Most superhero films nowadays have a formula that is predictable and without much originality. In Marvel’s case, they’ve perfected that formula and are not shy in sticking to it. While Black Panther sometimes employs the same beats we’ve seen before, the majority of this film is unique and, honestly, its charm lies in the fact that it isn’t like other Marvel movies. It’s not only unique because of a beautiful cast full of actors that can lead films on their own, it’s also the racial topics the film touches on and their impacts on society.
Black Panther takes place after the events of Civil War, where we first got our taste of actor Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Boseman was a perfect fit then, and it’s justified yet again. This time, though, we see his transition to king of Wakanda after his father, T’Chaka (John Kani), died during an explosion at an United Nations meeting. Director/writer Ryan Coogler wastes no time in catching the audience up to speed with montages, flashbacks and odes to previous events with exposition through dialogue. It isn’t a bad thing, however, because it’s done so in a manner that doesn’t drag along conversations. The antagonists — Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) — are looking to score Vibranium, which is an element found in the masses in Wakanda. They use it for their transportation system, weapons, armor and to sustain life. It’s up to T’Challa and the rest of Wakanda to prevent those who mean harm from getting their hands on such a powerful element.
Coogler landed on my radar with Creed, a powerful sports film that ranks among the best I’ve seen in the genre. His ability to direct actor Michael B. Jordan and capture Philadelphia in a very real, barebones lens were the biggest takeaways for me. And he brought over that wonderful ability in Black Panther, directing his largest and best cast to-date (to name a few: Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett). The writing caters to each actor’s strengths and it allows dialogue to flow. The storytelling is elite by Marvel’s standards and Coogler brings a fresh approach to superhero films in general. I mean, are there other superhero films that tackle such large topics, such as race, oppresion and world relations?
It’s no secret that this film also carries social commentary. The representation is important and a huge reason why there has been so much hype. This is the first multi-million dollar production led by a black cast that I can think of with a backing like Marvel’s. This film is true to its African roots and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, either. A character said he’d rather get thrown into the ocean and die than live in bondage. That’s powerful, as is so much of Black Panther. Coogler handles the sensitive material delicately and with confidence, not holding back any punches (white people are labeled as colonizers by those who live in Wakanda, for instance). This, along with some unexpected “choices” by characters, breathes life into what is usually a predictable Marvel formula.
The acting is solid across the board, as well. Boseman is stoic and emotional when moments call for it, Lupita Nyong’o graces the screen with beauty and the ability to kick butt, Danai Gurira makes you forget that she’s a star on the failing Walking Dead and Andy Serkis — who’s usually a CG character — isn’t hiding behind a green screen and makes you believe he’s a maniac. But two actors stood out a bit more than the others: Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, has chemistry with Boseman that ranges from heartfelt, playful and relatable. When she shines her middle finger at her brother, there’s a bond there that’s believable and made me smile. The second stand-out is Jordan, who swears in conversation, doesn’t speak with an African accent and is the opposite of his enemies in every way.
That said, the way Black Panther handles Killmonger makes him the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He gives you reason to sympathize for him and his cause, and provides a pivot point for the plot. His role has layers and isn’t shallow, unlike previous MCU villains. I also appreciated that he’s a loose cannon on the surface but can clean up his act when duty calls. And don’t worry: there’s enough time of Serkis on-screen that made me write down, “Andy is really good.” He’s a maniac, and he’s not shy in letting you know it.
Although, Black Panther isn’t without a couple blemishes. The jokes sometimes fall flat in moments and, while I appreciate Coogler appealing to millennials, the heavy-handed attempts were distracting at times. Moments like Klaue pausing a tense conversation to talk about his SoundCloud mixtape and when Shuri points to her brother’s shoes and says, “What are those?!” Listen, it’s not horrible, but it does briefly take you out of the moment. The sometimes misplaced humor isn’t the worst offense, however.
It’s tough to find the exact amount for the production budget, but Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige told Collider:
I hope you can tell from watching the movie, but the resources devoted to this movie are equal to and in fact surpass our last couple of movies.
So someone explain to me how the CG looked as bad as it did during certain action set pieces and even in calmer moments (atop the mountain for challenges for the throne, i.e.). When Boseman jumps from a poker table to the second story of the casino, for instance, there’s an incredibly noticeable jump from stuntperson to CG Boseman. This probably came as a result of rushing post-production to fit the MCU’s schedule. That’s the cost of planning movies out so far in advance, I guess, but scenes like this were too rough around the edges.
But Black Panther‘s storytelling and characters are good enough to erase minor drawbacks from your memory by the end of this two-hour journey. This is a film that deserves the praise it is receiving, taking a topic barely touched upon by Hollywood and puts it in the forefront. Unpacking this film is tough to summarize in only 1,000 words, believe me. Topics like the ones Coogler shines a light on are important, and that’s just what Black Panther is:
I was treated to a press screening of Black Panther thanks to Sly Fox and Disney. ❤
Black Panther is rated PG-13, runs two hours and 14 minutes and claws its way into theaters on Feb. 16, 2018.