Black Panther (2018) Review
LONG LIVE THE KING!
In this golden age of superheroes films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe stands tall and proud as a beacon to this blockbuster tentpole of comic book heroes and villains. This shared movie franchise that began back in 2008 has bolstered some of the greatest superheroes that Marvel has in its illustrious comic book history, bringing iconic heroes, villains, gods, and monsters to the big screen. Naturally, the bigger and more popular comic book characters were part of initial release when the MCU first rolled out its “Phase I” saga, seeing Tony Stark / Iron Man, Bruce Banner / Hulk, Steve Rogers / Captain America, and Thor to the grace the silver screen in their own feature films as well as superhero team up ones (i.e. the Avengers films). Over time (and its overwhelming success), the MCU began to expand its own cinematic universe, exploring and examining lesser-known comic book characters to “bring into the fold” of this lucrative film franchise. Thus, Marvel characters like Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy have gotten their own standalone feature film and have been brought into this growing roster of Marvel heroes. Back in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (the 13th film in the MCU), while many viewers were excited to see the new iteration of Spider-Man (played by actor Tom Holland), the film also introduced the character of T’Challa, the heir apparent to the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and his superhero masked alter-ego…the Black Panther. Interestingly (and not just a cameo), T’Challa, who was played by actor Chadwick Boseman, actually played an important part in Civil War’s narrative, which served as the foundation to introduced the future king of Wakanda within the MCU. Now, the time has come for the character of T’Challa to get his own feature film as Marvel Studios and director Ryan Coogler present the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Black Panther. Does this movie find its regal place amongst its superhero MCU brethren or does it fail to impress even the most stalwart comic book fans out there?
Deep within the heart of Africa lies the nation of Wakanda, a hidden city that’s mined the super powerful metal vibranium for generations, gifting this society special technology and order, kept in line by four tribes power. Following the death of his father King T’Chaka (John Kani), which took place in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his home land of Wakanda and prepares to ascend the throne to claim his royal status and become the latest protector of the realm: the Black Panther. However, after proving himself of the title of Wakanda’s king, T’Challa receives troubling news when Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an old enemy of Wakanda, emerges from the shadows, breaking into a British museum, and steals a rare Wakandan artifact made out of Vibranium. Fearing what Klaue might do with the stolen artifact and given the chanced opportunity, T’Challa teams up with Okoye (Danai Guirra), the Dora Milaje (aka the elite all-female royal guard to Wakanda’s leadership), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his former lover turned Wakandan secret agent, and Shuri (Letita Wright), his younger and tech savvy sister, to take down the elusive black markers troublemaker. However, it turns out that Klaue’s sudden reappearance leads to more trouble, finding it in the shape of Eric “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a determined man with a mysterious past who plans to challenge T’Challa’ s reign as king and change the very future of Wakanda itself.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated I almost every superhero movie I’ve reviewed, I personally love the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Since its inception back in 2008 with the released of Iron Man, this shared universe of superheroes has grown and expanded, with each new installment bring in either a new character or evolving the already established roster of men, gods, and monsters that stand together against the vile forces of evil. As I stated above, with the expansion of the MCU, Marvel eventually had to bring in new characters like Scott Lang (Ant-Man), Stephen Strange (Doctor Strange), the whole Guardians of the Galaxy team to join this cinematic universe. Additionally, these new characters (and their standalone feature films) also brought new attributes to this movie universe, whether its from the “outer space / cosmic” narrative, to the street level of crime fighting, or even to astral dimension and beyond. Back in Captain America: Civil War, while the teams were divided up between “Team Iron Man” and “Team Captain America”, two new characters were introduced: a new iteration of a younger Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) and the Wakandan Prince T’Challa (aka Black Panther). While many were excited to see how Spider-Man would act, especially since he was just acquired from a deal with Sony Picture and getting his own movie (see Spider-Man: Homecoming), it was the character of Black Panther that proved to be the more instrumental one of the two, with his introduction being worked into the Civil War’s narrative. It was a slight gamble, especially Civil War’s story was bursting with character moments between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but it was actually worked (and worked) great, paving the way for the character of T’Challa to get his own feature film in the following years.
This, of course, brings me to my current post in reviewing for Black Panther, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Naturally, being a fan of any MCU movie (as well as seeing a standalone feature for the character of Black Panther), I was pretty excited to see this movie. There’s been a lot of internet “buzz” about this movie, especially when the film’s director and cast were announced for the project. I do have to state that I didn’t know much about the Black Panther character (from its comic book source material), but I was definitely intrigued to find out more about masked character and how Marvel would represent him (and his story) on the big screen. So, after seeing the movie’s trailers many, many times, I gleefully went to see the movie to see if it matched the expectations (both personal and from the general public). What did I think of it? Well, it loved it. While it pushes out some of the personal MCU favorites, Black Panther stands tall and proud in this shared superhero universe, thanks to its rich narrative, compelling characters, and Marvel popcorn frivolities. In short, it’s a worth addition to this expanding cinematic world.
