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A Wrinkle in Time, Film Criticism and White Liberal Paternalism

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 58 seconds

The Disney film, A Wrinkle in Time, opened two weeks ago amid much media fawning because it is the first film with a budget of over $100 million to be directed by an African-American woman (Ava DuVernay). The film also stars a who's who of big time stars like Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine along with a diverse group of fresh-faced young newcomers.

The film is based upon the classic children's book, A Wrinkle in Time written by Madeleine L'Engle. In the lead up to the release of the film, Disney put on a full court publicity blitz by Oprah and director DuVernay, touting how the film was a beacon of diversity in casting. The book A Wrinkle in Time is about a young White girl and is populated by White people, but Oprah and Duvernay's version stars a young African-American girl and actors of color are throughout the cast. Because of the diversity/inclusion casting and the symbolic politics of the movie, the media generated a lot of positive buzz leading up to A Wrinkle in Time's opening. 

Of the plethora of pre-release pieces of marketing, the one that stood out to me most was a softball interview/fluff info-adver-tainment piece by the New York Times with Ms. DuVernay. When I read the article, which was meant to be a completely and totally supportive bit of kiss-ass journalism by the esteemed paper of record, I was shocked at how unlikable Ms. DuVernay came across and how completely oblivious to it she and the Times both were. 

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After reading that article and Ms. DuVernay's accompanying tone-deafness and seeing the God-awful trailer, I was not surprised in the least that upon release A Wrinkle in Time absolutely bombed. Reviewers were gently negative but audiences disliked the film with a vigor. Watching the Rotten Tomato "Tomato Meter" of the movie over opening weekend, which started at a "really want to see it" 99, drop so precipitously, was like watching the stock market in late October of 1929. After the first weekend in theaters, A Wrinkle in Time had landed at 40 on the critic side and 34 on the audience side of the Tomato Meter, which gave the film a solidly "Rotten" rating, but all things considered, I was actually surprised it wasn't worse.

THE BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS

Since I never had any interest in seeing A Wrinkle in Time, I decided to read some reviews of the film so I went back to Rotten Tomatoes because it lists and links reviews from professional film critics. I went through and read a bunch of reviews from critics that gave the movie a "fresh" rating and what struck me is that they all gushed about everything surrounding the film, like its wonderful diversity and how "important" it was culturally that it was directed by an African-American woman, but once you got past that stuff the written reviews were actually very negative in regards to the storytelling and skill and craft on display in the movie. And yet, despite this, when it came time to rate the film with a letter grade or number of stars, the reviewers all elevated the film to a positive grade/stars which seemed at odds with what they had written about the actual movie in the body of their review. 

For example, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post wrote, " “A Wrinkle in Time” is plagued by the same convoluted leaps and hurried lack of logic...in L’Engle’s original book. At a time when movies are almost uniformly too long, this is one film that could have benefited from a few more scenes to pump up Meg’s backstory, solidify the emotional stakes and smooth out transitions that are jagged at best, nonsensical at worst." Despite this rather clear-cut criticism Ms. Hornaday rated the film 3 out of 4 stars. 

Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The sheer exuberance of this movie can provoke more than a few seemingly discordant reactions, sometimes in the same instance...I found myself wishing that this "Wrinkle" were more focused, more disciplined — that its ceaseless flow of fantastical images cohered into a revelatory new application of L'Engle's themes and insights, rather than an earnest, sometimes awkward reiteration of them." Mr. Chang gave the film a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

David Fear's Rolling Stone review stated, "This Wrinkle in Time is undoubtedly flawed, wildly uneven, and apt to tie itself in narrative knots in a quest to wow you with sheer technicolor weirdness." In spite of Fear's obvious misgivings about the movie, he gave it 3 out of 4 stars anyway. He also tips his hand as to why he and other critics do so later in his review when he writes, "It's worth seeing just to bask in a film that does ask for inclusion on such a grand scale…"

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The question then becomes, why would reviewers bump up their grade for a film they thought wasn't very well made? I believe the reason they did it is that they want the film to succeed because it touts diversity/inclusion and for what it symbolizes politically and culturally in regards to race and gender. These reviewers increased their ratings for the film because they did not want A Wrinkle in Time to end up with a "Rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. They also did it because it was a cheap way to virtue signal and they were afraid they might be labelled a racist if they were critical of a pro-diversity/inclusion film directed by a Black woman. 

