As Marvel begins to dig deeper into their vault of heroes to make new films, the major players such as Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Thor are taking a step back so that lesser known heroes such as Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and Captain Marvel can take the spotlight. Marvel did the exact same thing in 2008 with Iron Man. Although comic fans knew him, Tony Stark wasn’t necessarily a huge character outside of the printed page. Marvel gambled on the character but did so with a great story that set up the Marvel Cinematic Universe and now you can’t throw a rock without hitting some type of merchandise featuring Iron Man front and center.
In Walks The Black Panther
Marvel is doing the same thing with Black Panther. This time, however, they are doing it to keep an established franchise fresh and to usher in the next phase of the MCU, a phase that won’t feature tried and true heroes like Captain America and Iron Man. This phase will need a stand out hero, one that will keep the franchise alive and to explore new tales, and Black Panther is a perfect fit for this role.
Let’s be completely honest here. I’m betting that the bulk of the MCU viewing audience was completely unaware that a character named T’Challa even existed before Captain America: Civil War was released. While comic book reading fans of Black Panther have known about the him since his arrival in the mid 1960’s, most moviegoers are only learning of him now, just as most of them only recently discovered characters such as Star Lord, Winter Soldier, Yellow Jacket, and Groot.
Introduced in Captain America: Civil War, we were only given a taste of Black Panther. His solo film was given to us in order to add depth to his character. It did that, but not without its problems.
Spoiler Free Review
Black Panther is an epic film, make no mistake. Quite possibly the most heavily researched film in all of the MCU, it embraced T’Challa’s African homeland and celebrated the culture of the continent through costume, dance, cinematography, and music. This attention to detail shines throughout the movie and lifts it high above its somewhat standard MCU plot.
The film takes place primarily in Wakanda, with a couple of visits to Oakland, CA and Busan, South Korea. In the movie, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has become king of Wakanda following his father’s death in Civil War and all of the Wakandan tribes accept him as their king with the exception of one, the Jabari tribe, who live in the mountains apart from the rest of the tribes. Their leader, the heavily underused M’Baku (Winston Duke), challenges T’Challa to ritual combat for the crown and fails.
Meanwhile, a young man named Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) teams up with Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to steal a Wakandan artifact from a museum. When the Wakandans hear of this, the tribal leaders ask their newly crowned king to capture Klaue and bring him to justice (He had been a thorn in the side of the Wakandans for a long time, but I’m not going to give up too much information in this part of the review).
What follows is one of the greatest action sequences in the film. After a CIA sting goes sideways in a Busan casino, Black Panther, his tribal general named Okoye (the amazing Danai Gurira), and his former lover and spy, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), chase after Klaue through the streets of Busan. They manage to catch him and meet up with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Klaue manages to escape with help from Erik Stevens, injuring Ross during the escape. This forces T’Challa to bring Ross back to Wakanda to heal him, threatening to reveal the secrets of Wakanda (including Vibranium), which is actually the most technologically advanced country on the planet.
Ultimately it is revealed that Erik Stevens is T’Challa’s cousin, whose real name is N’Jadaka, and he goes by the name Killmonger, a moniker given to him during his time as a black ops soldier. He believes that Wakanda has abandoned the people of Africa and all people of African descent outside of their hidden country, idly sitting by and allowing them to become the poor and downtrodden of the world. He wants to take Wakanda’s technology and give it to those people so that they can overthrow the ruling classes in every country and thus, take over the world. T’Challa believes that this will bring only more pain and war to the world, and plans to stop N’Jadaka.
T’Challa is defeated by N’Jadaka in ritual combat, and N’Jadaka sets out to deliver weapons throughout the world. Luckily, T’Challa is saved by the Jabari tribe and he leads a great battle against N’Jadaka. Does he succeed? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Overall, this film is excellent. As stated before, Africa’s many unique cultures are celebrated through the film’s cinematography, costuming, dancing, and music. This was definitely a labor of love for director Ryan Coogler, as you could see that he spent a ton of time making sure that the film flowed at an excellent pace as an action yarn but still managed to highlight Africa at every turn.