Black Panther is directed by Ryan Coogler, who’s previous directorial works includes films like Fruitvale Station and Creed. With the success of both those movies, Coogler takes his stab at the superhero genre, even more by crafting a MCU feature film. To be honest, Coogler does incredible work on Black Panther, crafting superhero film that celebrates the ideas of a classic Marvel movie, but also speaks to its own identity. Black Panther isn’t quite your stereotypical superhero origin story, but rather a new piece to the overall MCU map, offering a new look into the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Yes, to be sure, there is plenty of your “classic hero’s journey” into the narrative (some of the negative points), but Coogler makes the film’s journey quite engaging, especially when exploring such strong themes, solid character builds, and visual flair. For the most part, Coogler, who co-penned the film’s script along with Joe Robert Cole, seems to have a lot “free reign” when assembling Black Panther, laying out a new landscape for viewers to explore as well as bringing in a strong representation of the African culture, which is heavily influenced throughout the entire film. The film’s overall conflict isn’t necessary over good versus evil, but rather the ideology of nation’s choice to stand idle by, which is very interesting plot piece to be found in a superhero movie. That’s not to say that Black Panther is devoid of MCU aspects of nuances as the movie brings together several traits over from previous Marvel films (i.e. the royal family drama from the Thor movies, the political outlooks from Winter Soldier and Civil War, the sci-fi-high tech from the Iron Man films, and even the famous Spider-Man motif “With great power, comes great responsibility”). Additionally, the movie itself doesn’t really get bogged down in the overall MCU story arc (i.e no Thanos or Infinity Stones). Coogler’s overall handling of the feature is also commendable as he seems to have a clear goal from onset to conclusion on how he envisions the film to be. There’s plenty to see in the movie and serving of drama, but even the film’s action, most notably in the film’s first two acts are quite impressive, with one feeling like it was ripped out from a James Bond film. From interesting concepts to managing a lot of characters to balancing the narrative with themes and superhero antics, Coogler’s directorial work is one of the reasons why Black Panther is highly entertaining.
Perhaps one of the most poignant (as well as meaningful) aspects that Black Panther has to offer is it’s political / social message discussion. In a nutshell, the movie explores the discussion of exploration of colonialism by how dissecting how Western colonization and the enslavement of Africa continue to have the “rippling effects” today (albeit through the lens of MCU superhero feature). It also talks about how isolation (not will to partake and cut themselves off from everyone else) could affect those around them, which can be extrapolated into many things ranging from individuals to entire nations. So, within the context of Black Panther: Would the outcome of the African slave-trade be different if Wakanda intervened? Would the world’s countless and destructive wars never have existed if the nation of Wakanda shared their vibranium technology with the world? While these thematic messages are not uncommon to be discussed within the context of a theatrical film, it is an interesting point to make within a superhero blockbuster feature. As I said in my review for Justice League (i.e. a film that did not do this), the superhero film genre, has evolved and has become something more than just masked costume characters fighting evildoers bent on global domination. Whether by it’s inclusion of other movie genres (i.e. fantasy, heist, historical period piece, etc.) or even its commentary message, superhero movies have become something more than how they originally were. Black Panther continues that trend and offers an engaging and thought-provoking discussion that many (regardless of race) could exam.
In terms of technical presentation, Black Panther is solid and creatively beautiful. Coogler and his whole filmmaking team on this project definitely gave the overall look and feel of this film its own unique and creative identity, which is steeped in African culture and superhero flights of fancy. Every aspect of this from Ruth E. Carter’s colorful costumes (a blend of African garbs and motifs with a splash fantasy-esque elaborations), to Rachel Morrison’s cinematography (awesome camera angles and creative cinematics), to Hannah Beachler’s production design (Wakanda never looked so beautiful), the entire visual effects team for bringing all the Wakanda high tech (Black Panther suit, Wakanda cityscape and mining layout, etc.) to life, and to the entire art direction team (Jason T. Clark, Joseph Hiura, Alan Hook, Alex McCarroll, Jay Pelissier, and Jesse Rosenthal) for their concepts layout of how Wakanda would initially look like. Even the film’s musical score, which was composed by Ludwig Goransson, is pretty good with plenty of African influences and musical vibes as well as Kendrick Lamar, who curated the Black Panther: The Album soundtrack and is a collection of various song (including several Lamar’s songs) is also pretty good and feels appropriate within the film’s ebb and flow proceedings. To simply put it, Black Panther is a visual feast for the eyes….and justly so.