BLACK PANTHER AND RUNNING UP THE SCORE

This sort of critical liberal paternalism and its accompanying grading curve that reviewers used to give A Wrinkle in Time a boost, also seems to be in effect for another film directed by an African-American and starring African-American actors, Black Panther. Black Panther is by all accounts a significantly better film than A Wrinkle in Time, and yet it seems to have also benefited from the same politically/racially motivated grading curve.

Black Panther has been absolutely adored by critics, proof of this is that the film currently has an impressive 97 critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, people can have different opinions of a film, so I don't chalk up critics liking Black Panther to solely a political agenda, but if you look at the Rotten Tomato statistics, it certainly seems that HOW MUCH critics liked Black Panther is a result of a political/racial agenda and the aforementioned grading curve. 

Evidence of this is that according to the Rotten Tomato critical score, Black Panther isn't just the highest rated film in the Marvel Cinematic canon, it is the highest rated superhero movie of all time. According to the critical score, Black Panther is even better than The Dark Knight (94 critical rating), which most cinematically literate people consider to be a super hero masterpiece, proof of which is that it is the film whose exclusion from the Oscar Best Picture nominations in 2008, led to the Academy Awards actually changing the nominating process and doubling the amount of films in the Best Picture category. 

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Where things get interesting in this discussion about Black Panther is when you look at the audience score. While critics have it rated as the greatest superhero film of all time at 97, audiences scored the film at a much more tepid, and frankly rational, 79. That 79 audience score places Black Panther in the bottom half of the films in the Marvel cinematic canon according to audiences, with only Iron Man 2 (72), Iron Man 3 (78), Incredible Hulk (71), Thor (76) and Thor: Dark World (77) rating lower. Of the 19 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 12 are ranked higher by audiences than Black Panther, and that is just Marvel. Wonder Woman (88), Logan (90), Deadpool (90), X-Men (83), X-Men 2: X-Men United (85), X-Men: First Class (87), X-Men: Days of Future Past (91) along with the entire Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy (94,94,90 respectively) all have a higher audience score than Black Panther. Those Rotten Tomato statistics show that something is obviously askew when it comes to critics opinion of Black Panther versus audiences opinion in the context of the other Marvel  and other superhero films.

Another Rotten Tomato data point that is intriguing is that Black Panther has the widest margin between its critical score and its audience score of all the Marvel films and super hero films of recent years that were rated "Fresh".

Black Panther's critical score of 97, and audience score of 79, makes for a spread of -18. The next super hero film with the closest negative critical/audience score spread is Captain America: First Avenger with a -6. It is pretty striking that Black Panther's negative critical/audience spread is 3 x higher than the next superhero film with a negative spread. The average negative critical/audience score spread of the ten Marvel films eligible is -4.3.

Another intriguing tidbit is that among the eight Marvel films with a positive critic/audience spread (audience score is higher than the critical score), the average spread is +4.5, with the highest spreads being Thor: Dark World at +11 and Avengers: Age of Ultron at +8. 

In analyzing all of this data the thing that really sticks out is that Black Panther is a total outlier in terms of the spread between its critical and audience scores. Why is that?

My thesis regarding the Black Panther Rotten Tomato anomalies is the same as my thesis regarding A Wrinkle in Time's odd dichotomy between written reviews and the grade given…namely that critics scored these two films on a curve in order to elevate their Rotten Tomato scores due to the racial and/or gender politics associated with both films. In other words, critics graded these films not on their cinematic and artistic merits, but on their racial and gender politics.

Another factor may be that professional film critics are grading a film publicly, while amateur Rotten Tomato "reviewers" can share their opinion in relative obscurity and anonymity. When people can hide behind relative anonymity they are much freer to give more honest views in regards to a movie and have no need to virtue signal out of fear of being ostracized over racism charges.

