By John H. Foote
(*) In theatres
Nick Maylor loved the Marvel Universe and predicted a day after seeing Black Panther (2019) that the film would be nominated for Best Picture, and of course, it was. This review is for Nick, and I wish I liked the film more than I did, my son.
Reviewing this film is dangerous for a white film critic because I stand in peril of being called racist. I am most certainly not racist in any way. The makers have attempted to make a sequel to the Academy Award winning first film without the heart and soul of that film, actor Chadwick Boseman, who sadly and tragically died of cancer after the film’s release. He was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor for his superb performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) and was believed to be a shoo-in. In fact, the Academy altered the presentation of the awards so Best Actor came last in honour of the actor. But then the envelope was opened, and the winner was … Anthony Hopkins in The Father (2020), a very deserving award. Proof again you cannot just will someone to win an Oscar.
Black Panther was a special film, no question. Steeped in African American culture and featuring a who’s who of black actors, it was also a superb film and very unique addition to the Marvel universe. Chadiwck Boseman was the perfect actor to play the black superhero and no doubt would have gone on to portray him several more films. Goddam cancer.
The sequel starts with the death of the King of Wakanda, the Black Panther, and sets in motion a melancholy the film never manages to get over. The fact the King is dead never quite leaves us and we mourn the death of both the Panther and Boseman all over again. It must have been tough to shoot this.
From there, after the huge, ornate royal funeral, the film sways into a messy buffet of a movie, the writers never quite sure what step to take, the director following suit. They needed to dedicate themselves to paying homage to Boseman, which they do, and then get to choosing the new Panther, which is where the whole film falls apart.
This might be the worst sequel to a superhero film I have seen, but not because of anything they do, more because of what they do not. Going in we know we are going to miss Boseman, how could we not? But by drawing to attention how terrific he was in the first film how could any actor be the second when there is such reverence for the first?
Too many plot lines, just too much narrative and talking and not enough superhero action.
Perhaps the best choice might have been to leave it a few years and remake the whole franchise, like that has never happened. Three actors have portrayed Spiderman; since 1978 we have had three different actors as Superman; since 1989 five different actors have put on the bat suit as Batman. Would it have been so hard to leave a few years and then do a full out remake to give another a chance to step out of Boseman’s shadow? With a film so relentless in honouring the late, truly great actor, there is no chance for another man, or woman, to step into the Panther role. That shadow is simply far too imposing. A huge disappointment with a prediction: no chance this film is nominated for Best Picture. None.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.