Black Panther

*Spoilers*

It's a challenge developing yet another MCU blockbuster. Thankfully, Black Panther offers us a refreshing take on the superhero trope. The new king of a hidden superpower must plot his nation's course and grapple with a dark legacy. This refreshing logline (in the context of the MCU) provides a suitable foundation for the development of the Wakandan family drama.

The temptation for creators of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to rely on the safe play – a joke-a-thon spectacle. Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole forego the tight-aggressive approach and instead try to raise a host of real issues, including tribalism vs unity and tradition vs conscience. The themes of colonial history and responsibility of a state are also touched on (without being too substantially dealt with). It doesn't feel too heavy, and the payoff is considerable. The stakes in the movie do feel fairly weighty. At the end, T'Challa finally decides that with great power must come great responsibility, as he charts a new course for his country. The exploration of the aforementioned themes adds depth and texture to the film, giving a fatigued audience some new food for thought.

The inciting incidents at the start include the christening of the new monarch and the heist at the British Museum. One grouse I had was with the Killmonger-Klaue sub-plot at the start. Erik already has his father's ring, which is his passport to legitimacy in challenging for the throne. It is also understandable that he needs Klaue's head to persuade W'Kabi to support him. But then, it's unclear why Erik assists Klaue in pilfering the vibranium exhibit, breaks him out of CIA/Wakandan custody and then slays him. In other words, why not shoot him at the start and take him straight to Wakanda?

Having said that, kudos to the post-production team for the overall pacing and plot, which are generally appropriate. We have a relatively short first act, which then plunges into a mega second act. There are not merely one but a number of confrontations. There's T'Challa's internal conflict, the unravelling of the Oakland incident and of course, the conflict between the incumbent and the foreign upstart. The first post-credit scene also provides a suitable denouement to the proceedings.

The Wakandan settings are dazzling. We have Birnin Zana (the Golden City), Warrior Falls and Jabari Land, to name a few. The Golden City is a colorful megapolis, part Singapore and part Cape Town – a vision of an African capital that never fell into colonial hands. The sets are intricately and beautifully designed. I particularly enjoyed the haunting, primeval frozen Jabari caverns. I also love how the magnificent giant statues of Panthers and Gorillas loom from above like regal gargoyles. The Wakandan underground is another exceptionally crafted scene, as mag-lev trains gracefully snake through the stunning, intricate tunnel system. The dream scenes are sprawling and spectacular, as we are offered a glimpse of the Wakandan afterlife, heartbreakingly-beautiful twilight sky and all.

The costumes burst with color and creativity, particularly in the coronation scenes at Warrior Falls as well as the Birnin Zana street scenes. Each of the four tribes' garments are painstakingly designed, and it all comes together as a colorful visual spectacle. The tech, armor and weapons are also cleverly designed, and I particularly loved the armored battle rhinos harnessed by W'Kabi and gang. Visually, there's a dollop of tradition mixed in with all the tech, and the final cocktail is quite remarkable.

Boseman's nuanced take on T'Challa is commendable. The heir to the throne is vulnerable and introspective, giving us a unique and welcome character in the MCU. The protagonist's character development is also discernible and well-played. The struggle with tradition and heritage is notable, as the character's conscience is weighed upon on more than one occasion.

Michael B Jordan, Ryan Coogler's long-time collaborator, gives us a worthy opponent to the new Wakandan monarch. The unfortunately named Erik Killmonger is a tragic character – a brutal, blunt instrument forged from a difficult past. This is Simba on crack – orphaned, abandoned, and struggling to find his identity (and without the tutelage and companionship of a warthog and meerkat). The effort taken into building the antagonist's backstory warrants praise, and there is certainly some empathy for this forgotten cousin. Erik's challenge is not only an important plot point in the film, but also representative of the class struggle between royalty and the huddled masses. At the final duel, there is pathos aplenty. T'Challa's empathy for his nemesis is palpable, and there's a touching aerial sunset scene as Erik takes his final bow.

The female characters threaten to steal the stage. Danai Gurira's Okoye, Lupita Nyong'o's Nakia and Letitia Wright's Shuri hold proactive and integral roles in the film, and it is notable that they are discernibly more vocal, forthcoming and assertive than any of the other male characters, including T'Challa himself. Commendably, Wakandan society appears to be very much feminist.

The score and soundtrack are fluid and seamless. Kendrick Lamar's curation is spot-on and catchy, while Ludwig Gorranson's score is quirky and excellent. In particular, T'Challa's signature talking drum solo threatens to become an iconic theme.