It is difficult to come to any clear cut mathematical answer without diving into Rotten Tomatoes specific formula, but my best guess is that Black Panther received a rating boost equivalent to half a grade/star higher due to this racially motivated grading curve. I also believe that A Wrinkle in Time received a grading curve boost of at least a full star higher than it merited due to the same reasons.

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If Black Panther had not gotten the extra half a grade/star boost, it would fall from a 97 critical score to a critical score of about 83, which would leave it within the margin of an average spread between critical score and audience score for a typical Marvel film (-4.3). It is much more difficult to mathematically figure what A Wrinkle in Time's critical score would be without this grading curve because there are no films with which to compare it, but it seems likely that minus the full grade/star boost, A Wrinkle in Time would have received a much lower score, most likely in the range of 20 or even lower.

FAILING UPWARDS IN THE AGE OF IDENTITY POLITICS

A remarkable note about the failure of A Wrinkle in Time is that as the film has flopped, its director Ava DuVernay has been given the keys to another big-budget project, the Warner Brothers/DC film New Gods. What makes this all the more striking is that A Wrinkle in Time hasn't just flopped with critics (regardless of inflated ratings) or audiences, but financially. A Wrinkle in Time had a budget of over $100 million and when you add in marketing costs and account for theater's share of the cut, the film needs to break the $250 million barrier JUST TO BREAK EVEN. That goal seems like a very long shot at this point in time, which is why it is so bizarre that WB/DC would jump at the chance to work with Ms. DuVernay at this moment of her epic blockbuster failure. 

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Emblematic of the "leg up" program and the accompanying climate of political correctness swirling around A Wrinkle in Time and Ms. DuVernay like a cloud of protective, truth repelling dust, The Atlantic had an article by David Sims about New Gods and DuVernay's hiring that revealed an even greater amount of disingenuous spin than the inflated critical Rotten Tomato scores do. In the piece, Sims distorts reality and brazenly and shamelessly lies in order to make the signing of DuVernay to direct New Gods seem like a masterful coup for the brain trust of WB/DC. 

In the opening line of the piece Sims writes, "Last year, the critical and financial calamity of Justice League served as a bit of a wake up call...". Later in the piece Sims writes of DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time, "That film debuted this month to mixed reviews and solid, but unspectacular box office; though hardly a catastrophe". 

Let's unravel Mr. Sims shameless spin shall we. He deems Justice League a "critical and financial calamity", but A Wrinkle in Time "hardly a catastrophe". The facts are that Justice League has a Rotten Tomato critical score of…40, the exact same critical score of the alleged "mixed reviews" of A Wrinkle in Time. In addition, A Wrinkle in Time has a Rotten Tomato audience score of only 34, while Justice League has a Rotten Tomato audience score of…76. So Justice League nearly doubles A Wrinkle in Time's audience score while sharing the same critical score and Sims deems it a "calamity" while dubbing A Wrinkle in Time's reviews "mixed" and the film overall as "not a catastrophe".

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Adding to the damning case proving Mr. Sims' sycophancy is his claim that Justice League was a "financial calamity" while A Wrinkle in Time was "not catastrophic" with a "solid, but unspectacular box office".  On Justice League's opening weekend in November 2017, it was the top grossing film, raking in $94 million domestically. By contrast, A Wrinkle in Time did not even win its opening weekend, coming in second place to Black Panther in its fourth week of release, and only took in a meager $33 million. After two weeks in theaters Justice League's box office take was $135 million domestically, while after A Wrinkle in Time's fourth place finish in week two, its box office now sits at an anemic $49 million. Justice League's final box office tally was $658 million worldwide, a number which A Wrinkle in Time won't even come close to sniffing. And yet, in Mr. Sims eyes, A Wrinkle in Time is not a "catastrophe" but Justice League is a "calamity". Is it me or does Mr. Sims have an agenda, and do the facts prove him to be torturing the truth and the English language in order to celebrate Ava DuVernay getting a job even in the midst of her big-budget film proving itself to be an absolute disaster. Mr. Sims is guilty of being full of shit, and his diminishing of Justice League and elevating A Wrinkle in Time, is proof of that.

