YEEEEEAAAAAH, BABY!!! Finally, a good movie in the slow season.
A little backstory on the character. Created by, you guessed it, Stan Lee and Paul Kirby back in 1966, and made his first appearance in a Fantastic Four comic. In mainstream American comics, he’s the first black superhero. Yes, I’m ripping all of this information from Wikipedia. Quit judging and calling me out. Sheesh.
Now, as most of you know, I’m no comic reader. Before CAPTAIN AMERICAN: CIVIL WAR (2016), I don’t even think I even heard of the character. Since seeing the movie, I’d seen cartoon episodes that featured the character, like THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES (2010 – 2012) on Netflix, and have since developed an eagerness to see more of him.
Guess I’m about to get my chance with his solo movie. Words can’t possibly describe how excited I am for it. So… how some inane jibber jabber? OMG OMG OMG BLACK PANTHER, BITCHES!!! WOOOOO!!! Good enough?
The story looks like it’s about a dude who wants T’Challa’s throne. And this dude teams up with Andy Serkis’ character from CIVIL WAR and cause chaos… actually, the trailers have been pretty nonspecific about the plot of the movie. Guess I’m going in blind, unless I read about it online, Which… I’ll never do.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Chadwick Boseman (MARSHALL , GET ON UP , 42 , and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR  and Avengers 4 ), Michael B. Jordan (CREED , JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX , video game GEARS OF WAR 3 , and upcoming film CREED II  and TV movie FAHRENHEIT 451 ), Andy Serkis (STAR WARS: LAST JEDI , STAR WARS: FORCE AWAKENS , THE PRESTIGE , THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS , and upcoming films MOWGLI  and FLARSKY ), Lupita Nyong’o (STAR WARS: LAST JEDI and FORCE AWAKENS, NON-STOP , 12 YEARS A SLAVE , and upcoming films LITTLE MONSTERS  and CHARLIE’S ANGELS ), and Danai Gurira (ALL EYEZ ON ME , TV show THE WALKING DEAD [2010 – ongoing], and the upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR). In support, we have Martin Freeman (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY , LOVE ACTUALLY , and the upcoming ODE TO JOY ), Forest Whitaker (STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE , PANIC ROOM , SPECIES , PLATOON , and upcoming films FINDING STEVE MCQUEEN  and LABYRINTH ), Daniel Kaluuya (GET OUT , SICARIO , KICK-ASS 2 , and the upcoming WIDOWS ), Angela Bassett (LONDON HAS FALLEN , THIS MEANS WAR , MEET THE ROBINSONS , and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT ), and Sterling K. Brown (MARSHALL, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT , and 1 episode of TV show CASTLE [2009 – 2016]).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Ryan Coogler, known for CREED and FRUITVALE STATION (2013). Coogler’s partner-in-pen is Joe Robert Cole, known for 2 episodes of AMERICAN CRIME STORY (2016). Composing the score is Ludwig Göransson, known for EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING (2017), CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (2016), CREED, and the upcoming DEATH WISH (2018). The cinematographer is Rachel Morrison, known for MUDBOUND (2017), DOPE (2015), and CAKE (2014). Finally, the co-editors are Debbie Berman (SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING  and SPACE CHIMPS ) and Michael P. Shawver (CREED and FRUITVALE STATION).
This is my honest opinion of: BLACK PANTHER
Set after the events of CIVIL WAR, circa 2016. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has returned to his home of Wakanda, and in the wake of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) the King’s death, is crowned the new King. The ceremony and celebration is short-lived as T’Challa receives word that the notorious thief, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), has resurfaced and is in possession of illegally obtained vibranium, wielding a weaponized vibranium-powered prosthetic arm. With the help of his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), the general of his soldiers Okoye (Danai Gurira), and unexpected and unplanned help from American CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), they successfully bring in Klaue. But they don’t get too much out of him before he’s broken free by his newest ally, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who may or may not be of Wakandan descent.
Alrighty, lets get right to it, shall we?
