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Black Panther - Marvel's first 'serious' movie

February 22, 2018

For reasons that are blatantly obvious, Black Panther has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Its impressive box office numbers aside, Black Panther was always poised to be a landmark cinematic event. Although industry pundits didn't expect the film to do that well financially, it's not that surprising to me that they'd be wrong given that this is really uncharted territory for Hollywood. A movie starring predominantly black actors doesn't usually have this kind of budget and media attention, so it makes sense that box office projections would steer a bit off course. Black Panther took the industry to a new realm that really shouldn't feel new in 2018. So kudos to Marvel Studios for finally making this moment at reality.

 

With Black Panther, we also have the very first 'serious' movie coming out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Compared to its DC counterpart, Marvel movies are known for being fun and light. Sure, Civil War tried broaching the ethics of unopposed superhero freedoms, but it really just scratched the surface to serve as a catalyst for a Captain America versus Iron Man matchup. Moreover, it's nothing compared to what other notable superhero movies have tackled over the years. You have Christopher Nolan's exploration of heroism through vigilante ideologies in the Dark Knight trilogy, which constantly questioned the blur between hero and villain. Zack Snyder brought a sense of modern realism to the overly idealistic Superman by deconstructing the struggles of constrained power in a world that tends to reject what they don't understand.

 

And to draw comparisons with Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice took a much more nuanced approach to the lawful regulation of superheroes. Shit got real in that movie, and maybe took itself a bit too seriously for most people's taste. But Marvel isn't about getting too real, which is what makes Black Panther such a brilliant entry into the studio's brand of films. It explores race relations, extremism and social injustice in pretty clear terms, but doesn't throw them at your face. On the surface, this is still a popcorn joyride fitting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like everything before it, it's fun and relatively light, but reaches a bit further than just that. Ryan Coogler uses Wakanda as a figurative landscape for exploring issues that are both reflective and critical of real world problems. I'm no sociologist, so will refrain from getting into specifics, but I think anyone who's seen the movie will get the gist of what I'm trying to say.

 

The point is, Marvel finally gets serious, but does so on its own terms. Whereas the DC Extended Universe (speaking of which, does it even still exist?) tried getting fun with Justice League, it's reshoots and edits veered into something that tried to be a Marvel product. This was so obvious that they even hired a guy (ie. Joss Whedon) who helped spearhead the initial backbone of what a Marvel film would be. Black Panther might be Marvel's most serious film, but it's still first and foremost a Marvel film. It doesn't try to be a DC film, and Justice League's seemingly desperate attempt to feel like a Marvel experience is certainly part of why it was such a failure. For more on this, click here. Yeah, I was not a fan.

 

In fact, Marvel's confidence as a creative studio shines brightest whenever it tries something new. Thor: Ragnarok was probably its first true comedy, yet you would never for one second mistake it for anything but a Marvel superhero movie. With Ant-Man and the Wasp being pegged as a potential romantic comedy, I'm certain that Marvel will maintain its level of consistency. A while back, I wrote about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe was starting to feel a tad bit pedestrian. But if Black Panther is a glimpse into the studio's future, it looks like Marvel might eventually make me eat my own words.

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