Now, is Justice League a great film? No, it isn't. It was the least financially successful of all the current DC films and was poorly reviewed, but by every possible metric, including Rotten Tomato audience ratings and at the box office, it is far superior to A Wrinkle in Time. Mr. Sims is committing the same sin in his article that critics did in scoring A Wrinkle in Time, they are playing identity politics and embracing diversity and inclusion at the expense of talent, skill and integrity, and that should be to their great shame. 

DC hiring Ms. DuVernay to direct New Gods flies in the face of all rational business and artistic sense. Ms. DuVernay is a not an unknown, she is a known quality now and THE BIG BUDGET FILM SHE JUST DIRECTED IS AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

Unlike DuVernay, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has proven twice that he can direct financially successful franchise films, first with Creed and secondly with Black Panther, so handing him the keys to a big budget film is an absolute no brainer (as was the decision to let him direct Black Panther due to his success with Creed). Ms. DuVernay getting another shot at a big budget when she has so egregiously screwed up a potential big money maker, is absurd and portends Hollywood's irrational swing towards a more diverse but less talented and less deserving crop of filmmakers. 

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Think of it this way, Hollywood should be a bottom line business similar to the NBA, where it doesn't matter the race, religion or ethnicity of the people involved, only that they are the very best at what they do. Would we tolerate some NBA team adding less skilled or less talented players to their roster just to quench some thirst for diversity and inclusion? Of course not, so why are film critics pushing for it and why is Hollywood doing it? The end result will ultimately be a watering down of the quality of cinema and a thinning of box office receipts. Exhibit A - see A Wrinkle in Time.

BLACK WASHING AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

One final thought regarding A Wrinkle in Time, as previously stated the film makes changes to the the book by diversifying the cast and also removing the Christianity in favor of a New Age self-help viewpoint. What struck me regarding the inclusive casting was the silence from the media over the film not being true to the original source material. Over the last few years there has been a great deal of controversy when White actors were cast in roles that were minorities in the original source material or roles where White actors played minorities. This is called Whitewashing and the more infamous recent examples of it have been committed by Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johannsen in Ghost in the Machine, Ed Skrien In Hellboy and Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange. Why wasn't there a similar outrage over A Wrinkle in Time "Blackwashing" roles that were originally White in the book? The hypocrisy over this issue is staggering but not the least bit surprising. 

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Another bit of hypocrisy is that there has been a lot of talk about "cultural appropriation" in recent years. It usually revolves around some dopey White guy with dreadlocks, but it also dives into wider and more substantial matters as well, but it is always a charge leveled against White people. But the fact is that Ms. DuVernay just "culturally appropriated" a book written by a White woman and populated by White characters and replaced the White people with people of color. Why is there not an outrage over that? Look, I understand that Ms. Duvernay wanted to make an inclusive film with a diverse cast and she has every right to do that and good for her, but if you want to make an uplifting, New Age, spiritual sci-fi film with a multi-cultural cast…THEN WRITE AN ORIGINAL STORY, don't alter a classic book just to satiate your diversity desires. 

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The source material for Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time were both written in the same time frame, the 1960's. Would it be acceptable if a White director decided to make a version of Black Panther with a mostly White cast? No…people would freak out about that, and rightfully so. So why does that same standard not apply to A Wrinkle in Time and Ava DuVernay? Not only was that film not held to account for its Blackwashing, the media orgasmically celebrated it for doing so. 

I understand the counter argument that White people have dominated this culture since it began, and so they need to be held to account when they Whitewash or culturally appropriate…but those arguments hold no water when the rules do not apply to everyone across the board. If you try and demand a separate set of rules for different types of people, you will only end up scuttling your own argument upon the jagged rocks of hypocrisy. 

