The Strawberry Criterion: Black Panther

All superhero movies are stupid, but each superhero movie is stupid in its own special way. In the Marvel cinematic universe, this general stupidity tends to manifest itself in the forms of obligatory cross-promotion, bland televisual aesthetics, forgettable villains, and, most important, a pervasive tone of adolescent snark that undercuts what minimal stakes these cynical exercises in brand management can muster in the first place. The latest entry into this universe, Black Panther, from director Ryan Coogler, sidesteps nearly all of these pitfalls. There are no asinine cameos from other Marvel superheroes. The film’s setting, the Afro-futurist metropolis of Wakanda, feels vibrantly alive despite being entirely computer-generated. Its main villain, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, is the most compelling and complicated foil any of these films have produced to date. And yet, Black Panther remains a stupid superhero movie, complete with clunky exposition, incoherent action, and winking quips that refer instead of delight. In his previous, excellent film, Creed, Ryan Coogler remixed and sampled cinematic iconography from the Rocky franchise to his own artistic and political ends, leveraging film’s past to substantiate the place of African-American filmmakers in its future. With Black Panther, Coogler has done a fine job in sampling a much simpler, limited source material. May he use the opportunities this stupid movie affords to make films about humans again.

Final Strawberry Verdict: 4 Strawberries out of 5