Black Panther : the review
So we’re all in agreement that Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) were the best things to come out of Captain America: Civil War, right? Yes? Excellent.
Black Panther is a movie that is as much about its titular hero as it is showing off the culture and people of its fictional paradise, Wakanda, and all the sci-fi glory of one of comic books’ most famous MacGuffins/very important resources, vibranium. Panther seeks to establish itself as more than your typical MCU blockbuster movie, however. A character drama mixed with a geopolitical James Bond/Tom Clancy story, Panther brings a different flavor to the MCU with a different perspective, resulting in a very welcome breath of fresh air.
The movie takes place not long after Civil War, with T’Challa returning home to be officially coronated as King of Wakanda. The opening narration by T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka (John Kani, with a younger version played by Kani’s son, Attandwa), establishes that Wakanda’s precious metal, vibranium, came from a meteor that landed centuries ago in present-day Wakanda, to which five tribes found and swore to defend, establishing a royal bloodline that T’Challa himself is a part of.
After “resolving” a conflict to his rule with the “tough guys who believe in ancient traditions above all else” tribe, led by M’Baku (Winston Duke), T’Challa sets out to recover some of his nation’s precious lost vibranium by hunting down Wakanda’s Most Wanted, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), the South African arms dealer who get his arm ripped off in Age of Ultron. With the help of his trusted compatriots, T’Challa stumbles upon a bigger international conspiracy. Hidden within this is a different side to the paradise of Wakanda, as T’Challa grapples with the discovery that his family history and Wakanda’s ways may not be entirely pure and noble like he had grown up to believe.
The movie’s strength is in its drama believe it or not. Director Ryan Coogler having previously established his flair for character drama in Fruitvale Station (I have still not seen Creed because as of this review, I still have yet to see the last Rocky movie before it, Rocky Balboa), brings his talents to the MCU with a tour-de-force of Wakanda’s culture via the movie’s supporting cast. General Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Wakandan spec ops/Royal Guard, and even goes on missions outside Wakanda of vital importance to the national security. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) plays a War Dog, an undercover operative infiltrating outside hostile forces and T’Challa’s onetime lover. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), is the resident science genius, finding new and innovative uses for vibranium and seeking to advance Wakandan society into the future. Shuri’s laboratory is quite the technical feat. Meanwhile, their mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is a firm, but fair authority figure and deeply concerned with the safety of her offspring, providing guidance to them.
The one who steals the movie, even from Boseman’s amazing performance, is Michael B Jordan’s main villain, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. I must confess, I was not expecting this. How do you take seriously a character who’s named “Killmonger”? Coogler and Jordan found a way, however, and Killmonger continues the trend started last year of the MCU finally making engaging villains! Without wishing to spoil, Killmonger’s backstory is actually pretty sad and it makes you sympathize with him to a degree, making him a more tragic villain.
I do wish we had spent more time exploring Wakanda however. It kind of feels a bit rushed for the sake of getting to the plot. Aside from overhead shots and farms, we only see one street as far as an urbanized environment and how daily Wakandans go about their lives with the vibrant technology and uninterrupted centuries-long culture. Also, I’m not sure why Killmonger felt his grand plan needed to have some kind of detour for T’Challa to head into South Korea. It involves Klaue, but that detour it’s kind of unnecessary for the overall plot. The entire 30-40 minutes spent there didn’t really need to happen for his plan to succeed and just kind of feels like a distraction from the more interesting Wakandan society. Then again, I suppose you don’t earn the nickname “Killmonger” for strategic genius.
If there are any true negatives with this movie, it’s with the action and CGI. The CGI looks downright terrible at times. Almost like CGI from decades ago, sticking out like a sore thumb amidst everything the set pieces and character drama. Who exactly looked at these rendered shots and thought this was passable? The action is probably the weakest part of the movie. This is something that has long been a detriment to the MCU, but I cannot be the only one sick of the “million cuts per second” fight scenes, can I? The car chase in South Korea does contain some cool moments, and the two ritual combat scenes are genuinely nail-biting, the rest are beset by jarring CGI and “million cuts a second” fight scenes that make is difficult to see what is happening and are just not as exciting as the exploration of Wakanda and its characters. While I hesitate to blame Coogler for these issues, as they can be found in most of the MCU’s library, he’s still the director so that means he had to have some hand in it.
I do not know anyone who considers any of the MCU movies on their own to be a masterpiece, but as far being a solid, entertaining, engaging work of blockbuster cinema, Black Panther establishes itself as one of the most intriguing corners of the MCU. While not quite breaking through the ceiling to reach the greatness of The Dark Knight or Logan, Black Panther establishes itself as a top-tier MCU movie, standing out on its own as more than a two-hour advertisement for other two-hour advertisements for the Avengers movies, up with Iron Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies.