Chadwick Boseman fails to inspire in the lead, although a strong supporting cast keep proceedings afloatMARVEL STUDIOS

Black Panther is a ring doughnut. Furthermore, it is not a ring doughnut made by an independent bakery, rather one of the sort vended by such establishments as Greggs. It is, by way of explanation, essentially satisfying, but with a void at its centre.

While Blank Panther the movie is often entertaining, Black Panther the character is certainly not. His back-story is wholly unremarkable, his superpowers are not distinctive, he seems emotionally detached, he is never given anything interesting to say, and Chadwick Boseman fails to imbue him with any bite or spunk.

During a climactic debate with the significantly more compelling villain Eric Killmonger, the latter makes a cogent point about having learned from his oppressors. Black Panther responds by going “waah!” and breaking out the claws. When one finds oneself rooting for a character named Killmonger, something is very wrong indeed.

“Andy Serkis fizzes with manic machismo”

Fortunately, Black Panther is surrounded by an array of considerably more engaging characters who manage to enliven rather than anaesthetise. Danai Gurira exudes viciousness in her role as a Wakandan warrior, and certainly knows how to deliver a Marvel one-liner.

Winston Duke plays the leader of a disaffected tribe, and does so with a splendid combination of the sardonic and the ferocious, while Daniel Kaluuya uses his wonderfully expressive eyes to good effect as an official converted by Killmonger. The underused Andy Serkis fizzes with manic machismo in his part as a deranged South African criminal, and even Stan Lee is quite amusing in his customary cameo.

The cast are not universally deserving of praise, however. Forest Whitaker may as well not be in the picture, and Letitia Wright is deeply unconvincing as a Wakandan Q, botching a scene, intended as comic, in which Black Panther is introduced to various gadgets. The overused Martin Freeman, meanwhile, merely riles with his silly American accent.

Trailer for Black PantherYOUTUBE

So much for the actors; what of the action? Half marks at best, sadly, for although a couple of crashes and smashes might cause a gasp to escape, the editing generally strikes that unhappy medium between frenetic and allowing one properly to appreciate what is going on, leading to fights which frustrate rather than thrill. The special effects are certainly nothing to write to a student newspaper about, a mercifully brief snatch of rhino-riding particularly worthy of scorn, and skyships and maglev trains simply not real enough to fool the senses.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Lady Bird review: 'impossible to love'

Black Panther is not a film which can be accused of shirking ‘issues’; Boko Haram make a chilling early appearance, and a scene set in the supposed ‘Museum of Great Britain’ initially has one chuckling about Hollywood’s naïveté, but quickly engaging properly with the question of artifact appropriation.

The issue of race is certainly present in the film, and to its credit, Black Panther’s dialogue in this respect does not hector, patronise, or bore. However, the fact that it is a superhero film in a fantasy world rather limits its potential impact when it comes to commentary on American race relations. The film is about a battle with a crazed supervillain, then an internal political struggle between two prominent Wakandans. Considerably more interaction with the outside world would have been required for the film to instil awe, inspiration, or discomfort. While it should not be understated as an expression of representation, this does not in itself allow the film to transcend the mediocrity of its narrative.

The film perhaps sells itself a little short by never pursuing a theme to a point that might trigger self-examination, but its sincerity was certainly not hollow, and refreshingly so. There was fat to chew, and a certain sweetness; there was fun decoration, and a slightly evocative flavour, but Black Panther still seemed mass-produced, and could have done with some jam in the middle

Sponsored links