What Black Panther Could Learn from Logan
Marvel films are often accused of being homogenous. And although I do not agree with this argument (as Ant-Man was Marvel’s first heist film, Captain America: Civil War was a political thriller, and Thor was a fantasy film with a Rainbow Bridge) many of the Marvel films share common visuals and a common tone. Black Panther however, looks like it will be a sharp departure from past MCU films. In fact, the picture looks so different that it cannot strongly or even softly maintain the tone of previous entries if it wants to be a hit. Instead, just as Logan broke with the traditional X-Men formula, Black Panther must abandon much of what has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe special if it wants to be a critical success.
The director of Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, is unlike the MCU directors who have worked before him. Most Marvel directors come from comedy, action, or science fiction. James Gunn and the Russo Brothers were largely involved with comedy before they arrived at the MCU, Shane Black mostly worked as a screenwriter for action films, and Joss Whedon came from science-fiction like Firefly. Coogler, on the other hand, has only directed two feature length films: Creed and Fruitvale Station. Creed is a boxing film about the harsh life and eventual rise of Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky Balboa’s rival, and Fruitvale Station is the story of a young African American male who was shot by the police. With that as his filmography, it is no surprise that Black Panther looks as different as it does.
The trailer feels ‘off’ for those accustomed to the traditional MCU trailer. Usually, you get some action, some flashing lights, and a maybe a joke or two. The trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier felt the most unique in the MCU, but it too now looks traditional. The enemies in Black Panther do not wear black spy outfits as they did in The Winter Soldier, they are not aliens or robots as they were in The Avengers films, and they are not gold people as they were in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Instead, they were animal masks and bright colors.
The location appears more futuristic, the trailer music illustrates fierceness, and the characters look grim.
The world of Wakanda is far different from anything that Marvel has shown us thus far. Even Thor’s fantastical setting shares similarities with Guardians of the Galaxy’s outer space, yet Wakanda has no comparable location. The country looks as if it is from the future, but it looks distinct from other future civilizations we have seen in film. It embraces African culture in its aesthetics, and this gives Wakanda an unexpected yet welcoming flare compared to the futuristic worlds of Star Wars and Star Trek.
Coogler has stated that Black Panther will be his “most personal film” to date, and has said that the film will be the MCU’s equivalent of Wolverine: “I grew up as a comic book fan, and the same things used to happen in the comic books. You’d have Wolverine’s books, and they’d be so much darker and more brutal than the X-Men books, but they’d still fit in when you open the pages of the X-Men book.”
Given the recent critical and financial success of Logan, the comparison between Black Panther and Wolverine seems welcome. However, there are a few specific lessons Black Panther will have to learn from Logan if it is to reach the same artistic heights.
1.Fearlessly Make Other Superhero Films Look Old-Fashioned
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a goal, but it cannot be something that holds this film back. One of the reasons Logan was so good, is that it commented on and reinvented what a superhero film can be. It was closer to a dark western than a traditional comic-book film, and this came as a breath of fresh air to many. The story of Logan is darker and more depressing than one would usually expect, and the finale is dismal rather than uplifting. While it is not my favorite superhero film, it is one of my favorites because of how ruthlessly it distinguished itself from films in the same genre.
Given the futuristic technology and the PG-13 rating, Black Panther may not stray as far from traditional comic-book films as Logan did, but it doesn’t have to. So long as tells its story without trying to accommodate the other MCU films, it will likely be a success.
2.Do Not Heavily Tie in With Past Films
Black Panther will undoubtedly tie-in with the rest of the MCU in some way, but the film must minimize this connection as much as possible. This is not the same as accommodating past films, because even if Black Panther has a distinct tone, it will suffer if it pushes along plotlines established in other MCU films.
For example, if Black Panther focuses heavily on the Infinity Stones, which is a possibility given that Avengers: Infinity War will debut only three months later, the significance of Wakanda will be lost and the film will suffer. After the ending of Captain America: Civil War, we know that Steve Rogers and Bucky Barns are both hiding from the US Government in Wakanda. If the film focuses heavily on the aftermath of Civil War, whatever other stories it is trying to tell will be lost in the background.
Three out of the last four MCU films (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) have done a good job of standing on their own without heavy references to the other MCU films. Ant-Man made a joke about why Scott Lang couldn’t call the Avengers for help, Doctor Strange explained that the Avengers were incapable of fighting mystic threats such as Dormammu, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes place so far away from Earth that the rest of the MCU was hardly mentioned at all.
Given this trend, I expect and hope that Black Panther will stray even further from the MCU. If Logan had heavily referenced Magneto or Jean Grey, those characters would have overshadowed, or at the very least distracted, from the personal connection Wolverine began to share with X-23.
The director of Logan, James Mangold, stated that he removed a reference to Jean Grey from the film because it did not flow with the rest of the scene. If Black Panther seeks to stand on its own, it must make similar decisions.
3.Strike A Balance Between New and Old
Even though Black Panther will have to be different from past MCU films, it will also have to keep some of what made those films work. Logan showcased Wolverine fighting a clone of himself, and although the fight is nastier than what a traditional X-Men film would have shown, it still feels like something that fits within the franchise.
Black Panther will have to mention the aftermath of Civil War, it will have to mention Infinity War, and it will share some of the same humor as the other MCU films.
Marvel Studios, for the time being, will not produce anything as brutal or as dark as Logan. But Black Panther can still be unique if it keeps some of the MCU’s tropes, and uses them as little as possible.
Ryan Coogler has proven himself to be a phenomenal director, and I am incredibly excited to see what he has done with Black Panther when the film premieres in February 2018. Hopefully, just as Logan did, the film will prove to break new ground while also refining some of what has made comic-book films work in the past.