Black Panther


There is a lot riding on the release of the newest Marvel Studio film, Black Panther.  Not only is this the last MCU film before the release of the massive 10-years-in-the-making Avengers: Infinity War, but the Black Panther has become a culturally significant tent pole film, kicking off the first MCU film with a black super hero as the lead.  That’s a lot of pressure, so Marvel apparently knew that they had to get this one right.

And they really got this one right.

Marvel loaded this cast with amazing African-American actors, starting with Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger.  Throw in an astounding supporting cast with such stars as Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.

Then, they gave the film to one of the hottest young filmmakers in Hollywood today.  Ryan Coogler has had two great films on his resume, Fruitville Station and Creed.  Black Panther would make his third great film.

Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, we see T’Challa preparing to take his rightful place as the monarch of Wakanda, a country hidden in Africa that the world believed to be a third world nation, but, in reality, is a thriving, industrious, technologically advanced country built upon a mound of vibranium, a metal that landed in Africa upon a meteor.

Wakanda has hidden its advanced technology from the world for years.  However, the chance to capture the renegade villain Ulysses Klaw sent the Black Panther out of Wakanda and toward the world as a whole.

Klaw was not alone, though.  He was stealing antiques made of vibranium from a museum with Erik Killmonger.  Killmonger had a desire to get to Wakanda as a way to gain revenge for past deeds against him.  I don’t want to go into much detail here to avoid any spoilers.

The story is extremely amazing.  It is so full of depth and layers that it feels rich and developed.  It keeps you off balance and never feels predictable. These characters are fully realized and developed and you understand their motives.  Each character has their chance to shine.  This is a true ensemble film and this ensemble does a tremendous job.

Fact of the matter is this… the film is not just about Black Panther.  This film is about Wakanda.  The country itself is as much of a character as anyone in the film.  Coogler amazingly weaves the culture and history of Wakanda into the film and you feel the life.  The country feels lived in.  Even though this is a setting unlike any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you never feel like an outsider.  The film takes some time to introduce you to the five tribes that make up the Wakandan country and these intros pay off big time.

The cinematography is gorgeous and exploring this world of Wakanda and the after life involved in breathtaking in its loveliness.  The score of the film, along with the soundtrack, are another strength of this film.

The film may have started just a little slow, but it picked up the pace and, after the beginning, I absolutely did not feel as if I were sitting there for 141 minutes.

Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe villains we have had because we can see why he is doing the evil things that he does and we understand it.  In fact, there are probably many people who can completely justify the anger Killmonger rocks in this film.

The women of Black Panther are completely kick ass.  Oyoke, the general of the Dora Milaje, Black Panther’s female royal guard, is one of the great characters of the film and shows off her ability with a staff throughout the film.  Young Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister Shuri, is a breath of fresh air and provides much of the film’s Marvel humor.  Shuri is a technological genius on the level of a Tony Stark, but she has not lost the wide eyed innocence of youth.  Lupita Nyong’o shines across the screen as the super spy Nakia, and a love interest for T’Challa.  These women really are as important to the film as Black Panther is and they step up their game fully.

I really do not have much in way of criticism for this movie outside of a couple of minor nitpicks.  The CGI in the third act had some moments where it did not look great.  It certainly did not live up to the rest of the film.  The other criticism I have would be a major SPOILER  SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. The fact that both Killmonger and Klaw die in the film makes me unhappy.  Yes, I believe that Killmonger’s death scene was one of the most lovely and powerful moments of the film, but I really did not want Killmonger to die.  Both Klaw and Killmonger were remarkably entertaining and tremendous and losing them both in the film brought it down just a little bit.  END OF SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

Black Panther is long overdue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It gives a section of the public a hero to look up to.  Someone who looks the same as they do.  This allows people of color a chance to see themselves in a super hero for the first time.  Sure, there was Blade, who is really the first African-American comic book movie, but Black Panther is first in the new age of comic book movies as a massive film genre.  There is an absolute audience built in as the box office will attest to (Black Panther made over 25 million on Thursday night alone).  It is one of the strongest introductions in the MCU and feels like something new and different for that decade spanning franchise.

4.85 stars

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