As much as there is to love about Black Panther, the film does have a few drawbacks that it can’t escape and somewhat holds the film back. Perhaps one reason (I found) was the film’s overall hype. As I stated above, there’s been so much talk and internet “buzz” during Black Panther’s pre-release marketing campaign that expectations were at an all-time high for the 18th film within the MCU. While it’s great addition to this cinematic universe and quite entertaining as a standalone film the character of Black Panther, I felt that it didn’t live up to its own inherit hype, with many already calling it “the best movie in the MCU”. It’s definitely in the upper echelon of the MCU movies, but (not counting the Avengers films) I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol. 1 and Vol.2), and Spider-Man: Homecoming better than Black Panther. Part of the reason for that the fact that the film’s second half was a bit formulaic and predictable. We’ll never dull or unengaging, half of the second act and the entire third act was a bit conventional narrative storytelling and felt more less impressionable, in comparison, to the first act and the first half of the second act. It’s still good and doesn’t derail the movie in anyway, but I was expecting something more “wow” than something predictable from familiar plot beats and story arc progression. Another problem was some sloppy heavy CG moments during the film’s third act. While I mentioned above that the visual effects were superb and creative, they were a few scenes here and there that obviously look fake (computer generated), which is strange as Marvel usually takes a good care in its attention to detail in bring its layered CG visuals to life. Who knows…. maybe I was expecting more out of this movie, but those were some of the problems that I had with. Also, there’s another problem I had with the film, but I’ll mention that one in a few paragraphs.
Like many of the MCU films, the cast selections are usually instrumental in making these superhero features work so well (even if the story or character arcs aren’t as palpable as one might like them to be). With Black Panther, the film’s cast is solid and is definitely one of the great positive attributes to this Marvel film, finding and casting many respected and theatrically talented African-American actors and actresses to fill in the role of the principal characters. Leading the charge is actor Chadwick Boseman as the film’s title character of T’Challa, the now King of Wakanda and the mantle of Black Panther. Known for his roles in Draft Day, Message from the King, and Marshall, Boseman carries himself great in the role of T’Challa. His charismatic performance and steadfast demeanor makes him the ideal choice for such a young and regal character in the MCU. He may not display a wide range of emotions within the character, but that’s not unnecessarily a bad thing and would take away from Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa. Personally, I love him in this role as he proves (in this movie) why he’s the perfect Black Panther (in both the masked individual and as the newly minted king of Wakanda). Additionally, the story arc in Black Panther fits perfectly within the character and makes him that much more compelling to watch as he faces great challenges and changes for his nation’s future. Can’t wait to see Boseman’s T’Challa return in Avengers: Infinity War!
In the villain category, Black Panther finds its main antagonist in the character of Killmonger (aka Erik Stevens), who is played by actor Michael B. Jordan. Reuniting with Coogler, Jordan, known for his roles in Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Fantastic Four, is given the task of being the movie’s opposition character to the title character of the feature, standing as challenging obstacle against T’Challa’s leadership. Unfortunately, Jordan’s Killmonger doesn’t really pan out to his full potential but not for the idea that one might think. Usually, the villains in the MCUs movies are played by talented actors or seasoned veterans of the silver screen, but are (mostly) one of the more weaker aspects of the feature due to their limited screen-time or thinly-written character arc. In the case in Black Panther, however, it’s the reserve. The character build of Killmonger is actually quite compelling and understandable for his resentment against Wakanda’s leadership and their decision to hide themselves (and their technology) from the rest of the world. This, of course, makes the character the most sympathetic villain in the entire MCU (so far). Unfortunately, Jordan’s performance of Killmonger was a bit wonky. He handles himself well in the action scenes and in understand his character from start to finish, but his dialogue was a bit “too much” (hokey and over-the-top) and his delivery could’ve been better handled. It’s a shame because I like Jordan as an actor (loved him as Adonis in Creed) and Killmonger’s setup is powerful and heartbreaking, but I think that he was just simply miscast in the role. I just couldn’t buy into him as much as the rest of the cast. That being said, who handles himself much better than Jordan’s Killmonger is actor Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, a high-level black-market dealer wanted by Wakanda’s leaders. Known mostly for his motion capture film roles in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the new Planet of the Apes trilogy, and King Kong, Serkis definitely is capable of handing himself well on-screen and does so as the film’s secondary villain. Personally, I would’ve liked to seeing Serkis’s Klaue been more of the primary antagonist of Black Panther than Jordan’s Killmonger.