All of the cast did an excellent job in the film. Danai Gurira stood out as Okoye, as did Winston Duke as M’Baku. Daniel Kaluuya was solid as W’Kabi, but he didn’t have a very large role in the film. Screen legends Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker shined as Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother, and Zuri, the Wakandan spiritual leader responsible for tending to the heart-shaped herb that gives Black Panther his powers.
The biggest standout in the film was Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s youthful sister who oversees all of the technological research and development for Wakanda. Wright energized every scene she was in whether it was a comedic shot or a serious part of the film. She provided humor in an otherwise very serious film.
As excellent as the film was as a whole, it still suffered some of the same weaknesses that seem to be standard for Marvel films. As cool as Erik Killmonger looked in the film, he just didn’t impress me at all. Michael B. Jordan didn’t come across as a seasoned war veteran hellbent on taking over the world. Instead, he was more of street punk who just happened to end up in Wakanda and managed to take over the place. The motivation for his actions was definitely there, perhaps more so than any other villain in the MCU excepting Vulture, but Jordan just seemed a little flat in his delivery.
Another shortcoming of the film is that despite the potential for an epic tale, it just seemed like another generic adventure for a hero. Bad guy shows up, takes over, threatens everyone, has to fight the hero. Nothing really stood out from all of the rest of Marvel’s superhero films.
The musical score was brilliant. No, check that, beyond brilliant. Ludwig Goransson went above and beyond in order to capture the rich sounds of Africa and expertly weaved them into his score. I could write an entire post on his work alone, but just know that it is awesome.
Black Panther has set the tone for the future of the MCU. Gone is the silliness of Thor: Ragnarok and the forced humor of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Seriousness has returned and an atmosphere of real danger has been created with this film. T’Challa has the MCU squarely on his shoulders, and I’m sure that he will carry it successfully.
Hail to the king.
Spoilers Below!!! You’ve reached the end of the Spoiler Free Review.
I really loved Black Panther. Despite the weakness of Michael B. Jordan’s character, there were some excellent moments that stood out for me in this film. I especially enjoyed the sequence that took place in Oakland, where we saw N’Jobu’s deception and how he was outed. That was a very powerful moment in the film. As I stated already, Killmonger’s motive was clear and absolutely grounded in truth. He had real motivation, but I just didn’t believe Jordan’s delivery. Sterling K. Brown (N’Jobu) was much more believable. I understood why he was doing what he was doing, and actually sided with him a bit.
I loved how Coogler shot the “rescue” sequence early in the film where T’Challa and Okoye retrieve Nakia. It reminded me of many of the old African Safari themed films where predators were viewed in the glimpses of headlights and flashlights. The scene where T’Challa is viewed in the trees with flashlights was epic!
I also loved the technology of the Black Panther costume and of Wakanda as a whole. I saw nods to the otherworldly tech of the Sovereigns in GotG, Vol. 2, as well as hints at Iron Man’s ability to absorb and redirect energy back at his opponent (which he discovered by accident in Avengers and Shuri apparently developed in Black Panther).
One thing that I disliked about the film was how Winston Duke’s M’Baku was severely underused. He was an excellent traditionalist foil to T’Challa’s tech-loving people. For those unfamiliar, M’Baku is also known as Man-Ape in the comics. He’s one of Black Panther’s enemies, and I actually hope that he gets a bigger push in later Black Panther films or at least in Avengers: Infinity War.
I was also a bit miffed at how easily Klaue was defeated by Killmonger. I knew that sooner or later he would double-cross Klaue, but I felt like the weaker of the two villains came out on top. Had Killmonger been more imposing, Klaue’s death wouldn’t have been such a bummer.
Culturally, this is a very important film. Yes, there have been black superheroes represented in their own films before like Blade (which I highly recommend and love), but none have been literal kings. Sure, Luke Cage gave us a hero to believe in, but he was still situated on the streets in an urban world where crime ruled. With Black Panther, we see a country full of Africans living in peace, advanced technologically, and full of characters that are intelligent and respectful of their traditions but always looking forward.
So yes, there were a couple of problems with this film but it opened eyes to one of Marvel’s best kept secrets and the wonderful world in which he lives as king and protector.
Thanks for reading. Let me know how you feel about the film in the comments section.