Written by Aaron Radcliff:
If you remember back a few months to my review of Thor: Ragnarok, I made it known I wasn’t terribly high on the MCU. That’s not to say they aren’t good, but I don’t get bent out of shape over them an illicit opinions that would cause people to think I somehow weaseled my way onto Kevin Feige’s bankroll. But, Marvel, that giant red monstrosity with eyes on world domination not unlike the Soviet Union, nailed it out of the park with their last two films and that trend continues with Black Panther.
Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the king of the nation of Wakanda. He’s but one in a long line of kings to take the mantle of Black Panther and serve as both king and protector of the isolationist nation. However, he finds his kingdom in jeopardy when an outsider known as Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) challenges his claim to the throne with plans that would cause chaos across the world.
First thing’s first: Black Panther may be the focus of the movie, but the stars are the supporting characters. That’s no disrespect whatsoever to Boseman’s performance. He was great, a perfect fit for the role. But the supporting cast, especially Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri (played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright) absolutely steal the show. Marvel has been in the crosshairs for a while for not giving a bigger focus on strong female characters. All three of these women prove that they not only have the chops to be smart, strong, and intelligent badasses but also that Marvel is entirely capable of bringing these characters out and it is more than welcome in my book.
Nakia gives us a level-headed emotional guide, Okoye is an unstoppable warrior who kicks more ass than anyone in the movie, and Shuri was an absolute charismatic joy, was smart, and had all of the best one-liners. These three women take what would’ve been a pretty good movie and take it to the next level and beyond.
My biggest concern going into this was whether Michael B. Jordan’s character, Killmonger, would be any good. He’s a great actor, but truthfully, the marketing didn’t give me much hope for the character. Fortunately, Jordan takes the role and runs with it. Another knock toward Marvel have been the relatively less interesting villains. Personally, I think Killmonger is one of the best villains besides Loki. Sure, he’s supposed to be the bad guy and his plan for the future is diabolical, but it makes sense…if that makes sense. You don’t end up rooting for him by any stretch but his motivation and desires are totally understandable (despite being a bit psychotic) when you look at what truly drives him.
Another aspect that worked very well were the societal and political focuses. For those of you whose heads are about to explode, chill out. It’s not terribly overt, but it does raise several questions that don’t give a clear answer. Parallels can obviously be drawn to American foreign policy and the history of racial struggle throughout the world. Wakanda is given as perfect quasi-utopian blank slate for the audience to be presented these moral conundrums to derive their own answers rather than pointing toward a real world country and heaping praise or damnation.
If I have to complain about anything, I guess it can be about Black Panther himself. Again, not Boseman because he was great in the role, but the character. I’m not sure what it is but he seems outshone by most of the other characters when he’s on screen. Maybe that’s just a testament to their performances, but I do find it a bit troubling when I’m focusing more on them than the main attraction.
Without getting too deep, there’s about 20 minutes of the film where he’s not present. That’s when we get a bigger focus on the side characters and they’re thrust into the role of saving the day rather than the hero himself and I found myself enjoying that more than most of the times Panther is taking the reigns.
Also, a majority of the first 25 minutes felt a little slow, but that’s a minuscule gripe as was my above complaint about our hero. But no film is perfect and I’d be doing a disservice to not at least mention it.
I could go on praising the performances, the flashy action, great soundtrack, beautiful costumes and set pieces (both real and CGI) but instead I’ll say this: Black Panther was cool. That may not sound like high praise but it is. It’s the cool movie in Marvel’s repertoire. It’s the movie that the rest of the MCU will want to try and emulate but it can’t and shouldn’t.
Black Panther has been held as a beacon for those who feel underrepresented. It’s a special movie and it feels that way. Every scene and I mean EVERY scene feels like it was handled with care. Ryan Coogler knew how important this was for not only the MCU but to the countless people out there wanting this to succeed and you can feel that dedication and care in every scene and in every performance. Some may scoff at the idea of a superhero movie holding such high importance, but it does. Not only that, but it took the lofty expectations and exceeded them and then some.
I’ve said before that the MCU was good but not great, but Black Panther doesn’t fit that mold. It wasn’t good or great or better than great. It was Black. Fucking. Panther. And that’s what puts it above the rest.
Score: 9 out of 10
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures