Black Panther Review (Spoiler-Free)
Black Panther is a superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name and it is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, and Andy Serkis.
T'Challa/Black Panther (Boseman) returns home, after the events of 2016's Captain America: Civil War, as king of Wakanda. When an enemy from his people's past reappears, T'Challa must weigh what it means to be a good king and a hero as the fate of Wakanda and the entire world is put at risk. Director and writer, Coogler, has made his stamp on the MCU. This being only his third film after his directing/writing on 2016's Creed and 2013's Fruitvale Station shows his expertise. He is able to tell a story that is gripping in many aspects. Being the eighteenth film in a franchise, it is a difficult task to create a film that is completely unique. Coogler is able to give audience members a film that not only holds its own but makes it better than a lot of those in the franchise. Some parts of this film are also beautifully shot and look amazing. He created a film that does follow some comic book movie tropes but also gives the audience a take-home message through his writing ability. However, this message is one that is not preached to the audience. There are a lot of power lines in this film that can be felt hours after the credits roll.
Even though Wakanda is a fictional futuristic society, Coogler is able to humanize the world surrounding these characters. While the Black Panther power comes from a mystical plant, Coogler focuses more on the technology that the country has built and the film ends up feeling close to a James Bond picture. The development of technology essentially illustrates the idea of "what could have happened if 'colonizers' had not invaded the African continent." While this film takes places mostly in Wakanda, Coogler is also able to take his audience to places outside of this country and keep it engaging through some good action scenes and a good score, written by Kendrick Lamar and Ludwig Göransson. While Lamar's music is more known, Göransson is able to mix modern and African culture in a thrilling way. This film is also able to tackle multiple genres from action adventure to political drama to some spy espionage. It also has some really funny aspects but the comedy is not overdone and the film knows when to be serious. The comedy works because it is intertwined with its characters' relationships with each other, it doesn't feel forced.
While this film won't be remembered for its action or visual effects, even though they are good, it will be remembered for its characters. This goes beyond the people as well as Wakanda is a character in itself. Coogler shows the audience this world that is filled with such a culture that if it was a real place, people would want to visit. The entire supporting cast is phenomenal and is a lot of fun but the standouts are Gurira and Wright. Both characters are awesome in their own way with one being the best fighter in the country and the other being the smartest. Gurira plays General Okoye who is the head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces Wakandan unit who are just as qualified or better fighters as T'Challa as they don't need suits to protect themselves. Wright plays Shuri, T'Challa's little sister, who is the Q to T'Challa's James Bond and is perhaps the smartest person in all of Wakanda. It was an absolute treasure to see such powerful women of color. These two at times sometimes steal the scene away from Boseman, the hero of the film. He continues the role from the prior film while diving more into the character. Coogler's direction/writing and Boseman excellent performance really shows the audience the internal struggle that T'Challa has about being a good king, like his father, and also being a superhero. Like Coogler's previous protagonists, T'Challa is a young Black man looking to establish himself in this world while dealing with demons of his own. However, what makes this film even more fantastic is its antagonist of Erik Killmonger, played brilliantly by Jordan.
Coogler taps into the debate between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X of passive resistance versus militant black activism. Killmonger's motivation is understandable and thus is not a traditional villain. While a clear negative push is definitely shown towards him, he represents the many injustices towards people of color and those who want to uprise against those that look down of on them. This complexity of his character and his understandable motivation makes him not a traditional villain and he does not fall into the villain problem that the MCU has had in previous films Audience members will not be able to hate him fully because of those motives. As with Malcolm and Martin, T'Challa and Erik are parallel to each other, which Coogler shows many visual levels as well. That character parallel plus the fantastic performances by the two actors rival that of Professor X (Patrick Stewart/James McAvoy) and Magneto (Ian McKellan/Michael Fassbender) in the X-Men films.
There are not a lot of flaws with this film but it is not a perfect film. The pacing feels off at times and makes the film feel not long enough. The first scene with Jordan's character is such a great one that when he disappears for a good while, Klaue (Serkis) feels almost like filler, even though he is still fun. Also, the relationship between T'Challa and Nakia could have had a little more development, though wonderfully played by the respective actors. In addition, there are multiple times in the film where the CGI looks unfinished or the green screen effects are obvious. However, these flaws are mostly nitpicked and do not take much away from the overall experience too much.
Being the eighteenth film in the franchise, one can figure out how the film is going to play out however this is still a film that stands on its own. It does do some typical MCU tropes because it has to as it is a part of this larger world. While it may make some small references more fun to see the other films in the universe, it is not necessary to enjoy this film. The film is able to play it safe when it comes to a comic book movie while also taking enough risks to keep it enjoyable. The film establishes what set the events of the film into play and does not alter course. This film's ending is powerful and represents more than only just a comic book movie. Comic books have been much more progressive when it comes to showing powerful people of color, both men, and women, in comparison to the film industry. Where there are characters that exist such as Wesley Snipes’ Blade but that is one character whereas this film has countless examples of powerful representation. This film can mean something to anyone no matter the age, race, or gender of the viewer. The characters are great, the writing is fantastic, the performances are top-notch, and the direction could not be better. All of that plus the external application aspect of this film establishes it as one of the best in the MCU. Audience members will not be able to get enough of this world and will be looking forward to journeying back to Wakanda in the inevitable sequel. This amazing film is worth seeing in theatres multiple times and then buying on Blu-ray just to keep on watching it.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
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