What’s incredibly refreshing is its visual aesthetic. I might argue that every single frame of this movie is undeniably BLACK PANTHER, especially when you get to Wakanda. It’s colorful, it’s creative, but it really does look like a style that comes from Africa. From the armor of the king’s guards to the common tunics, it’s all very different from the norm and it’s unbelievable how gorgeous how it all looks. I might say that Wakanda itself just looks like Asgard from a distance, but once you get up close and personal, it’s much more distinguished. I think among my favorite places the movie hangs out in is Shuri’s… let’s just call it her “layer” because that’s probably what she secretly calls it anyway. This is where the movie becomes a funner version of James Bond and where all those wonderful toys come from. Anyone else kind of want that tech that allows you to drive a car without actually being in the car? It’s nothing new, FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017) basically did it, but it still looks damn cool here.
Also, since where on the subject of Shuri’s layer, can we take a minute to talk about Shuri and just how adorable she and Wright are? I can’t explain it (even though I’m going to try my hardest), but Wright steals the show for me. I love Shuri’s relationship with T’Challa. It’s so endearing, cute, and feels like a real sibling relationship. They give each other shit, show support, are protective, worry about, it’s all as authentic as it can get coming from a pair of actors who aren’t related. I’ll never stop laughing at that middle finger she throws up at the end of her intro scene. Oh my god, and when she’s showing off her new tech to T’Challa and shows him the footwear that prevents sound, and then she says, “You know what I call them? Sneakers. You know, because… never mind.” On the surface, it’s not really a funny line, but Wright is radiated with charisma that she really makes the line work and be funny. I loved it.
But there’s obviously more to this movie by way of side characters than Shuri, and everyone’s got their shining moments. I love how incredibly bad-ass and no nonsense that Okoye is. If the Terminator franchise wants to shake things up, I vote her as the next Terminator. She’s also pretty funny. Like when the gang is in South Korea and they’re in the hidden casino, Okoye has a wig on and she comments how silly it is and how degrading it would be to flip her hair. I also find it refreshing that Nakia isn’t the typical ex-girlfriend where the two characters constantly bicker like an old married couple. No, their relationship is healthy and down-to-earth. They work well together, listen to each other, and… come to think of it, I don’t think the two characters even so much as a quick squabble, let alone one of those typical overblown shouting matches.
This is also arguably one of, if not the, most intelligent Marvel films. I mean, think about it, what’s the big question that this movie is asking? Does Wakanda share its knowledge and technological know-how with the world, or keep it contained within their own borders? Wakanda is the most advanced civilization on Earth, and everyone seems to have their own opinions and ideas, and even those opinions and ideas are complex. You have those like Nakia who want to use their tech to save and protect people. Then there’s Erik who wants to give it to those being oppressed and give them a fighting chance to even scores, which could inadvertently lead to war against Wakanda. Then there’s those who feel that keeping the Vibranium to themselves prevents full scale war, and are able to keep a close eye on its applications, and prevents it from being used by the wrong people. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Klaue from getting his hands on an… arm that can cause mass destruction, so one has to question the long-term positives of keeping their tech and power source to themselves. Still, neither side is really all that wrong or right. You see the dangers and benefits of both sides of the argument, preventing a full-on “this or that side” decision. If my voice were to carry any weight, I’d say… keep it mostly to themselves. They understand Vibranium much better and have mostly proven to be responsible with it. Really, as far as the MCU is concerned, there’s only been a handful of incidents where Vibranium has been used by anyone other than Wakandans; Captain America’s shield, Klaue’s theft of it in CIVIL WAR, and the final armored form of Ultron. Three total. Is Vision made of Vibranium? If he is, then that makes four total. Not exactly alarming statistics that call for a drastic need of change and reform of policies. Of course, I only speak as an outsider not overly familiar with Wakandan laws. The point is, I think the outside would could use Wakandan help. It can be a cosmetic as they want, but consider the idea that maybe Erik succeeded and decided Wakanda should bring forth a new world order. What would stop them? They’re the most advanced civilization in the world. I doubt much would be able to stop them. It’d be nice if Wakanda gave the world a taste of their technology for us to study, so in the off chance that they decide to wage war on us, we’ll be better equipped. Likewise, giving the world at large an advantage is likely opening a dangerous door of vulnerability and all it ever takes it one asshole to say, “I don’t like those people, they’re hording everything, let’s take it for ourselves” and start a whole mess of problems for everyone. I say it’s a risk no matter which path is taken.
And look at me taking this topic so seriously. This is a superhero movie, for God’s sake, and yet, look how into the politics I’m getting. A comic book movie is legitimately making me tap into my old high school language arts homework that made me “critically think.” Damn it, Marvel! I haven’t been to school in years! Stop making me think!