In conclusion, I think it is fairly obvious that film critics are soft pedaling their negative views of A Wrinkle in Time because it is directed by a Black woman and has an "important" message of diversity and inclusion. I also think it is obvious, and statistically provable, that positive reviews of Black Panther were padded because it was directed by an African-American man and had an overwhelmingly Black cast. Some people may think that this sort of behavior by critics, motivated by the dogma of identity politics, is acceptable or even noble, but I find it to be condescending and repugnant. I believe it is, in its own way, a form of insidiously paternalistic racism that will ultimately have negative consequences not only for the art of cinema, but for all filmmakers of color. 

UPDATE 3/24/18: An interesting article from Romesh Ranganathan in The Guardian that in a round about way, and probably unintentionally, buttresses my point about how when a film becomes about "diversity" (as opposed to being about its story) it clouds critical judgement and ultimately undermines the movie.

©2018

Black Panther: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars                

Popcorn Curve* Rating: 2.5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Unless you are a superhero fanatic, there is no reason to see this movie. If you really want to see it, don't feed the Disney beast, wait and watch it on Netflix or cable for free. 

Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, is the story of T'Challa, a prince of the technologically superior African nation of Wakanda - who is also the superhero Black Panther, as he rises to the throne of his native land and struggles to keep his nation safe. The film stars Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa with supporting turns from Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong'o and Angela Bassett.

Black Panther is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which includes but is not limited to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and all of the Avengers film. What makes Black Panther noteworthy among the rest of the myriad of Marvel properties is that Black Panther is the first of the Marvel films to have a Black lead actor and a Black director. 

As a White man, a member of the demographically dominant culture here in America, I am afforded the luxury of not caring about the race of a film's director or lead actor. The only thing I care about in regards to a film is its quality, not its diversity. I am mildly self-aware enough to understand that not everyone thinks like me or has the same perspective on the importance of quality in cinema. 

With all of that said, I understand that my experience as a cinephile watching Black Panther is going to be very different from, say, a young African-American boy's experience of watching Black Panther. An example of which was told to me recently by a friend (who is White) who recounted taking his 8 year-old African-American son to see the film and as they left the theatre his son said to him, "I didn't think superheroes could be Black!"

That anecdote highlights the fact that Black Panther is undoubtedly culturally important and is a remarkable achievement for African-Americans in film, but sadly, that doesn't make Black Panther even remotely close to being a decent film. And while social/political importance and relevance might trump cinematic quality for other viewers, it does not for me. 

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Black Panther is bursting at the seams with all sorts of dramatic and cinematic potential, but like most of the Marvel superhero films, it never lives up to its robust source material. Stan Lee created the character Black Panther back in 1966, and it is a fascinating myth. The idea of Wakanda, an African nation that was never touched by colonialism or slavery, is so brilliant as to be ingenious. And naming a Black superhero Black Panther, after the revolutionary and iconic civil rights activists The Black Panthers (Members of the Black Panther Party), was another stroke of genius. Black Panther is not a terrible film, but it definitely is a disappointing one mostly because it only briefly skims the surface of the rich archetypal material percolating beneath its feet. 

The biggest problem with Black Panther is also the reason that it is getting so much attention…namely that it is a Marvel/Disney movie. Marvel/Disney movies all make billions of dollars at the box office but they are also all pretty bland and derivative ventures in shameless self-promotion, and sadly, so is Black Panther.

Ryan Coogler is considered by some to be a great director, his Fruitvale Station is fantastic, but like every other director of a Marvel movie, he is handcuffed by the process and the system which churns out these movies from the money-hungry Disney assembly line. The bottom line is this, Black Panther is a pretty shoddy movie that fails because it is so suffocatingly claustrophobic and looks unconscionably cheap. To be fair to Black Panther, all Marvel movies are just as visually flat, dull and devoid of cinematic vibrancy as Black Panther. I don't know if the plethora of failings of Black Panther are entirely Ryan Coogler's fault or not, but I do know that if Ryan Coogler is a such a great filmmaker and artist, then why isn't he making movies that matter artistically and not swimming in the retread pool of Rocky films and Marvel movies.

