Black Panther was good, but does it deserve an Oscar?

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Black Panther was good, but does it deserve an Oscar?

Grayson Knox, Staff Writer

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Marvel’s Black Panther has recently been nominated for the Oscar’s Best Picture award. This has elicited praise across from media and celebrities alike; Mashable has claimed that Black Panther “made history” for being the first superhero picture to receive the nomination, Oprah Winfrey has claimed Black Panther is “bigger than a movie”, and activist Shaun King compared it to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (yes, really).

As of Jan. 27, Black Panther has also won the top film award during the 25th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. According to The Guardian, SAG awards usually foreshadow Oscar awards; if the trend holds true, Black Panther is likely to win at least one Oscar.

I want to make it clear that I enjoyed Black Panther. However, while Black Panther was a decent Marvel flick, it is far from the best in the series and certainly not Oscar worthy. If any Marvel movie deserves to be the first to win a Best Picture award, it should be the culmination of universe Marvel has built over the past ten years: Infinity War.

A Recount of the MCU

Let’s go back to the early 2000s; At this time, Marvel had attempted to nudge its way into the world of cinema. Their early attempts were mixed; remember Hulk in 2003 and the Fantastic 4 in 2005? Yeah, me neither.

Where Marvel truly struck gold was with Iron Man in 2008. The film had been stuck in development hell since the early 1990s, passing from Universal Studios to 20th Century Fox to New Line Cinema, and being rejected every time.

In 2005, Marvel Studios decided to tackle the project on their own, hiring director Jon Favreau. Favreau created a script that was believable and modern, and hired Robert Downey Jr. for the titular role. The film was a gamble, but one that paid off; it earned $98.6 million in the box office and was praised by critics and audiences alike.

But what made the movie different was its post-credits scene, in which Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury tells Tony Stark he’s not the only superhero and that he’s starting something called the “Avengers Initiative.” It was here the MCU truly began.

Following Iron Man, other films in this new Marvel Universe soon came to fruition. There was the The Incredible Hulk in 2008, followed by Captain America and Thor in 2011. Despite focusing on separate characters caught in their own separate stories, each movie took place in the same cinematic universe. After building up the world and the cast, one movie united them all in 2012’s The Avengers. Marvel had successfully built an interconnected cinematic universe, and the result was nothing short of fantastic.

With The Avengers, Marvel had concluded Phase One of its project. Phase 2 would include titles such as Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and an Avengers sequel Age of Ultron.

Phase 3 debuted with Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. When Black Panther released in 2018, it was the 18th film in the series.

Then, after 10 years of buildup, came Infinity War.

Infinity War, the Crux of the MCU

Infinity War was everything the MCU had been leading up to. It’s villain, Thanos, had been teased multiple times over the course of the years; twice in the post-credits of the Avengers movies and as a minor antagonist in the first Guardians. His plan, at first a mystery, was slowly been revealed over the course of the MCU: he was after the Infinity Stones and their limitless power for a sinister purpose.

Infinity War was one of the biggest ventures in cinematic history. The MCU had already proved a successful experiment thus far, but would Marvel be able to pull off an engaging story with a dizzyingly-large cast to boot? The answer was yes. Although far from perfect (Thor’s side trip is a bit slow, and harms the pacing somewhat), Infinity War managed to execute its story fantastically.

The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been; it’s not just New York or Earth that the heroes have to save, it’s the universe itself. When the heroes battle Thanos in Titan and Wakanda, you find yourself holding your breath in anticipation.

You watch as they throw everything they have at Thanos in a desperate attempt to kill him, coming so close to victory, only to be defeated themselves. You shake your head in disbelief as half the cast fades into dust, and the villian peacefully settles down, knowing that he’s won.

The movie has other points to praise as well. The visual effects were stunning, especially the design of Thanos himself. Despite being a mass of motion-captured CGI, he looks extremely realistic and captures Josh Brolin’s performance perfectly.

The cast performed admirably as well. The clash of Dr. Strange’s and Tony Stark’s egos made for entertaining banter, while Chris Pratt and Tom Holland both delivered surprisingly emotional scenes. The movie also deserves recognition for creating the best Marvel villain to date.

Most villains in the MCU have been forgettable and weakly motivated (no one remembers two-dimensional bores like Iron Monger or Kurse).

Thanos, however, isn’t a villain for the sake of villainy, he has a legitimate (albeit twisted) cause behind his actions. His wish to reduce the population of the universe to save resources is straight out of the book of elite environmentalists; Thanos was so convincing that some actually argue that he was entirely justified.

If any Marvel movie deserves an Oscar, it’s Infinity War. So why is Black Panther the one being nominated for Best Picture when it was just a side story in the grand Marvel scheme?

An Analysis of Black Panther

If you read the critical reviews after Black Panther came out, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking it was one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie sits at a whopping 97% rating from the critics. Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times argues the movie stands in the same ring as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone claims the film raises beyond the superhero genre to very nearly reach the level of art. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times goes as far as to say that Black Panther is one of the best superhero movies of the century.

I had my hopes up when I went to see it, but ultimately left the theater disappointed.

Black Panther, as a character, had a ton of potential. His introduction in Civil War was honestly one of the best parts of the movie. But his standalone movie left much to be desired; the action was mediocre, which was a shame considering the excellent fight scenes in the previous film, and the ugly CGI often clashed with the setpieces.

The overall plot was generally forgettable, following the tried-and-true “hero fights villain, loses, but returns with renewed strength to win the day” formula we’ve seen a thousand times before.

What I did like about Black Panther were its messages. T’Challa’s desire to balance Wakanda’s national and cultural identity with its global obligations is a dilemma shared by many world leaders today, and resonates deeply with Americans caught in the same situation.

The villain, Killmonger, is the embodiment of extremist black nationalism, invoking rhetoric akin to that of the Nation of Islam or the original Black Panther Party. The movie shows the folly of these movements, in which the oppressed risk becoming the very oppressors they fought against.

The movie appeals to liberal and conservative viewers alike, and its lesson is in line with the dream of peace expressed by Martin Luther King Jr., but the movie muddles this under bland action, jarring special effects, and a jumbled plotline that felt all too familiar.

Why an Oscar?

So what propelled Black Panther into the Oscars? I feel it’s for the same reasons as the movie’s high critical praise. When the movie was released, many white, liberal writers felt inclined to hail the movie as the next Citizen Kane. Part of this is due to white guilt; by praising the movie in the highest possible terms, they can safely (or more often smugly) feel as if they’ve done their part to atone for the sins of their ancestors, sacrificing their objectivity on the altar of Wokeness.

The other reason is due to the group mindset; when all their peers are praising the movie, they feel they have to follow the current lest they be bombarded with accusations of insensitivity or racism.

This takes us to the Oscars itself, which is no stranger to controversy; the #OscarsSoWhite movement of 2015 denouncing the perceived underrepresentation of minorities at the awards still resonates to this day. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants to move beyond the accusations, to show the world “look at us, we’re so inclusive, look at all these awards we’ve nominated Black Panther for.”

I’m calling it now, Black Panther is likely to win big, but not for any actual merit the movie has. Rather, the movie will be nominated to placate the cries from the diversity crowd, merit and achievement be damned.