“Black Panther”- Movie Review
Contrary to popular belief, Black Panther is not the first black superhero movie. When you really look into it, you’ll see that there have been plenty of black superheroes who’ve graced the silver screen: Wesley Snipes as Blade, Shaquille O’Neal as Steel, Will Smith as Hancock, Halle Berry’s Catwoman, Michael Jai White as Spawn, Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, just to name a few. Say what you will about the quality of the films they’re in, but its important that we recognize their existence within the genre. Proper POC representation in cinema has been a hot-button issue for a very long time, and we’ve seen sprinkles of it here and there throughout the years. What’s special about Black Panther, the reason it’s getting so much love, is because rather than take another baby step it takes a giant leap.
Since the events of Captain America: Civil War, the African warrior/royal T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has returned to his native kingdom of Wakanda to take over the mantle as king. But doing so isn’t so simple. Still reeling from his father’s death, the young heir is unsure whether he is ready to take on the responsibility and be as good and honorable a ruler as his predecessors. Things get even more complicated when a dirty little secret from the past comes to light in the form of Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who vows to steal the throne from under T’Challa’s feet, and the money-hungry Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Now it’s up to T’Challa and his allies to set things straight before an all-war war tears Wakanda apart.
Black Panther is everything I hoped it would be. Its fun, it’s cool, it’s beautiful, it’s engaging, and it has one hell of a powerful story. Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) does a fantastic job at bringing the world of Black Panther to life. Good representation is not just about putting in diversity. It’s also a matter how well that diversity is portrayed. It’s about how authentically human the characters feel and how strong the story weaved around them is. What I love about this film is the beautiful picture Coogler paints of Wakanda. It would’ve been so easy (and lazy) to make the kingdom look just like every other high-tech futuristic utopia you’ve seen before. But Wakanda is uniquely African. Coogler makes sure every single frame is dripping with traditional African aesthetic. Everything from the set design to the percussion-heavy score and to the drool-inducingly gorgeous costumes (if designer Ruth E. Carter isn’t at least nominated for an award I’ll have lost faith in humanity) feels like a love letter to African culture.
So the vision is incredibly realized, but the perspective that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole incorporates into the story is equally impressive. The narrative isn’t just about a prince becoming king and all the bad guys he has to beat up in the process. It’s also about recognizing the sins of the past and taking it upon oneself to make sure wrongs are not repeated. Its provocative personality comes through without feeling heavy-handed or unnecessarily political. The film doesn’t hesitate to highlight issues concerning immigration, isolationism, slavery, racial vengeance, gang violence, and differences in the black experience among the diaspora.
The poignancy of these issues reflect off the characters, which are marvelously written and phenomenally portrayed by talented actors. Chadwick Boseman is great yet again as the Black Panther, and Letitia Wright, who portrays T’Challa’s genius sister, Shuri, is enjoyably sassy and humorous. I absolutely loved her. All the women in this movie- Lupita Nyong-O, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett- are great as strong and interesting leading ladies. What stands out the most, however, are the villains. Andy Serkis is a lot of fun as this kooky, more comedic villain, but Michael B. Jordan gives a maliciously charismatic performance as Killmonger. The thing I love about his character is that he and T’Challa are two sides of a similar coin. Both want Wakanda to flourish, though one wants to achieve this through peace and diplomacy, while the other wants to take the violent route. You recognize who’s in the right and who’s definitely in the wrong, and yet it’s easy to understand where both are coming from. It adds another layer of conflict that I didn’t expect.
With all that said, it’s not a flawless movie. Some of the CGI work is very noticeable- especially when it’s used to replace the actors during certain action scenes- and the fight sequences, while filmed well, didn’t have as much of a punch as I wanted them to. It didn’t ruin the experience for me. It just could’ve been done better. I honestly could write a whole dissertation about Black Panther, but I don’t have the time or the patience to do so. The film is fantastic. It may be a part of the Marvel formula, but it feels one-hundred percent new. When I walked out after the end credits, I saw a group of African-American men and women dressed in colorful African-patterned dresses and suits. One of the guys walked over to the big six-foot poster and had his picture taken next to it. It just goes to show how important this film was and still is to a lot of people. To see a mainstream blockbuster with a black majority cast and a positive portrayal of African culture have so much success is truly awe-inspiring. So my final verdict is to go see the movie. See it once, see it twice, see it six times, I don’t care. Just give it the attention it deserves.
Cosmic Grade- 4.5/5 Stars