performance: Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, one of the only two white actors in the film with comparatively minor roles, but which Power claims exudes, “a gleeful hamminess the movie could do with more of.”
You know, it’s entirely possible that the humor and story of Black Panther — which, for the first time ever, set out to speak to and authentically represent black culture — is not made for Power. That’s fine if he doesn’t get it. But the reviewer doesn’t seem even a little aware of that possibility, instead blaming the movie for not catering to him or the status quo of the white-led Marvel movies before it.
Black Panther is a complex, multi-layered story told through the vehicle of a blockbuster movie franchise. There are, without a doubt, plenty of lively discussions to be had about what the film does well, and what it doesn’t.
But you know what really, really shouldn’t be one of those debates? Whether or not we should even consider Black Panther a hero because, like, he didn’t even punch that many dudes.
We’re pretty confident we’ll be on the right side of history here when we say: Nope. You are incorrect, sir.