Following the surprising success of 2015’s Creed, writer/director Ryan Coogler gives the character of Black Panther one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most refreshing films to date.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) lives in the secretive nation of Wakanda, where he’s in line to become king. Wakanda was built on it’s plentiful amount of an extremely strong, extraterrestrial metal called Vibranium. Other parts of the world, however, are not lucky enough to have this precious metal at their disposal. Early on, T’Challa prepares to take on the humongous responsibility of ruling the country as its military and political leader. Previous kings of Wakanda had extremely dark pasts, and T’Challa is determined to be different. He wants to be somebody that his people can look up to. However, a dangerous outsider named Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) appears to challenge for the throne. Archaic rules of ascendancy threaten to cast the nation into chaos.
With Creed, Coogler’s previous directorial effect, he showed how masterful he is at fleshing out characters, and making them feel as if they are real people. None of the characters in Creed felt as if they were movie characters. The same feeling is present in Black Panther, and that is probably the best aspect of the film. Each and every single one of the characters in the film are given a considerably interesting backstory that is fascinating to explore.
The film also has outstanding cinematography by Rachel Morrison, who also shot Coogler’s 2013 film Fruitvale Station. One of the most beautiful scenes in the entire motion picture is a sequence towards the middle of the first act. The scene in question has a gorgeous purple sky with trees looming in the background, and it was one of the most breathtaking shots this year so far.
But where Black Panther truly shines is its story. Virtually everything about the film works on practically every level, which is in part due to the aforementioned masterful character development. Without spoiling anything, the story of this blockbuster goes to places that most superhero films would have avoided. So many comic book movies released these days almost have what seems to be a formula. Black Panther takes this clichéd and throws it out the window completely, and reinvigorates the way comic book movies are made.
Michael B. Jordan’s performance as the film’s main villain, Erik Killmonger, is nothing short of great. In fact, Killmonger is the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even more so than the iconic Loki. The character of Loki has never really been that great of a villain, because he is unfortunately a clichéd villain. All he wants to do is rule the world. The motives for why Killmonger is so furious throughout Black Panther are crystal clear, to the point where at times, you do not even necessarily view him as a fully fledged villain. You do not necessarily agree with the way he goes about fulfilling his objective, but the objective itself is perfectly clear.
Speaking of Killmonger, that is a truly amazing element of Black Panther. The duality between our two main characters; T’Challa and Erik Killmonger. Both of these characters are pretty much complete opposites of one another. T’Challa is a man who is absolutely set on following the rules of tradition and his culture. He is a man who would feel disgusted in himself if he were to ever disobey a rule that was established within his culture. Even if it was promised that if he were to break a rule of tradition or culture, he would be king, he would not go forth with that. On the other hand, however, Killmonger would be absolutely okay with breaking rules if it meant he would be crowned king.
Shuri (Letitia Wright) is an exceptionally humorous character, and one that will for sure makes audiences around the world laugh every times she cracks a joke (which is a lot). The chemistry between Boseman and Wright is genuinely great, and it feels real. The two of them share a large portion of the film together, and every time the duo have something to due, either chaos or hilarity ensues.
Throughout the running time of Black Panther, we listen to the phenomenal soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar. The songs from the soundtrack play in particular during the action scenes in the film. Speaking of these sequences, there is not a whole bunch of them in the film, which for some moviegoers will be a colossal disappointment. In fact, some individuals have already told me the film let them down because of that exact reason. This did not affect my enjoyment of Black Panther however, as going in to watch this motion picture, a large part of me had a strong feeling there would not be that much action film. My expectation was that it would be about his story and culture; and that is what it is mainly about.
At the beginning of the film however, there can be a fair bit of unnecessary exposition heavy scenes. To be exact, the film literally opens with a gigantic exposition scene where a certain character goes in detail about certain character’s backstories. Additionally, several times in the first act, it seemed as if the film was moving along a tad bit too quickly. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole explore dozens of elements about Wakanda and the history of the city incredibly quickly, and it would have been nice to have learned these things throughout the course of the film, rather than all of it at the beginning.
At its core, Black Panther is a film about characters, tradition, and how far some people will go to obtain certain goals. Its also a film that is not afraid to slow down on action sequences if it means fleshing out its story and world. Coogler does a wonderful job at delving into this story and does so with unique flair, and proves himself to be one of the best directors working today. All hail the king.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running Time: 134 minutes