Black Panther Review: A MARVELous Masterpiece
In my humble opinion, 2017 was not a good year for Marvel Studios. I was extremely disappointed with Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and Thor: Ragnarok while fun and entertaining wasn’t all that memorable. Also in 2017 was Spider-Man: Homecoming which was released by Sony but made with the help of Marvel Studios. Spider-Man: Homecoming wasn’t just massively disappointing but my least favorite superhero film of 2017. Needless to say, I was craving something great from Marvel Studios and as you can probably tell from my headline, Black Panther is that much-needed breath of fresh air.
Black Panther picks up shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has returned home to Wakanda after the death of his father and begins to settle into his new life as king while continuing to learn about his past. After he discovers that Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is in search of vibranium, a powerful metal with energy manipulating qualities, T’Challa is forced to spring back into action. With the help of the Dora Milaje, a group of female warriors who serve as Black Panther’s bodyguards, T’Challa, Okoye, Nakia, Ayo, and Shuri must work together in order to stop Ulysses and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) from putting the world in jeopardy.
It is incredibly rare nowadays for a superhero film to feel like a unique experience but Black Panther is unlike any other superhero film to date. While I know that the phrase “best Marvel film yet” is thrown around far too often, I do believe that Black Panther is the best Marvel film to date for many reasons but primarily because it doesn’t feel like a superhero film but instead a political action film with superhero elements. Black Panther is an intelligent comic book film and one that expects more from the viewer than any other comic book film to date. There are subtitles used throughout and the dialogue isn’t dumbed down where every line is quotable. The words that come out of the characters mouths are profound and thought-provoking, therefore, requiring the viewer to think while watching a big budget spectacle instead of turning it off for some mindless entertainment.
To say that Black Panther is the most mature Marvel film to date would be an understatement. While Andy Serkis sure looks like he is having the time of his life playing Ulysses Klaue, the vast majority of the characters in Black Panther are far more serious than the ones found in any of the previous Marvel films. I have become so tired and bored of watching Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk bicker back and forth. It is nice to finally see that a Marvel film where the main characters act like mature adults instead of children on a playground. I credit that not only to all the actors but to Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole for writing a screenplay that doesn’t follow the same old formula of most of the films in the MCU.
The female characters in Black Panther are without question the highlight of the film. Yes, Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman deliver two incredible performances as well but it is the females who take center stage in this story. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past five years, you have probably heard the name Lupita Nyong’o mentioned more than a few times. Nyong’o has had several great roles since her breakout role in 12 Years a Slave back in 2013, but its great to see her in a big budget film where she plays a meaty supporting role instead of a small side character. Nakia is one of the first women of Wakanda introduced in the film and she is one with brains and heart. While she is teased to be T’Challa’s love interest, the film doesn’t spend much time trying to build their relationship but instead focuses on defining Nakia as a person rather than a silly love interest.
Danai Gurira as Okoye, Letitia Wright as Shuri, and Florence Kasumba as Ayo all share most of their screen-time together and they make one hell of a threesome. These three women kick some serious ass and just like Nakia are shown as individuals rather than secondary characters who are just thrown into the story to help Black Panther to move the story forward. Gurira has some of the best action scenes in the film especially a certain car chase sequence that takes place about an hour into the film. She kills it. Wright’s role of Shuri is very similar to the character of Q in the James Bond films. She has the brains but isn’t afraid to spring into action if the situation requires it. Kasumba as Ayo doesn’t have as big of a role as Gurira or Wright but she still gets ample screen-time and it was great watching her fight and take charge whenever she was called into action.
Whoever decided to cast Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther deserves a raise. Boseman was born to play this character and absolutely nails it. What is so refreshing about T’Challa is that he has so much depth as a character. There is so much that I felt I learned about T’Challa in this film and yet there is so much more to learn about him. With the exception of Stephen Strange and Vision, Black Panther is one of the few characters that have been introduced in the MCU so far that has mystery and depth. I feel like there is a lot more to discover about Black Panther after watching this film and a lot of that is due to how well Boseman plays this character. He is someone that is easy to care about and someone that want to learn more about.
Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger makes one hell of a villain. While Killmonger might not be as well known as say The Joker or Loki, he is one of the most well-rounded villains in the MCU thus far. I have openly said in the past that DC typically has better villains than Marvel but Killmonger is the exception. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger is filled with such anger and rage but that emotion is completely justified by the way that the character is set up. It is very easy to understand why Killmonger is so angry. There is a lot that goes on between Killmonger and T’Challa but talking about these scenes will go into spoiler territory and I don’t want to ruin this remarkable film for anyone so I will just say that this is Jordan’s second best performance to date.
Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross was perfect in the role. While Ross is an important part of Black Panther’s team, I love how Coogler pretty much turned Ross into the Token white guy. This was such a well-crafted change from all the other films where the character of color plays second fiddle to the white character. While the script and the other characters often poke fun at Ross, he still has a purpose in the film. In fact, while he is used as a joke for a lot of the film, he ends up having to step outside his comfort zone in order to help T’Challa and the others near the end. Ross could have easily been a throwaway character used solely for humor but Coogler is far too clever for that and gives Ross his own moment in the spotlight.
While the visual effects team did such a great job of bringing Wakanda to life and showcasing the natural beauty of Africa and it’s people, I did find some of the CGI overbearing. I think studios are starting to walk a fine line where CGI is becoming a bit too video game like and as a result has repeatedly taken me out of a film. I know that a lot of critics slammed Justice League for having bad CGI but honestly the last few Marvel films had a ton of bad CGI as well. In fact, my only criticism about Black Panther is the CGI. I found it very distracting especially during some of the fight sequences in the final act. There is also some embarrassingly bad CGI going on whenever Ulysses is on-screen because his one arm becomes a cannon but looks so incredibly fake.
With Black Panther, Marvel has outdone themselves while raising the bar for all future superhero films. Black Panther has surpassed Iron Man as the best film of the MCU. Finally, a mature superhero film that doesn’t feel like a superhero film. Black Panther has officially redefined the superhero genre as we know it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes one of the most profitable and best-reviewed superhero films of all time.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Black Panther is a 9.5 out of 10.