The rich themes at the core of Black Panther, nationalism vs. neo-liberalism, the generational scars of colonialism and slavery, the psychological plight of African-Americans who live with a psychological/historical void, are only touched upon briefly and never with very much genuine insight. The debate over whether to fight for Black people across the globe, or to preserve the sanctity of Wakanda is the most fascinating and relevant discussion in the film in my opinion, but like all the other potentialities in the movie, it too gets short shrift. 

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The character that carries all the weight of these heavy issues is Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Killmonger is a potentially phenomenal character that is so ripe with archetypal and mythic meaning I was hoping we'd see much more of him in the film. The problem with Killmonger though, and why we probably see less of him than we should, is that Michael B. Jordan, for all of his acting capacity, is a huge disappointment because he is unable to harness the character's immense power. I remember the first time that I saw Michael B. Jordan, it was in an episode of Friday Night Lights, and I sat up and said, "who is that?" He reminded me of a young Denzel Washington back in the day when he was on the tv show St. Elsewhere. Jordan, like Denzel, oozed charisma and had an innate star quality about him that was undeniable. As the years have passed though, Jordan's growth as an actor seems to have been stunted and he has not evolved past being that charismatic but one-dimensional teenager. 

The problem with Jordan's performance in Black Panther is that his voice scuttles the work his ridiculously sculpted body is meant to be doing. Jordan's voice is that of a child in a man's body, which results in Killmonger's menace and gravitas, which are vital to the narrative, being undermined. Jordan should be a palpably charismatic screen presence, but he ends up being rather wispy and inconsequential because his voice is too high pitched and not grounded in his belly, where he could connect with the character's (and his) rage. Killmonger should speak in a guttural, nearly primal growl that reflects the torment and suffering of those stolen from and locked out of the Garden of Eden (Africa/Wakanda), not in the high pitched whine of a petulant teenager preening and posing for effect. 

Besides Jordan's voice being not grounded or connected, he also suffers mush mouth, which might be a result of the fake gold teeth he has to wear, that further disconnects Killmogner from his primal fury. Unlike most of the rest of the cast, Jordan is not confined by an African accent which can be emotionally limiting or stifling due to its vocal formality, but he is still unable to use this freedom to viscerally connect with the existential animosity that fuels Killmogner.

Jordan also fails to imbue his character with a specific and detailed intentionality that would fill his silence and stillness, and focus his intensity. The result of Jordan's failure to create a vivid inner life for Killmonger is a dissipation of the character's volatile energy because it has nothing to contain it, which means it has nothing to enhance and increase it. 

It was also odd to me that Killmonger is such a highly educated man, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and got graduate degrees from M.I.T., and yet Jordan has him speak in a watered down, ghettoized and not just casual, but intentionally improper, American English that feels forced, posed and phony. At the end of the day, Killmonger is a character I wish could have been explored much more deeply and honestly, but due to Jordan's frivolous performance, it would need a different actor to play him, and a different movie in which to do it.

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Chadwick Boseman stars in the film as T'Challa/Black Panther, and he suffers from an egregious charisma deficit. Boseman is a decent actor, but in a Marvel movie you need more than a decent actor, you need somebody to carry a movie for two hours, or in this case two hours and twenty minutes. Boseman is no Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and that is no crime as few actors are as skilled and charismatic as Downey…but Boseman isn't even as magnetic as that dead-eyed dope Chris Evans who plays Captain America…and that is a major problem.

I found Boseman to be intensely dull and devoid of any magnetism whosoever. In the story T'Challa and Lupita Nyong'o's character Nakia, are supposed to have a history and chemistry between them, but the scenes between them are so wooden and lifeless as to be comically stultifying. Boseman has a pleasant energy about him, of that there is no doubt, but he certainly doesn't have a compelling one. 

The rest of the cast are all fine but none of them stand out. Nyong'o's Nakia feels under developed to me, as does Danai Gurirra as Okoyo, T'Challa's bodyguard. Angela Basset is always a compelling screen presence, as is Forest Whitaker, but both of them are not exactly doing much heavy lifting in the film. 

