On Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ and Creativity

Just watched Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER movie. I am a Marvel fan and have been for a long time. I’m not one of those guys who know everything about super-heroes, but I remember the comics I read in my teens. I loved the Daredevil, enjoyed Spiderman and was fond of the Avengers. I absolutely loved the X-Men’s episode that led to Phoenix’s death. I remember reading those comics every week until I was 18 or 19 (time I went away to college). So it was with great expectation and gusto that I saw the grandiose wave of super-hero movies happen in the last few decades. I believe most of the movies on the Marvel Universe are really well made and really great movies. I thought BLACK PANTHER was also a really good movie. So why did it bore me so much?

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As I said, I’m a Marvel fan. I don’t like DC Comics. It’s not a religious thing or something. It’s just that DC’s heroes always seem too perfect in some way. They’re the rich guy’s heroes: they’re either Superman (with hardly any flaw), or super-rich, or gods, or royalty, or super-powerful. Marvel heroes always seem more human, the people’s heroes, with human flaws and human problems, and always in trouble. So I like Marvel much more. I still think some of the best super-hero movies are DC movies: the first two Dark Knight movies, the first two Batman movies (Tim Burton), the Wonder Woman movie, all of these are really really good. But Marvel has also created some gems: like Iron Man, or Spiderman movies, or LOGAN. And then there are those movies I think only fans can appreciate: I loved X-MEN:APOCALYPSE, for instance, because of Phoenix, most of all. And really liked THE AVENGERS.

I think super-hero movies have gone through a very interesting process: the thought and the effort that go into the execution of these movies, the investment in the story and the CGI effects and the actors and performances have become better and better.  They’ve embraced Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and follow Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT structure (my favorite). Disney is even considering investing in BLACK PANTHER for the Oscar race. And all I can say is: what’s wrong with these people?

You’ve seen the reactions to the Star Wars movies (I haven’t watched HAN SOLO yet) and they will happen as well with super-hero movies: they are becoming dull.

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Formulas are formulas. They are mostly tools. For many people, the American movie industry is too dependent on formulas. One of them is Blake Snyder’s Beat-sheet. As you might know, I love Snyder’s Beat-sheet. It changed my writing for the better. Snyder basically divided Aristotle’s 3 Act-structure into 15 beats. They show us what must happen on the first act, the second and the third.  And it is a good formula. Many people blame formulas like these for movies having become too predictable and bland. However, you can pick up Snyder’s Beat-sheet and apply them on movies from CASABLANCA to BLADE RUNNER – they actually comply to the formula. And many other original interesting movies do too. It’s not the tool that’s to blame, it’s the user.

Creativity seems to live of unconformity. It seems that original ideas, the ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas, are the ones that went farther away from the norms, into a realm of unseen and unheard ideas, where no-one knew something was there. But that is not necessarily so. Most of the more interesting ideas come from what we call: Creative Problem Solving. They’re about the way someone picked up a problem and was able to solve it in a different way. They are not about the creation of something in a vacuum, but the conclusion of a long process of studying a problem and coming up with different progressive solutions. But one thing is getting a creative solution further and further along – closer and closer to its potential. Another much more interesting thing is to create a different paradigm, a different level – another kind of solution platform. And that, in my view, is what is lacking.

Well, the main strength behind Marvel and DC comics, is not the structure, is not the main formulas, is not the flawless and intelligent execution of the main ideas. It’s the strength of the original stories and the original characters. The great creators behind these Disney blockbusters, the Star Wars, Star Trek, DC and Marvel, are great minds like George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee – all of them over 70-years-old and most of them already dead. Don’t get me wrong: I love all these guys and I think they’re geniuses. But let’s be serious: all these movies I’ve been talking about are not particularly creative. Lucas, Roddenberry, Kirby and Lee were creative. The rest of them are fan-boys getting the geniuses’ ideas closer and closer to their potential.

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So what’s wrong with BLACK PANTHER? I would say: nothing. Good story, good acting, great battles, great special effects, powerful characters. On the other hand… Haven’t I seen this movie before? Okay, there’s a social side to it: the film mostly features strong African characters. As in WONDERWOMAN, there’s an important ground-breaking social impact that is not minor. There are too many movies with Caucasian men saving the day. But I think I am able to criticize this movie without putting that into question. In fact, if the CAPTAIN AMERICA movies were coming out now, I would probably be writing the same thing: it’s becoming old.

We need new creators. We need new stories. We need to stop believing that what has been done before is more reliable than what is new. Because you can rely on this: what gets old, eventually fails. I think we are seeing that happening already in the movie theatres. Wake up, Disney, we need your creativity back.

4 thoughts on “On Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ and Creativity

  1. Bruno, with all that said, you still didn’t actually say why the movie bored you (other than suggesting it was because of all the rich, intelligent, capable African characters). Unlike most of the other superhero movies, BP was mainly a family story, with T’Challa having to deal with a newfound member of his kingdom with a legitimate challenge to the throne, and a serious threat to the stability of Wakanda. And he had to come to grips with the idea that his father, and the traditions he followed, needed to be brought into the 21st century. That, right there, is pretty different from every other superhero movie out there.

    Also, T’Challa wasn’t alone in his battles; he had significant help from his family and his people, and even opposing factions who nonetheless sided with him in a crisis. That, too, is a departure from most superhero movies (one or a few against the world).

    So, exactly, what didn’t you like? Not enough fisticuffs? Not enough jokes? Not enough New York? Not enough average Joes? Not enough American Jingoism? Too much about suffering Black people? Not enough well-off white people? Be specific, so we can seriously discuss this.

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    • Steven, I didn’t in any way suggest that it bored me because of the rich, intelligent, capable African characters. Not in the least! It bored me, I thought I was making it clear, because it felt as more of the same, not different enough. I get the storyline but is it really that different from THOR, for example? Also a family story, also a brotherly rivalry story, also a man who has to come to grips with his father’s legacy to become king, etc. If you make it a racial thing you’ll miss the point.

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      • So, similar in premise to one other superhero movie, versus all the other superhero movies. I have a hard time criticizing it for that. And given that it is a superhero movie, there are only so many premises you can expect (you’re not going ro get a road trip picture, for instance). So I doubt you’ll ever see any new premises out of superhero movies; might as well write them off.

        Or… just accept that you’re going to get certain types of stories from a superhero flick, buy your popcorn and enjoy same old-same old.

        BTW, I wasn’t trying to suggest your dislike was racially biased… although a significant number of White Marvel fans have also sounded their dislike of Black Panther, so it’s apparently (and sadly) a thing…

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      • I understand what you mean, Steven. Are the tropes of super-hero movies any different than the tropes of westerns or slashers? Well, maybe not. But the great movies, westerns or slashers, always go beyond the basic tropes of the genre. Take a look at ‘Hostiles’, for instance – I just posted a text on this a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s a place I’m in right now that I find the usual stuff more boring than before. Either way, I think we need refreshment in the way things are done. That’s all I’m saying.

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