Black Panther is Marvel at its very best. Pounding action meshes with quiet, introspective character moments, all topped with eye-popping visuals. This is a cultural milestone that needs to be seen on the big screen. Buy the ticket.
The Good: The script, the casting, the aesthetics, and above all – the concept.
Perhaps the worst thing about Black Panther is its misleading title. While the titular character is obviously front and present, it does not share brethren with the likes of Iron Man, Ant-Man, or Wonder Woman. Perhaps its closest relative is Harry Potter, or Star Wars. It is not about its title character, not really. It’s about the world it inhabits. It is about Wakanda.
Writer/Director Ryan Coogler has crafted an entirely new world for his audience to play in. This is far more difficult than simply having an active imagination. It requires a consistent aesthetic language in the architecture, fashion, weapons, and color palette, to say nothing for the literal lingua franca.
While Coogler must be given his due for coordinating this undertaking, much of the credit goes to production designer Hannah Beachler (Beyoncé: Lemonade) and costume designer Ruth Carter (Selma). They have created a vibrant and intensely colorful world unlike any seen before on the big screen.
This creativity and attention to detail are necessary to support Coogler’s script, which places Wakanda at the forefront of the story. In a world in which a nation in the heart of Africa has access to nearly limitless resources and is never colonized, how do its people react to the horrors of modernity? Is this Afrofuturistic utopia solvent? And the meta questions – should victims emulate the oppressors, can unique cultures be shared without losing their identities, and how does one honor their traditions while acknowledging their often antiquated components?
These are not easy questions to answer. Without the right cast, it would be easy to lose the characters under the dramatic weight. Luckily, Coogler put together an all-star lineup.
Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, and Daniel Kaluuya all shine in their respective roles, showcasing dramatic depth, physical ability, and/or quiet and wry comedic skills.
Andy Serkis, who first played villain Ulysses Klaue in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is allowed to really dig into his role here. The result is a return to form of sorts, inhabiting Golum-like chaotic comedy. More than anything, it’s just nice to see him in person.
The real stars of the show, though, are Michael B. Jordan as villain Killmonger, Danai Gurira as royal guard Okoye, and Letitia Wright as genius sister Shuri.
Jordan, who previously collaborated with Coogler on Fruitvale Station and Creed, once again proves why he is one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood. This is Marvel’s best villain since at least since Loki – and probably its best ever. Jordan forces you to both despise and delight in his character, to empathize so completely with him that you are forced to ask “could he be right?” Not that he needed it, but this would be a star-making turn for anyone else who wasn’t already well on their way.
The real heart of the film is held with Wright, playing Boseman’s genius younger sister, gadget designer, and lead engineer for Wakanda. She brings levity to any scene that she is in, but not in the traditional Marvel sense. It is far more organic. The chemistry between her and Boseman is real and palpable, and full of joy.
The Bad: Some minor CGI flaws, and that’s about it.
Marvel has yet to put out a truly bad film in its decade of changing the industry. While Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are often seen as the low points, even then, it is graded on a scale.
On the other side of the coin, few of their films have moved past “pretty darn good.” Most of this is because they are often very similar – origin movies with tight first and second acts, sly winks to the audience, undercutting their dramatic moments to show they are not too serious, and falling apart at the third act in favor of bombastic action.
In this regard, Black Panther is a breath of fresh air, and by far one of their best.
The only issues that truly detract are some moments of less-than-stellar CGI work. This is symptomatic of the industry at large in recent years though, so acts as a minor quibble on the film.
The Ugly: This could be an industry defining moment – if they learn the right lessons.
This is not the first black action film. Nor is it the first black superhero film. Both Blade and Catwoman came before it, as well as a handful of smaller fare.
But Black Panther is the first blockbuster to feature an almost entirely black cast. It is the first blockbuster to be given the free rein to exhibit and revel in, unabashedly, its blackness.
With Fandango and February records already broken, Black Panther is well on its way to busting a pervasive and ridiculous myth: films with black casts and/or by black filmmakers do not make money. While last year’s Get Out could have been chalked up (mistakenly) to a fluke, there will be no denying the impact of Black Panther.
With this success, and the inevitable tidal wave of merchandise money that they stand to make, Disney stands at a crossroads. They have allowed the creation of what is arguably the most culturally important superhero film, if not blockbuster overall, of the 21st Century. It will set a precedent for what audiences want, expect, and need.
If they can learn these lessons, then this genre, if not the industry at large, has a bright future ahead, with women and people of color given creative control and the freedom to innovate. Black Panther will change history, if only those in power can do what audiences have done, and open their eyes to see it.
“Black Panther” follows T’Challa who, after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to take his place as King. However, when an old enemy reappears on the radar, T’Challa’s mettle as King and Black Panther is tested when he is drawn into a conflict that puts the entire fate of Wakanda and the world at risk.” – Rotten Tomatoes