Martin Freeman plays CIA officer Ross and feels entirely out of place. Were there no American actors available to play the American Ross? Because Freeman's butchered American accent is abysmal and is totally distracting. Not to mention the obvious, which is that a CIA officer being a "good guy" to any African peoples at anytime is such a fairy tale as to be absurd. 

The audience clapped at the end of the screening I attended, but it feels to me like this was an entirely manufactured cultural moment where people think they are supposed to love this movie, so they choke on their disappointment and, like with Black Panther's super suit, they use the kinetic energy of that disappointment and turn it into vocal support for the film.

As these philistines clapped I wondered, did they watch the same movie I did? Did they see the shoddy and lethargic fight choreography? Did they notice the poor cinematography, especially in the night shots which lacked any coherent contrast or texture? Or how in the day shots there was not any use of shadow or light to propel the story or tell deeper dramatic truths? Did they not notice how thin and cinematically tinny the climactic battle scenes were and how subpar the special effects? 

Reading headlines even before the film was released it was easy to see that the marketing machine at Marvel was already into hyper drive as Black Panther was declared not just a great super hero movie but one of the best movies of all time. Good grief…it reminded me of Wonder Woman last summer, which was held up as being akin to Citizen Kane because a woman directed it. I liked Wonder Woman but Citizen Kane it is not…that said, Wonder Woman is so vastly superior to Black Panther that in comparison it IS Citizen Kane. Neither Wonder Woman nor Black Panther are even in the same ballpark as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, which is a masterpiece, but they pale in comparison to last year's Logan, which is a terrific movie. 

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I was reminded of the most recent Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, when I was finished watching Black Panther. The Last Jedi received the same sort of critical hype that Black Panther received before its release, all due to the fact that the film was a bastion of diversity. I attended a Christmas party this year and at the dinner table The Last Jedi came up and a woman asked me if I liked it and I said no, I thought it was junk. The woman was very distraught at my opinion which I voiced in front of many children, and so as to not make a scene in front of these impressionable youngsters she leaned in and sternly whispered to me in retort "yeah, but it had a really positive message". I bit my tongue, for what I wanted to say to her but didn't out of social delicacy was that I don't give a flying fuck if a movie has a "positive message". What I care about is cinema…that is it. I don't care who stars in a movie, or who wrote it or who directed it, I only care that it is at least good, if not great. 

If you like a movie, like Black Panther, simply because it conforms to your preconceived social or political views, that is fine, but don't confuse that with the film's quality and don't confuse it with film criticism. It would be nice if film critics were professional enough to be able to discern between those things as well. 

The woman who was horrified at my honest opinion of The Last Jedi, would no doubt be even more horrified by people who loved American Sniper because it had a "positive message" in their view. Me…I am going to tell you the truth about a movie…and the truth about The Last Jedi, and Black Panther and American Sniper for that matter, is that those movies are not good. You may "like" those movies because they conform to your belief system, but that STILL DOESN'T MAKE THEM GOOD

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The problem with film criticism today is that social/political views are overwhelming critic's judgment of cinema. This results in the "ground breaking" Black Panther benefiting from what I call the "leg up" program where cinematic standards are reduced in order to fulfill some sort of social/political requirement. This reduction in standards is how we end up with a mind-numbingly average popcorn movie like Get Out being considered an "Oscar worthy film" simply because it is written and directed by a Black man, Jordan Peele. If Get Out were written and directed by a White man, and were titled, oh…I don't know…Scream...would it be Oscar worthy? No, not in a millions years, because it simply is not that good…which is why it isn't an Oscar worthy film! 

Look, again, let me reiterate this...I do not care about an actor's, writer's or director's race, gender, color, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation…I only care that they make a good movie. I am not sure, as I haven't spoken to anyone about the movie, but I think I may not be alone in my opinion of Black Panther, or The Last Jedi for that matter. I say that because I looked and saw that both films received incredibly high Rotten Tomato critical scores and a plethora of positive press, but when push came to shove, audiences seemed not to believe the hype and had much lower opinions of the movies than critics, which is odd as it is usually the other way around. For instance, Black Panther is currently at a 97% critical score at Rotten Tomatoes, but has a 77% audience score, which is an anomaly compared to any other film in the Marvel Universe. Other Marvel films all have critical scores and audience scores that are within just a few points of one another.

