“Black Panther” Review: All Hail the King
So many superhero films follow the same generic pattern and begin to feel too much alike to be anything special. Black Panther is the exact opposite in almost every way. While we still have the good versus evil and the superhero with extraordinary powers, we are given it in a much more vibrant and majestic way than ever before. The world that Ryan Coogler has created far surpasses anything we’ve seen in a superhero film before and will be hard-pressed to see again. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has taken the place of his recently deceased father as king of Wakanda, a secluded country in Africa. With many challenges ahead of him, he faces a particularly unique one from a past he didn’t know and a mistake he didn’t make. Through the trials and tribulations of his rise to power, we are presented with a glorious view of the world of Wakanda, Black Panther, and the people and culture which has shaped him.
The characters in Black Panther are multi-faceted and well-rounded to enrich the story further. With T’Challa, we see him struggle not only with his personal identity but also the identity of and the place that his nation will take in the world. The way in which women are presented in Black Panther is eons beyond what we’ve seen from other superhero films. Despite a strong female character finally rising in the role of Wonder Woman, up until this, the women in superhero films, for the most part, are not such essential pieces of the puzzle. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his friend and possible lover is driven and serves a purpose more than the love interest. She is a determined and strong woman who serves her country with honor.
Alongside Nakia, we have T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), the primary creator of tech in Wakanda. FINALLY, we have a female at the front of the science and technology, without being oversexualized or being the subject of a man’s desire. She is the brains of the operation. Danai Gurira as Okoye is an unstoppable force. Her strength and power demand attention whenever she is on screen. She is a warrior and a protector and should be feared. She is the embodiment of female power and damn, do I love watching her on screen. Okoye is fierce and unapologetically fervent in her protection of Wakanda. What has to be noted that makes Black Panther and its presentation of female characters far superior to any that have come before it is the strength and respect that it gives the female characters. They are not lessened by him (T’Challa) nor he by them, but instead, work in a symbiotic relationship to empower all. It is a thing of pure beauty and magic.
Ryan Coogler couldn’t have assembled a better cast for this film. Chadwick Boseman was born for this role. He embodies everything that is the Black Panther. His elegance and his dignified manner translate flawlessly on screen as the royalty he portrays. He is the epitome of grace and power and gives his best performance to date. The most essential and resonating messages come from Chadwick not when he is dressed as Black Panther but rather when he is just T’Challa, a man finding his real self and coming to terms with his past to be able to move toward a brighter future. The messages that the film sends are ones that cannot be ignored; facing the demons of the past to be able to move forward, while still respecting one’s history and using its resources to help others. Michael B. Jordan is phenomenal as Erik Killmonger. He plays the duality of his character very well. He is both intense and vulnerable and leaves the audience stunned and a little self-reflective. I can’t say much more about his character so that I don’t spoil anything. Each character, particularly Erik and T’Challa, bounces well off of and works well with each other to create something truly spectacular. The chemistry between the characters is natural and has a beautiful balance to it, further adding to the all-engrossing film.
Wakanda itself could be a character in this film. There is no detail untouched or glossed over. The first views we get of Wakanda are absolutely breathtaking. From the fields of Wakanda’s countryside to the mountains with pools of water falling off the cliff to the advanced technological marvel that is Shuri’s lab, it is awe-inspiring. The production design by Hannah Beachler is impossibly beautiful. This impossibly rich environment is only enhanced by the meticulously majestic costume design by Ruth E. Carter. Every single scene and article of clothing is a work of art. The enchanting tapestry of colors used in the film is stunning and elevates the characters even more. You can see the level of detail and work that went into each piece, having their inspirations rooted deep in African tradition and customs. When you don’t think the film could get any better, the music is there to sweep you off your feet. I heard Ludwig Göransson discuss his method for creating the music back at San Diego Comic-Con, but I never knew how fantastic it would become and how much it would bring the world and the culture of Wakanda to life.
While many of the action scenes are some of the best and most riveting in recent memory, there are a few glitches and here and there that make the special effects seem a little less than perfect. The CGI gets a bit heavy at points, slightly distracting from the film. Despite these few little hiccups, the film succeeds far more than it missteps. The two hour and fourteen-minute run-time may seem a bit daunting, but in reality, you don’t feel the length of the film.
When examining Black Panther you can’t help but appreciate the magic of each little piece of the puzzle, but when woven together form something that is beyond compare. Music, story, characters, set and costume design, all play an integral part in this film. While watching Black Panther, you know you’re watching a cosmic shift in comic book storytelling. We’ve never seen anything so vibrant and so different from the monotony of superhero films. We are entirely transported and transformed after seeing Black Panther. Ryan Coogler takes you on a journey that couldn’t even imagine possible. Its the film you didn’t know you were missing but once you’ve seen it, can’t imagine being without.