Movie Review: “Black Panther” – Extraordinary!

Written by Jeremiah Greville February 22, 2018

Black Panther

Did you see Black Panther? Of course you did. Considering all of the records that the movie broke in its opening weekend, you probably saw it more than once. And it was totally worth it! For Marvel Comics junkies it didn’t skimp on four-colour goodness. For MCU fans, it continues an incredible TEN year streak of fun, entertaining films. And for black and other POC audiences around the world who want to see themselves in a superhero film, it delivers. As a white guy I can’t say how well or how much it delivers, but I can point you to people who can. As a comic and MCU fan I’m safely qualified to say that it rocks. But you don’t need a background in funny books or superhero films to enjoy this one — Black Panther is great.

Black Panther is a difficult movie to describe in brief, and every cast member deserves special mention. For now, though, just the basics: Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the new king of the secretly futuristic African nation of Wakanda. It continues from the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but doesn’t require any knowledge of that film. T’Challa’s position as warrior-king Black Panther is threatened when Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik “Killmonger” Stevens both show up with ties to his past. It’s up to him and his extraordinary, scene-stealing allies to save the kingdom, and ultimately the world. It’s directed by Ryan Coogler, his third feature film with Michael B. Jordan. There’s so much more, but we’ll get into that a bit below.

“Two billion people around the world who look like us…”

First of all, it’s shocking to see a film so blatantly, effortlessly, and unselfconsciously embrace its own kooky comic origins. In the film’s first opening moments we’re introduced to the history of Wakanda, Black Panther, and the heart-shaped herb that gives him his strength. Apart from downplaying some mystical elements, everything from the comics is on screen! From afro-futuristic tribal gatherings to visions of past descendants, Black Panther embraces it all. Sometimes it’s hard to see how certain comic story-lines might work on screen. I doubt we’ll ever see werewolf Captain America in a Marvel film, but T’Challa as king of the dead? Definitely! T’Challa fighting Namor? Bring it on! T’Challa patrolling the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in place of Daredevil? Sure! In the world that Coogler has created, all of this seems real and possible.

black panther

Second of all, the supporting cast here turns a solo superhero flick into a solid ensemble film. They’re incredible! Not since one of the Avengers films has a superhero cast been so varied, charismatic, and memorable. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye, and Letitia Wright as Shuri round out a trio of powerful female allies T’Challa relies on throughout the film, while Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker provide gravitas as T’Challa’s mother and oldest advisor, respectively. Winston Duke as M’Baku also turns a small villain role into a delightfully nuanced take on a problematic character. Martin Freeman also reprises his role from Civil War to make sure the white guy quota is filled twice. All joking aside, he’s great too. There’s no weak link in the Blank Panther cast.

“…Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all…”

The biggest character in Black Panther, though, is clearly Wakanda. Coogler’s world-building fills the frame with African and African-inspired aesthetics. The people, the clothing, and the architecture in each Wakandan scene feel real and otherworldly at the same time. The country feels lived in and believable — spaceships and hover-cars exist alongside market stalls and farms. Ancient ceremony and futuristic technology coexist in peace in way never realized outside of Star Wars (and barely there, either). The idea of Wakanda is the real star of the show — an explicitly unconquered black African nation that’s thrived outside the influence of white colonialism. It’s this idea that serves as the heart of the debate between T’Challa and Killmonger, and has spilled into the real world too.

black panther

Without giving too much away about the plot, there’s a genuine question of who the real ‘hero’ of Black Panther actually is: T’Challa or Killmonger? Don’t let their names fool you — Killmonger is a complex character with competing motivations, and Michael B. Jordan makes him utterly compelling. Much of the debate is driven solely by his wonderful performance, and he stands as one of the best villains in the MCU. But the question, and the debate itself, is part of what makes Black Panther such an extraordinary film. These aren’t just relevant themes or interesting points — they come directly from the world and plot of the film. The reaction to the existence of Black Panther reflects it’s modern-day importance, from racists making up lies about attacks at showings, to activists using the film to promote voting.

“…Where was Wakanda?”

Black Panther is bigger than just a film, and with so much talent and goodwill going for it, some special effects should have been better. Now—let’s be clear, because other reviewers have said otherwise—none of these effects really tarnish the film at the end of the day. They’re just little moments that can feel a bit off when considered alongside the rest of the movie. There are a few awkward CGI shots of crowd scenes and vistas, and a couple moments that feel weak in the final battle. One emotional scene in the second half of the film is clearly done on green screen, and unfortunately it shows. But the bits that work? They work REALLY well, and these few technical flubs don’t mar the experience in any lasting way.

black panther

Black Panther is great! I’ve avoided discussing the action and plot because I think it’s best to leave that for the theatre. Go see this film, and have fun discussing it with as many people as possible. Celebrate it! We’re now in the tenth solid year of Marvel films, and they keep getting better! How is this possible? As a comic and movie fan I couldn’t be happier. I spent the hour before seeing this film doing fan art of T’Challa in the theatre. I’ll be going back tonight to see the movie once again.

You should too.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Black Panther Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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