Kudos to Ryan Coogler and co. for designing a compelling sub-universe, that has firmly carved out its own place within the MCU. It is very much clear that in this jungle, the Panther is sovereign. The King is dead. Long live the King.

Verdict: A-

12 comments

  • That movie was simply amazing!! Great visuals. Great action. Just the right touch of humour.

    Hot African warrior women. Not one damsel in constant distress. Really cool techno gadgets and Vibranium Armoured charging Rhinos for crying out loud!

    You can’t ask for more!!

    I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

  • misfit138

    I don’t know what movie you guys were watching. It was the same cliche good vs evil story we have see hundreds of times before. There were no surprises to the plot. The tech was cool but that was about it. I was ready to leave after 5 minutes, 20 minutes and should have left after the first hour when I had to take a pee. I bolted for the exit when it was over and I was very upset I wasted 2 hours of my life on this movie. I work in the comic book industry. I asked 2 of my friends the next day what they thought. Combined we have over 100 years of collecting and industry experience. One said “it was a movie” and the other said, “I give it a 4 out of 10 stars”. I completely agree. If you liked it, good for you, but please don’t mislead people to think that this was a risk taking thinking outside the box movie. It was boring and predictable.

    • Yeah I felt the movie is a little over hyped vs reality. While it was still an entertaining movie, I found it pretty average when compared to the Marvel Studios filmography. To reiterate some of your points it was predictable and little to no surprises in the film. Too safe.

    • misfit138

      I forgot to add that I seriously fell asleep. I had had a lack of sleep the night before and was beat, and this movie was my sleeping pill. Why is no one talking about Marvel FRESH START. I just wrote Marvel and told them thanks for the 40 years of memories but I’m done buying your books. This is the 4th reboot in 6 years. I’m done buying their trash books filled with mash up characters. I’m not thrilled with DC either but Batman has been great since Tom King took over and Detective is fun. There’s nothing predictable about Tom King’s writing.

  • Dale Valiant horton

    Great and thoughtful write up. So many great parts to this film with killmonger being one of the best. We got an antagonist whos motivations were not solely based on money or personal gain. That type of dynamic is rarely seen in these types of films.

  • What a fantastic movie. A culmination of what the comic book industry can offer the film industry. I’m glad I was able to witness it.

  • First Hour: Lion King meets James Bond ~ B+
    Second Hour: Game of Thrones meets Hamlet ~ B- ( dragged a bit )
    There are now 18 movies in the MCU, I would put this around 10 or 11 for me.
    Erik Killmonger was a good villan but does not transcend the genre. He reminds me of Aldrich Killian for Iron Man 3, with the similar theme of “We create our own demons”. Shuri was the breakout character for me.

  • A. J. Diesel

    Very mixed feelings on the film. From its marketing schemes and the films overall perception, I’ll wait to see more comments, which will dictate whether or not i see the film.

  • Incredible Film and a great write up on it. I think a lot of people are walking into the movies with a pre-generated opinion, either good or bad, and the film won’t do much to change that. If you walk in with a clear mind and without comparing each other movie to this one you’ll see that there is a lot to enjoy. Every comic movie has had its criticisms for one reason or another and we, as comic fans, can spend all our time picking them apart. The alternative would be to enjoy them as they are, show enthusiasm for the genre and bring more fans to the table.

    With this movie and Black Lightning I hope to see more Black and Brown people attending cons and joining the fandom in some way. They seem to be heading in the direction of having a deep and lasting impact on the fandom.

  • Howard Stark makes a shield with vibranium, Wakanda can make a fully powered automated emission free city with vibranium. To me this creates a plot hole in the MCU.

    • misfit138

      One of my co-workers brought this up also. They have the potential to be strong and powerful and don’t do it. With Marvel announcing fresh start I’m done collecting Marvel.

  • Great review of a great movie. I agree with the A- and think this is one of the best MCU movies to date. The acting was excellent and the cinematography and costumes were gorgeous. I loved the coronation scene at the waterfall with all of the bright creative outfits. One of my top 5 up there with Winter Soldier and GotG. The women of Wakanda really shine in this movie and I can’t wait to see Tony interact with Shuri in a future movie. Those two would be a great pair feeding off each other’s sarcastic wit and pushing each other to innovate. If a future MCU director isn’t planning that scene already they’re missing out.

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