My Review of "Black Panther"
The Marvel Cinematic Universe reminds me of the Happy Meal Toys that McDonalds used to put out where you could just have one in the set and could play with it just fine on its own, but if you bought all eight, they could be linked together to create one giant toy. That’s not to trivialize what these movies are. Of course, they have the spectacle and appeal of any major blockbuster, but as we have seen with other franchises, when they don’t deliver quality work, they fall flat and fade away. Sometimes their larger story is even left unfinished. We shouldn’t see that with Marvel as long as they keep evolving and producing quality work. Bringing up the rear of Marvel’s Phase Three Happy Meal Chain is Black Panther, a film that had a lot more than most to prove in the franchise and one that delivered in a very genuine and unpredictable way.
After the death of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), as seen during the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), dutiful son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to Wakanda to assume the throne and the role of protector of his country as the Black Panther. With the help of his ex and super spy, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), loyal general, Okoye (Danai Guiria), and his super genius inventor sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa leads a hunt for Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), the man who extracted their precious and dangerous vibranium from their country and sold it on the black market. During their mission, they catch the eye of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an American criminal with mysterious ties to T’Challa who seeks to overtake him as the ruler of Wakanda.
The strongest element of this film that makes it unique from the other Marvel films is its characters and their motivations. Many of the heroes in The Avengers are flawed in some way. They are either making up for past sins or following orders as part of their day job. T’Challa does not fall into either of these categories. He has a strong moral foundation that is based on his safe and loving surroundings. He has an obligation to protect his country and his family’s legacy, but what if that legacy is not what it seemed? What if everything he knows to be good and right is challenged by the unearthing of secrets and the realization that his father may have made some terrible mistakes in the past and that he now has to pay for those mistakes? What does a good man with immense physical, material, and political power do with this knowledge? It was interesting to see a character who is not so much flawed as he is at a crossroads in terms of following his moral compass.
Every character in this film knows their place in the world, or at least where they want to be. Nakia wants to use Wakanda’s resources to do good in the world. Okoye wants to preserve the legacy of the throne. Shuri wants to take a more active role in protecting Wakanda. T’Challa wants to protect his people, and they all meet these goals without changing who they are or what they believe. A character arc doesn’t have to be dramatic or fast to be effective. You can see subtle changes and characters banding together to create their team. This team could be of great use in future films, and that seems to be the intention.
This film had a lot of expectations to meet, and the pressure to deliver could have forced the filmmakers to create a politically-driven, predictable story to tick off points for relevancy. Instead, it presents its own world of characters rooted in tradition but still relatable to all audience members with heroes to look up to, loyal and caring but also fierce and protective. Nothing feels forced, predictable, or preachy. It goes down smooth, mainly because the characters are so well-drawn and performed.
The trailers for this film were very guarded in what was shown. In fact, the lack of information in the trailers almost made me decide not to go and see this film in the theater. Without knowing what the story was really about or where it would take place, I didn’t know if it would be worth it to see in theaters. As much of a Marvel fan that I am, I don’t feel the need to see each movie in the theater. However, I’m glad that I did.
I was very impressed with the settings. While some are obviously CGI, they have very interesting designs, all based in this ancient yet advanced technology that allows Wakanda to stay under the radar while secretly being one of the most technologically advanced places in the world. Its secretive nature along with its cliffs and water is very similar to Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira only set 2000 years in the future. At the same time, the inhabitants are rooted in their traditions from their clothes and jewelry to their rituals. This balance of nature and technology creates a hybrid land of comfort and tradition. They also have knowledge of the outside world which gives them inspiration and keeps them relatable.
The film has a very expansive color palate from the natural greens and browns of the terrain to T’Challa’s high tech black and purple suits and to Shuri’s sterile, silver lab. One minute, you feel like you are in a scene from The Lion King, and the next it feels like a futuristic sci-fi movie, though the settings do not clash or seem hokey.
The action in this film varies from hand-to-hand combat, to classic car chases to high-tech gadget wars. I would have liked to have seen more action with T’Challa in his Black Panther suit, but being the first headlining film for the character, it is always important to see the man behind the mask as much as possible in order for the audience to connect with the character. In Civil War, T’Challa was simply a man out for revenge, part of a very large cast of heroes. In this film, he is the only “super” hero, having ingested the powers of the Black Panther from a herb that grows in his native land. It is clear that he is well-trained and knows how to handle himself. During his coronation, his crown is threatened by a member of the mountain tribe that results in a ritual battle in which T’Challa must fight without his suit or powers. It is always admirable to see a hero fight without his toys and costumes, but I’m hoping that future appearances will keep him in the suit longer.
More Black Panther
Because there are so many characters, the story tends to get away from T’Challa at the center of it all. He sometimes falls into the backdrop which allows other characters to shine, but at the same time, takes away from him as the story’s focus. Sometimes he even disappears for several scenes. There is no doubt that he is an admirable king and a worthy hero, but because of this, he can be outshined by some of the more flashy characters. We see bits of humor and moments where he starts to lose faith in his morality, but ultimately, he doesn’t budge, and this can be difficult to keep interesting, but he is interesting in what we have seen already, and a hero doesn’t always have to be flawed or humorous to stay intriguing.
The main reason why he tends to blend into the background is to explain a sometimes complicated plot. There is a very important back story that reveals itself in pieces throughout the first two acts which draws the audience away from T’Challa’s story. That, along with Klaue’s shenanigans, can make certain elements, while entertaining, difficult to follow on first viewing. I have to give credit to Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross for helping to provide exposition without stealing scenes or causing the audience to yawn when he’s on screen. Everyone is given something to do in this story, and he is no exception. However, the next film should dial up on the T’Challa and dial down on the intricate side plots.
What did you think of "Black Panther"?
This movie surpassed my expectations in terms of an emotional story and the strong expansion of a Marvel character that caught my eye in a previous film. I love the side characters, the setting, the suit, and the admirable but human man underneath it. They even managed to pull off a great villain with interesting motivations of his own and introduce a new world that fits into the MCU yet feels very comfortable and rooted in its own reality. Every link in the chain leading up to the end of this universe is continually surprising in the way that it builds on the world while becoming its own unique piece of the puzzle. That alone is a good lesson to teach in that just because you excel at a project, doesn’t mean you stop trying to invent something new.