Marvel has managed to create an entire cinematic universe, with one big hit after another. With Black Panther, Marvel’s eighteenth cinematic outing, the studio shows no signs of slowing down in quality or success. This movie is a winner on a storytelling level, a character level, and even, surprisingly. a political and social level. In many ways, it’s nothing we haven’t seen from a Marvel film (big battles, and anti-versions of the hero), but it also feels fresh and exciting. Black Panther is simply put, a triumph.
Black Panther is a continuation of Captain America: Civil War (2016). Following the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, T’Challa returns home to the African nation and finds himself having to serve as the country’s new leader. T’Challa soon finds challenges for his throne and doubts about his own leadership skills. When two foes conspire, the crazy South African mercenary Klaue and the American-raised Erik Killmonger, T’Challa, also known as Black Panther, must team up with members of the Dora Milaje Tribe to put a stop to them before Wakanda is potentially dragged into a world war.
On the surface, Black Panther may not seem especially extraordinary. However, where the film really succeeds is in it’s characters and themes of family loyalty. There are several characters in Black Panther, including many strong female characters, all of whom I grew to enjoy and/or like. Nobody is miscast in this film, everyone works just about perfectly. The cast is so big that highlighting all of them would take paragraphs upon paragraphs. To name a few, Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa aka Black Panther is a charming likable hero, and his discussions with his father in the otherworld about his usefulness as a king actually brought tears to my eyes. We also have Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a war dog and T’Challa’s former lover. Nakia kicks some serious butt, and she has a great character arc where she grows to really respect T’Challa again. We also have Danai Gurira as Okoye, the leader of the all female special forces group, known as the Dora Milaje. Okoye is serious, but she can also be fun. Martin Freeman, as American Agent Everett K. Ross, who pilots a plane in the final battle. There is also Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Angela Bassett as Ramonda the Queen, and Forest Whitaker as Zuri the elder statesman.
With the villains of the film, we have, surprisingly, the most interesting aspect of the film. On the one hand, we have the over the top crazy psycho in Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis), a man so crazy he likes laughing at himself. For a Marvel villain, Klaue is actually quite memorable, and it’s cool to see Serkis (Planet of the Apes,Lord of the Rings) in a blockbuster film that doesn’t require him to do a motion-capture performance. However, contrasted with Klaue is Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger. Compared to some other Marvel villains, Erik Killmonger has a clear and true motivation. He wants to seize Wakanda, and use its resources to strike at white people for racial bigotry. In classic fashion, Killmonger is “the road not taken”, as he’s T’Challa if T’Challa had decided to abuse his powers. Killmonger ideas aren’t bad, but the way he goes about it is where the conflict comes from. It’s really quite interesting, and it gets politically motivated at points, but not to the point where it feels overpowering.
Visually, the film looks nice. Wakanda really comes to life on the screen, but the CGI, especially near the end of the film, becomes stodgy. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), also gives the film a lot of color. The action is staged well and includes a fantastic car chase through the streets of New York, which seems to be a requirement in Marvel movies these days. Special mention should go to Ludwig Goransson’s musical score, too. It has a nice mix of African sounds, orchestral themes, and funky music that never feels out of place, and gives the movie a lot of identity.
If there are any complaints I have about this film, it’s that the villains are quite more interesting than the heroes, and that’s sometimes to a fault. There are points where I was waiting for the villains to return, because I really wanted to see what they were doing. The pacing is also sluggish at points, certain scenes go on longer than they should, but these are minor in the grand scheme of things.
Black Panther is another winner from Marvel Studios. It’s sharp, entertaining, superhero fare that doesn’t exactly feel like other Marvel movies, while at the same time treading familiar ground. It also feels separate, containing very little reference to the cinematic universe as a whole, and the jokes are kept to a minimum this time which feels refreshing. If you like a good superhero film, this one’s for you. Breaking box office records, perhaps it’s ironic and fitting that Black Panther should be the one to brings us all together.
Now playing in Lebanon at Entertainment Cinemas, Monday - Thursday and Sunday at 3:20, 3:45, 6:30 and 6:50 PM, Fri and Sat 12:15, 12:40, 3:20, 3:45, 6:30, 6:50, 9:05 and 9:30 PM.