Beyond the central hero and its villains, much of the standout roles comes from the leading ladies that surround T’Challa. First, there is the actress Danai Guirra (The Walking Dead and The Visitor) who plays Okoye, the leader of T’Challa’s royal Guard (the Dora Milaje). A skilled warrior and fearless proud (adhering to the traditions and loyalty to the throne), Guirra’s Okoye, who handles herself well in the role, is a force to be reckoned with and is truly the most badass character in all of Black Panther. Next, there is actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave and The Jungle Book), who plays the character of Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who remains a loyal supporter and friend. Nyong’o has proven to be a talented actress and it definitely shows here, displaying an interest character build of showing T’Challa a different viewpoint on political affairs (as an Wakanda spy) as well as handling herself out on the battlefield. Lastly, actress Letita Wright (The Commuter and Top Boy) plays the character of Shuri, T’Challa little sister. Although here character is labeled as a Wakanda princess, Shuri doesn’t display the classic princess persona, displaying a savy tech genius mind that could rival Tony Stark. Wright handles herself incredibly well, making Shuri an exuberant kid sister who can bust her brother’s chops or cut him down to size with tech skills. I think of her like Moneypenny and Q put together (with T’Challa as Bond) and you’ll get Wright’s Shuri (i.e. a sort of tit for tat back and forth dialogue). These three female characters are well-developed and given their own respective ambitions and ideals as well as layer them with a distinct personality (and not at all carbon copied or thinly written). To be honest, each one literally “steals the scene” whenever the movie (camera) focuses on their respective character. My personally favorite would have to be Wright’s Shuri. Loved her in the movie! Plus, she had the best line in the film….” What are those!!!”
The rest of the supporting players are delegated to more minor supporting roles. This includes, the beloved actress Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with It and Contact) as T’Challa mother and Queen Mother of Wakanda Ramonda, veteran actor Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland and Lee Daniel’s The Butler) as the wizened elder and keeper of the heart-shaped flowers Zuri, actor Winston Duke (Person of Interest and The Messengers) as the leader of the exiled Wakandan mountain trike M’Baku, actor John Kani (The Ghost and the Darkness and Silpho) as T’Challa recently deceased father T’Chaka, and actor Martin Freeman (The Hobbit trilogy and Sherlock) reprising his MCU role as CIA operative Everett K. Ross. Although I was expecting a bit more screen time than some (i.e. Bassett’s Ramonda), all of these supporting characters are well represented by great actors and actresses and are solidly constructs within Black Panther’s narrative. Also, be sure to look out for Stan Lee’s cameo role. Some people didn’t like it, but I actually did and it was quite amusing and was really “out of the blue” (i.e. caught me off guard when it happened).
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a MCU film without having something appear during the end credits as Black Panther features two (a mid-credit scene and one at the end of the credits). While the latter scene is neat and interesting, it’s actually the first end credits scene that’s the most poignant and meaningful of the two, extending the scene’s dialogue not to just the cinematic world that the film is in, but also to the real world, especially in light of recent events. Now, that’s pretty cool!
Wakanda prince T’Challa returns home, assumes his rightful place as king, and deals with what it means to be the rightful ruler (both in his royal status and as a defender of his nation) in the movie Black Panther. Director Ryan Coogler newest film brings the 18th MCU to life in an incredible, displaying cinematic adventure to the title character that’s part familiar superhero, celebratory in African culture, and poignant political drama. While the may not beat out several fan-favorite MCU films out there and has a few minor setbacks, Black Panther is definitely one of the better superhero films out there, thanks to Coogler’s handling of the film, a compelling narrative, a rich world-building, solid characters (played by talented actors and actresses), a powerful commentary message, and (above all else) makes a strong representation of African-American in lead superhero role. Personally, I loved this movie. As I said, it can’t be beat out some of my personal favorite MCU films, but it sure does come damn close to challenging them. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solid “highly recommended” for all, especially Marvel fans (who don’t be disappointed) as well as casual moviegoers (the film is mostly accessible to the non-MCU viewers). It goes without saying the character of T’Challa (and several others) will be making their return in Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel’s biggest MCU feature installment ever), it will be interesting see if Marvel greenlights Black Panther 2 in the foreseeable future. Personally, I think so and I gladly welcome it. For now, Black Panther stands as a testament that the Marvel’s cinematic universe is continuing to evolve and bring in new characters and ideas within the shared superhero franchise. What do I have left to say…. Wakanda forever!!!
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: February 16th, 2018
Reviewed On: February 20th, 2018
Black Panther is 134 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and brief rude gesture