The Last Jedi is an even more telling example, as that film currently has a 91% critical rating but a dismal 48% audience score. It might be that people, unlike film critics, are judging these films critically for what they really are REGARDLESS of whether it conforms to their social/political beliefs, and the Rotten Tomatoes audience score reflects their disappointment at what is actually on the screen. 

Film critics may think they are helping African-American artists with their paternalistic benevolence when it comes to judging Black film, but they aren't. What they are doing is lowering the standard for quality for Black film which will only hasten to alienate audiences who are only interested in seeing something good, not seeing something "important" and then pretending it is good. 

The reality is that Marvel movies in general are usually pretty awful, and Black Panther in particular is entirely underwhelming. Not only does Black Panther not live up to its enormous hype, it doesn't even live up to the low bar of Marvel movie standards, as I would place it in the bottom half of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in the general vicinity of a film like Dr. Strange.

For me, the truth is I would rather watch a movie about the actual Black Panthers and how the FBI, which liberals have now grown to love, adore and trust, systematically infiltrated, decimated and assassinated the group and its revolutionary message into extinction. Unlike the actual Black Panthers, which were revolutionary in both thought and deed, Black Panther the movie may somewhere deep down be revolutionary in aspiration, but in deed is so mundane and banal as to be little more than a piece of distractionary establishment propaganda.

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There were three White, sixty-something year-old women sitting near me at Black Panther who clapped once the movie ended and then, and I am not shitting you here, they literally clapped through the end credits for any and all of the Black actors and actresses as their image and name appeared on the screen, but only the Black ones. The silence for the White actors like Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman was deafening and frankly, hysterically funny to me. These women, who no doubt have never seen a Marvel movie in their lives, were partaking in a form of cheap "woke" grace with their ovation for Black Panther, and honestly, I find it utterly appalling. (These same woman were probably among the throng of dopes who cheered at the end of the truly abysmal The Post because it pushed all the proper Establishment Democrat Party buttons.)

If these White women want to "do" something "woke", they shouldn't cheer at a shitty superhero movie because it has a Black cast and director…instead they should sift through the bullshit they are being continuously fed on a daily basis by the mainstream media and understand how they are being manipulated into seeing oppressive entities, like the FBI for example, as American heroes. Instead of virtue signaling their "wokeness" to strangers in a theatre, why not go educate themselves about genuine American heroes like Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton, or the Black Panther Party free breakfast program that J. Edgar Hoover once described as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the nation". Or go read about the charismatic young Black Panther Fred Hampton who was assassinated in Chicago by the Chicago police, the assault led by Sgt. Daniel Groth, who admitted under oath that his team of heavily armed cops executed their attack on Hampton at the behest of the FBI. (and as an aside go read about Groth's connection with the curious case of Thomas Arthur Vallee, a heavily armed, disgruntled former Marine who had previously been stationed at a U2 base in Japan - just like another three named disgruntled former Marine, Lee Harvey Oswald - who was living in Chicago and who worked at a factory that overlooked the motorcade route that JFK was supposed to take in Chicago just weeks before he was killed in Dallas…it is a fascinating tale that James W. Douglass touches upon in his great book JFK and the Unspeakable

Regardless of whether you look into the real Black Panthers or not, what you shouldn't do is waste your money going to see Disney's Black Panther, and then post on Facebook about how #woke you are. The Mickey Mouse corporate monster ain't "woke", and he ain't going hungry and he sure as shit doesn't doesn't need your hard earned money, so trust me when I tell you that this movie is definitely not worth your time and effort. But if you do go and see it, all I ask of you is that you try to honestly judge the film for what it actually is, and not for the movie that you desperately want and hope it to be. 

*The Popcorn Curve judges a film based on its entertainment merits as a franchise/blockbuster movie, as opposed to my regular rating which judges a film solely on its cinematic merits.

©2017