Review - 'Black Panther'
Marvel Studios is so remarkably consistent that I pretty much go into every one of their movies expecting that I will at least be entertained, if not moved. Even though the quality of these films are so reliably high, there are aspects of them that have begun to seem routine, that is until Marvel shakes it up again every three-to-four movies or so. Think Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Captain America trilogy; all films that tested the sturdy support beams that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, Add Black Panther to that growing list of groundbreaking films in the Marvel Studios pantheon.
Ryan Coogler's Black Panther follows T'Challa, a prince of Wakanda who's father, King T'Chaka, recently perished during the events of Captain America: Civil War. T'Challa, who is also the power-enhanced Black Panther, must assume the role of King of Wakanda and find out the true importance of being a leader and what role he has to play in the rest of the outside world.
Black Panther doesn't just entertain in the ways that Marvel films always do, it also teaches its audience and leads by example, just like any good king should. This is a confident film that struts its stuff while also showing very human strength and vulnerability. I also can't even begin to explain how happy I am that African Americans finally have a huge-budget (Blade is nowhere near as big as this) superhero film to call their own, and a damn good one at that.
Running at two hours and fourteen minutes, Black Panther is actually one of the longer Marvel films to come around, but it sure doesn't feel like it. Coogler paces this film very well, doling out interesting plot points and interactions at a satisfying clip. It's rare that you see a film that is so well-balanced. This is mostly due to Coogler prioritizing great characters and character moments over the glitz and glam that you would normally associate with blockbusters.
What really makes Black Panther tick though, is its ability to give every character; hero, villain or otherwise, real and believable motivations. There's no mustache-twirling bad guy in this one, just a justifiably pissed-off man with some legitimate reasons to back up his actions. Coogler also takes a different approach to our hero, Black Panther. This is a man in a position that no other Marvel character has been in; he has the duel role of being a king and being Black Panther, and because of that, he has to weigh the consequences of every decision he makes in a completely different way.
The cast in Black Panther is top-notch. Chadwick Bozeman puts in a great, and surprisingly under-stated performance as the titular Black Panther. He has that necessary regal-ness about him while also being believable as a fierce warrior when push comes to shove. There's also a suite of powerful woman in Black Panther, all of which play very different and interesting characters. Lupita Nyong'o plays Nakia, T'Challa's former lover and an undercover agent for Wakanda, Nyongo does a great job giving her character an independence and determination that feels genuine, and not preachy to a feminist audience. Danai Gurira, who portrays Okoye, the head of the king's bodyguards, gets the most no-nonsense role of the bunch. Gurira gives a commanding performance and every time she was on-screen I could not take my eyes off of her. Letitia Wright plays T'Challa's sister, Shuri, and while she plays a smart, quirky and overall likable character, she needed a bit more to really stand out.
Now we come to Michael B. Jordan, who plays Erik Stevens AKA "Killmonger". Finally we have another fully-fleshed out and interesting villain in a Marvel Studios film. Marvel has finally addressed their villain issue in their past few films; Kurt Russell was great as Ego, Michael Keaton was perfect as Vulture, but neither of them hit quite like Michael B. Jordan has here. Killmonger transcends the "villain-of-the-week" distinction mainly because you can identify with his point of view, even though he clearly takes his beliefs too far. Rounding out the cast we have Andy Serkis playing the delightfully maniacal Ulysses Klaue. Martin Freeman gets a lot more to do here as Everett Ross. Finally Daniel Kaluuya and Forest Whitaker give good performances as W'Kabi and Zuri, respectively.
Wakanda is also very well-realized and looks like nothing I've ever seen in the Marvel Universe, or anywhere for that matter. The African city-scape that is brimming with highly advanced technological wonders is magnificent to behold. The characters that inhabit it are even more impressive and memorable.
My only real issues with Black Panther revolve around the CGI, which is inexcusably bad during certain segments of the film. I'm not kidding when I say that one of the sequences featuring two combatants towards the end of the film looks no better than the CGI monotony on display in Ben Affleck's Daredevil. I don't get how a movie can make it's backdrops and scenery look so amazing through the use of CGI, but can't make a simple black suited hero look good during certain action sequences. That said, there is a very well-executed action sequence in the mid-section of this movie that easily stands out from the rest. Also, there are some brutal one-on-one rite-of-passage fights that are exhilarating and really pack a punch.
Black Panther is another high-watermark for Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios. It's one of those films that had me really interested in where they might go from here and reinforced my faith in what the studio is capable of. Black Panther is not a perfect film, but it has a lot of interesting things on its mind, memorable characters and is an absolute blast to watch.