Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther movie is carrying an outsized burden of expectation from audiences and the media. It’s the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film led by a black protagonist, but it’s also an origin movie that must establish both a fictional new country and its culture, too. Plus, it’s also a major new franchise for Marvel, who might be winding down some of its legacy heroes, like Iron Man and Captain America.
That’s a lot of baggage for any film to lug around, but Black Panther obviously has a lot riding on its success.
Perhaps all of these expecations helps to explain the film’s suprisingly lengthy runtime of 2 hours 35 minutes (or 135 minutes, if you prefer), as reported by JoBlo. This runtime makes Black Panther the MCU’s lengthiest solo film to-date (Iron Man 3 was 130 minutes, but most MCU solo films are around two hours or less). A long runtime isn’t necessarily a problem, if the film’s pacing is solid and the action compelling — this is a superhero film, after all.
However, the far bigger question for Black Panther is how the general public will respond to a predominately-black cast, writer and director in a superhero film.
First, does this movie have broad appeal? The hardcore Marvel fans will almost certainly show up, but this movie needs to hit north of $800 million worldwide to maintain the momentum of last year’s MCU films (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok) — this requires mainstream turnout, and a film about an African-based, black superhero provides one helluva challenge for Marvel.
Second, and let’s be honest, the superhero genre has a massive diversity and representation problem, which has to change in order to sustain its popularity. Whether this is fair or not is hardly the issue. Last year’s Wonder Woman shattered a bunch of preconceived notions about the drawing power of women, whether it intended to or not. Black Panther is no different with respect to ethnic diversity. Even today there are few Hispanic or Asian characters across this mega-popular genre — and plenty of these characters exist within the deep Marvel canon. Look, if Marvel can get people excited about a talking raccoon and a sentient tree, there’s no reason that a Native American or a Middle-Eastern protagonist won’t fly (figuratively speaking).
So yes, Black Panther probably has been saddled with an unfair burden. It’s an origin film that will test Marvel’s ability to sell stories about non-American cultures led by non-white protagonists. Fortunately, fans already embraced the character, due to his pivotal role in Captain America: Civil War; and now we’re about to learn about his family, his friends, and his enemies too.
Finally, this is a film that Marvel needed to make, and its early trailers suggest that they’ve done it right. As reported by Forbes, Fandango has Black Panther listed as 2018’s second most-anticipated film (beating out Jurassic Park, Deadpool, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, too), so there’s clear interest out there. Ultimately, Black Panther needs to be more than just a good movie, it needs to solidify the advances made by Wonder Woman and open more doors for more communities to seek representation in the genre.