Published on February 12th, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
Black Panther marks the first studio superhero movie with a black director and mostly black cast. It’s not perfect, but thankfully, it’s a great movie.
Cutting through the crowded waters with an air of integrity all of its own is the latest entry in the stuffed superhero genre: Black Panther stands out from its contemporaries by speaking loudly, proudly, and powerfully. This first solo film – in what’s sure to be a long and successful franchise for the character – is going to kick open a lot of doors that have been shut for far too long.
Black Panther truly works well as a standalone film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not quite unlike Doctor Strange, but Black Panther has a larger rewatchability index than that Benedict Cumberbatch launch pad. There are a couple of quick references to some of the events of Captain America: Civil War and Martin Freeman’s reprised character here is peripheral enough in this world so as to avoid any deep-rooted backstory with the residents of Wakanda. It exists in its own bubble in this sense – much like Wonder Woman did last year relative to its position in the DC Extended Universe.
Following his father’s untimely death (explained via the aforementioned Civil War references) the new King of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is struggling with the weight of the crown and the threat of foreign aggression. Wakanda is a secret nation, impenetrable by non-natives and kept classified despite its considerably advanced technological innovations created thanks to the mountain of Vibranium it’s sitting on.
Vibranium’s the strongest metal in the world and it’s what made Captain America’s shield so the shit’s pretty valuable to say the least. That’s why it’s kept hidden and out of the world’s hands. Until, natch, a threat emerges from the outside in the form of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who’s got a vengeful secret of his own.
T’Challa is aided in his fight by Okoye (Danai Gurira) and his romantic interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). The duo accompanies him in some eye-popping action sequences. One in particular, through the streets of Korea, contains some 3D thrills that pay off and enough pure excitement to earn the price of your ticket. Technical proficiency is par for the course with each Marvel release; Black Panther carries that tradition onward.
We all know that Black Panther is gonna join Iron Man and all his Marvel brethren in Avengers: Infinity War this May so the stakes don’t get sky high. Even though we know more or less how this is all going to end, because the franchise has to be continued, it’s commendable that Coogler and company are able to inject enough engaging drama when the times are at their lowest.
Director Ryan Coogler has always demonstrated chops for finding the hardest to mine emotion in some powerful scenes. Here he uses that same empathy to bring out the best in every supporting character, but most notably T’Challa’s youngest sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), a technological genius and a genuine breakout delight.
Michael B. Jordan is so good in this movie that you absolutely miss him when he’s not on screen. And when he is on screen? He pops off and steals the whole damn show. The strength and trust in his developed relationship with Coogler (the two made both Creed and Fruitvale Station together) clearly shows with some of the intense physicality required by the role and the steely intensity that Jordan brings.
The contrast between the best parts of Black Panther and the expected generic superhero VFX battles noticeable. Watching a bunch of digital characters punch each other around is a stale way to beef up the climax of any movie and can stand out like a sore thumb. Think of Diana versus Ares at the end of Wonder Woman – didn’t that seem completely boring compared to everything else before, after, and around it? That’s sort of the biggest problem of the third act here too.
Though it seems all audiences are increasingly turning against these tired tropes, the powers that be know that the appealing visuals sold in quick cuts help pay the bills. If it means filmmakers such as Coogler or Patty Jenkins are allowed to continue leaving distinct imprints on the genre, perhaps it’s a small price to pay.
All the gloriously detailed pixels on screen are joined by a kickass score and select new songs from talented folks like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples. The soundtrack alone is going to help Black Panther stand out from its peers in a way similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
This is a proud, honorable representation of a culture that hasn’t been given its due respect or prominence in this high profile genre. It’s very tribal, respectful of the past, and it’s beautiful. Cinematography by recent Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (the first-ever woman nominated in the category of Best Cinematography for Netflix’s Mudbound) is as stunning as most superhero movies would dream to be.
Due to the affliction of some all-too-familiar tropes, Black Panther is not a perfect movie. But it’s a really, really damn good one, and one that deserves to be seen and championed on the big screen. The more people turn out for brave steps forward like this, the better the odds get that more unheard voices continue to be expressed and displayed on a massive platform that only the biggest blockbusters can offer. It’s rare that a crowd-pleasing popcorn movie also gets to be important, but Black Panther is a deserving leader.