Black Panther is one of the few Marvel films that sets up a character while being a spectacle to view from start to finish. I would say the first Iron Man film is the last time we had a testament to origin stories that also keeps the viewers attention as an entertaining movie. The complex character in Tony Stark, the story of a man dealing with the consequences of being a weapons manufacturer and his product falling into the wrong hands, and the mix of action and tech drew audiences in to create a blockbuster hit of a movie. We have that in Black Panther. The hype is real.
Other Marvel movies have failed to live up to that first Marvel Cinematic Universe film in that regard. The first Captain America had its moments, but there were some filming decisions that were very comic book style panel shots that took viewers out of the movie. The original Thor movie had its moments as well. But the blandness of the characters left a lot of people underwhelmed about the hero. They actually were more interested in the villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Ant-Man failed to wow due to the lack of complexity and depth of its characters. Incredible Hulk tapped into the vibe of the old Bill Bixby series, but failed in it’s final showdown as it was reduced to a CGI video-game style brawl between two monsters.
The World and Its People
Black Panther taps into Afro-futurism, where Wakanda, a mythical place located inside Africa, is a technologically and culturally advanced region compared to the rest of the world. It is set as a contrast to how the modern world thinks of the region as a third world economy. The richness of the culture is mixed in with the highly developed architecture. Add in the advanced technology and you get a happier version of the world of Blade Runner. Wakanda is a sprawling, lively community with a government council and customs and traditions that inform the audience while at the same time wowing them with the mix of the old with the new.
Some of the work in introducing Black Panther was already done. We met T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa takes on the mantle of Black Panther after his father T’Chaka, the king of Wakanda, is killed in a bomb blast set up by Helmut Zemo. The black suit was made of a bulletproof material much like Captain America’s shield. T’Challa has strength and ability on par with Captain America. We also get a glimpse into his character when he not only spares Zemo, but prevents him from taking his life. While Civil War introduces us to the character and give us an idea of who he is, it didn’t delve into the richness of the culture and feel of the world of Wakanda. We get that in spades with Black Panther. Wakanda is truly a character of its own.
The King and His Support
When talking about the royal family of T’Challa, they serve as extensions of the king. However, they maintain their own personalities. Letita Wright as Shuri does well in delivering some well-placed humor and carries a sibling love with the king.
Lupita Nyong’o serves as both spy and love interest while having her own independence, which keeps T’Challa’s interest in check.
Danai Gurira does a fantastic job in portraying Okoye, a warrior bound to serve the throne and Wakanda, which also serves as conflict to her personal interests at times. Her role is so badass that I understand now why she is running alongside all the other heroes in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War.
Chadwick Boseman is a conflicted king, whose focus is solely on being a good king for the land while being an active king in defending it. His performance is almost lost because of all the other stars sharing the screen with him.
Daniel Kaluuya plays W’Kabi and a careful friend to T’Challa, but he must also serve as leader of the people as protector of the border.
Winston Duke surprises with his performance of M’Baku, being both hilarious and badass. His scenes actually stole the show for me, and I look forward to his appearance in Avengers: Infinity War.
The only characters who don’t have any conflict within themselves is Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, and Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Ulysses Klaue. From start to finish, it is clear they are villains. However, in Killmongers’ case, he carries a weighty justification for what he does. This makes him a bit more than just a throwaway villain unlike most Marvel movies in the past could muster. Serkis seemed to be having fun with his portrayal of Klaue. His performance of a mad villain, as over the top as it is, seems to carry with it an energy I haven’t seen in other villains in the MCU.
A World on the Move
Black Panther has an interesting story, filled with diverse characters with their own goals and roles to fulfill. The responsibilities of each character hinge on the safety and security of the Wakandan region. The main hurdle to overcome for this new generation of Wakandan people is the sins of the fathers. Wakanda is an isolated region who had no dealings with the outside. Their technology and culture grew for centuries. Other parts of the world had to catch up. Without getting to0 spoilery, this is why we don’t hear much about Wakanda being a technological giant back in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa has to make a decision on where to take the Wakandan people, their technology, and the heart of their civilization- vibranium.
The pacing of the movie is a bit quick as most of it happens within just a span of a few days. The dialogue doesn’t feel rushed within all of that, but the action seems a little too fast to be believable. For Killmonger, he seems to be hopping the globe doing villainy and moving on to Wakanda within a few days. It seems like such actions would more likely take weeks with years of planning before hand.
The fighting action sequences are fast as well, with a few exceptions. It feels like we don’t get a moment to take a breath within all that action. Some of the choreography and settings don’t seem to match up as filming it was a bit of a challenge. But there are so many dynamite acting sequences within the film that it doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
How Wakanda stands in the larger stage of the MCU is important. It sets up the region as a key player in the technological defense of Earth against Thanos and his armies. It’s probably why we see the forces of Wakanda against the Outriders in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War. There are so many good things in this movie. I believe this is why the world of Black Panther is an essential part of the plot for that next film.
Black Panther is a stellar film that captures some of the magic of an origin story we haven’t seen since Iron Man. It wasn’t a perfect film though. There were a few problems. The titular character of the movie doesn’t shine as much as the other characters. There were some CG scenes that needed a few more visits in post-production. Despite these small things, the cast members are firing off on all cylinders in their performances. The intense world-building and the inclusion of the rich history of the Wakandan culture steal show. Add to that the excellent architectural designs and you get a Black Panther film that shines in the Marvel Cinematic Library.
- Acting is top-notch. All-Star Cast and no one is reduced to minor roles
- Wakanda is a marvel to see with culture absorbed into the technology/architecture
- Story is overall deep and engaging, touching on historical injustices and sins of our past
- Pacing needed to slow down, allow audiences to absorb action
- Visual effects lacked in a few areas
- T'Challa's spotlight almost felt taken away by all the other performances