You can’t win them all, even if you’re a king. Marvel’s Black Panther has just lost its impeccable 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with its first negative review from the Irish Independent. But is it totally negative? The review, written by film critic Ed Power, doesn’t come close to totally panning the movie, but the aggregate site’s algorithms have placed it as a “rotten” review.
On Tuesday, the Irish Independent published its three-star review of Black Panther, the highly-anticipated Marvel movie directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed). Arguing that the film is burdened with expectations “to stand for something bigger than itself,” Power argues that Black Panther has a too-perfect protagonist in T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a warrior-king who must be a politician, a ruler, a son, and a superhero, all at once.
“In the context of the place United States finds itself today, and where it has come from, Boseman knows he can’t wise-crack his way through the film in the fashion of, for example, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark,” Power writes, “and the responsibility to be at all times sincere weighs on him.”
Ultimately, Power says that Black Panther “spirals into a stodgy tale of internecine feuding,” and that T’Challa doesn’t really get to be a superhero besides the few action scenes. He conintues: “That’s a shame. Marvel has finally given us an African superhero. The hope surely was that he would be allowed do superhoeroic things.”
As far as reviews goes, it’s not terrible. Power does show awareness that there are unusual expectations placed on a mega-budget superhero film that is doing the unusual thing of having a mostly black cast play African heroes in an African world, but he seems to diminish the significance of that imagery. It seems that having an all-perfect, all-powerful character like T’Challa be burdened by responsibility maybe didn’t click with Power, which is kind of a Superman problem.
Comparisons to DC’s Man of Steel aren’t without merit. When poorly written, he’s a pitch-perfect boy scout, which can feel less dramatic than, say, the Dark Knight’s pathos and vigilante justice. While there are many specific interpretations of Superman that do not paint Clark Kent as a Gary Sue, mainstream audiences who don’t know names like John Byrne, Mark Waid, or Grant Morrison tend to believe Superman is too “overpowered” and boring.
“He’s a deadly martial artist, a stalwart friend, well-educated, even-tempered, quick to smile, and, despite all that, he’s humble. Flaws are the grooves, the nocks that add depth. Perfection in fiction, unlike in life, can be boring. I mean, even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.”
T’Challa may be perfect, and that may be just fine for at least the other 8 billion people in the world who will see Black Panther. But what isn’t perfect is Black Panther’s score on the Tomatometer.
Marvel’s Black Panther will be released in theaters on February 16.