W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) is also a well-developed character. He kind of does the Mordo thing from DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) and starts off as a close friend of the protagonist, but ultimately becomes antagonistic, but I think it’s done a touch better here. In STRANGE, I still kind of find it odd that Mordo thought it was surprising that the Ancient One was keeping secrets as to how she’s survived for so long and that some of it was a result of dark magic. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I would have made that assumption right off the bat. Not that I don’t get his reasons for turning on his peers, but I feel like it makes more sense in this movie. T’Challa and W’Kabi clearly have a long history of being friends, despite having the occasional policy disagreement. But it shakes him when he sees how T’Challa wasn’t as efficient at exacting justice for the deaths of W’Kabi’s parents, but rather it was this random outsider, clearly believing that this guy will bring about a preferable future for Wakanda.
Also, anyone else think that Klaue getting killed off is a bit unfair? I mean, the dude survives a direct confrontation with Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Ultron, the latter of them ripping his arm off like it was a square of toilet paper. So… what ultimately kills him is a pussy series of gunshots? That seems… unfair. Marvel really doesn’t like recurring villains that aren’t Loki.
So there’s obviously a lot to rave about and for good reason. So… is there anything negative that I have to say? Er… not really. There are, like, two nitpicks I might have that don’t deter the film much.
I feel like compared to the rest of the supporting cast, T’Challa is a slightly less interesting character. I know he should be the most compelling, but truth be told, I can’t remember his character all that well. Was his arc all about being against helping the outside world, only to change his views by the end of the flick? I don’t remember. Everyone else I remember. M’baku (Winston Duke) is a tribal leader who doesn’t want to follow T’Challa, but still has his own honor to find admirable. Ross is a fish out of water who didn’t believe the rumors of Wakanda’s near endless supply of Vibranium, but is utterly floored by the truth, and despite his rough exterior, he still puts his life on the line for those that would otherwise disagree with him and saved Nakia’s life at great injury to himself. Hell, I remember Stan Lee’s cameo more acutely than I remember T’Challa himself. I don’t remember disliking the character at all, I like the way he interacts with every character, Boseman is certainly charming, but I feel like every character was given more time in the spotlight than he was, despite the movie technically being about him.
Also, I kind of wish Erik was a little less… villainy. Don’t get me wrong, like everyone else, the villain is a bit more memorable for me than the hero is. Jordan does a fantastic job. Speaking of “fantastic,” yes, Michael, we forgive you for FANT4STIC (2015) now. Ultimately, Erik is one of the better Marvel villains to come out of the MCU, with an understandable set of motivations. But I still feel like there’s a short-sighted approach to his character. For one thing, I think his motivations are a little… jumbled. On the one hand, I get it. His father was killed by Black Panther, specifically T’Chaka. I get that. He wants to take Wakanda’s resources and give it to those still being oppressed and enslaved. I get that too. So… doesn’t this sound more like a misguided hero that has to be stopped from making a rash decision? I feel like it would have been more compelling if he didn’t hold a personal grudge against T’Challa himself, but still wanted the throne for himself. What if he still wanted to help those that he wants to help, but with a more sympathetic outlook?
Don’t get me wrong, the approach they have with Erik is perfectly fine. I especially love the end of his fight and his ultimate defeat where he’s looking out at the sunset. Then he looks at T’Challa and refuses his offer for healing, and says something like, “Bury me out at sea. At least they understood the price of freedom,” or something to that effect, referring of course to slaves of the time period when slavery was the norm, opting to rebel and die as free men, rather than submit. A powerful statement, and certainly befitting this character, but I feel like there’s a better balance of the hero that he’s trying to be and the villain that he ultimately becomes.
It’s funny. I think when I left the theater, I left with a sense of… expectation. Meaning, I thought the movie was solid, but nothing amazing. But the more I started to think about it, the more I realized how much better it was than I initially felt. Sometimes all it takes is a day or two of thought, I guess. So, yeah, I think this movie is kind of great. It has a style and narrative that’s unique to the MCU. Gorgeous visuals and an engaging environment, great supporting cast, a solid villain, and an really good story. Is it my favorite of the MCU films, probably not. But is it one of the best? You bet your sweet bippy, it is. Highly recommended. As in, drop what you’re doing and check this out. Long live the king, baby!
My honest rating for BLACK PANTHER: a strong 4/5