I am the Panther - Color Me Black
Black Panther is directed by Ryan Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast.
I have found myself progressing recently towards the minority that is people who don't really care much for the MCU anymore. That is not to say I have found every single MCU film to be disappointing and not the least bit enjoyable to watch. It's more so I claim that the MCU basically keeps dishing out the exact same movie time and time again, and of all the problems that one boilerplate MCU movie dishes out - a weak villain and excessive humor being my biggest two - keep coming up again and again because Marvel clearly notices those millions and millions of dollars rolling in from the box office, providing the grounds for them to be stubborn and do next to nothing to change the formula that's worked for them for a full decade now. But with the release of Black Panther, my admittedly cynical attitude was bound to take a hit. The early reviews came flooding in, and they were raving about how Black Panther was taking the MCU to places it had never gone before, and how the film was unlike any superhero movie we had ever seen. Beforehand, I had already been prepared to brush off Black Panther as just yet another entertaining Marvel outing that would be doing the same shtick yet again, resulting in me waiting several months later when the movie would hit the Blu-Ray and DVD shelves, and I would watch the film for the first time on my own TV screen. But the vibe that these early responses were giving, I just could not wait around this time. So, for the first time since I think Captain America: Civil War, I found myself watching the latest MCU installment on the big screen.
I came home from the showing I went to with mixed feelings. Although, it was probably one of the most unusual set of mixed feelings I have had about a movie in a while, especially an MCU film. The good part of my mixed feelings can be summarized as follows: I found myself having a good time with Black Panther. I saw flashes of excellence during the movie, which is both wonderful for my cynicism and slightly disappointing for my expectations, based on what I heard going in. Meanwhile,the bad part of my mixed feelings basically encompass these thoughts: Marvel still wants to stick with some of the problems that have plagued far too many of their previous films. I'll elaborate on these thoughts further in my high and low points.
Black Panther's plot begins with a centuries old story about five African tribes going to war over a meteorite containing the alien metal vibranium. One of the tribe's warriors ingests a heart-shaped herb that is affected by the vibranium, giving him superhuman abilities. The warriors becomes the first "Black Panther" and unites the five warring tribes to create the nation of Wakanda. However, one of the tribes refuses to follow the Black Panther's rule. Nonetheless, the Wakandans use the vibranium to create highly-advanced technology, and decide to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, posing as a Third World country.
In the present day, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is still grieving from the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, and he is about to ascend to the throne and become the new king of Wakanda. T'Challa successfully defeats M'Baku (Winston Duke), the leader of the tribe unwilling to follow the Black Panther's rule, in a challenge for the crown. But not long after T'Challa is crowned king, his reign is challenged by the emergence of the Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who steals a Wakandan museum artifact and plots to distribute Wakanda's technology all over the world.
Just like any standalone superhero film should, Black Panther doesn't waste its time with world-building and instead focus on the task at hand, which in this case is bolstering the relevance of the Black Panther character, and how releasing the first feature film purely dedicated to the comic book character in early 2018 is the perfect time.
- Here's where Black Panther shows its flashes of excellence: this is the first Marvel film that I can recall that bravely tackles ideas of racial and social oppression, and yet not sound preachy about it in any obvious way. T'Challa finds out early on about how challenging it can be to take on the responsibilities of the Wakandan king, struggling with Wakanda's long-standing conservative views and his own beliefs towards how Wakanda can best utilize its vibranium weapons. The challenge at large is if Wakanda should advance and share their knowledge and technology with the rest of the world. Now how does this tie in to the movie's themes of racial and social oppression? Ah, that leads me to what was my favorite part of the film.
- There is no debate about it: Killmonger is the new best villain that the MCU has given us. Nope, it's not Loki anymore. Sorry. For the first time through eighteen movies, Marvel has given us a villain that is given truly sympathetic motivations, as well as a tragic background that stands out more from other tragic backgrounds of some of the previous villains. Michael B. Jordan had been itching to play a villain for some time, and he and Ryan Coogler show to be a dynamic duo, the two having worked together previously in Creed. Killmonger wishes to provide the Wakandan weapons to the people of the world who feel oppressed, giving them the means to overthrow their oppressors. Killmonger himself was one of these oppressed people, and he challenges the Wakandan's conservative view of keeping their technology within their borders, leading to his confrontation with T'Challa. I am quite confident I am not going to forget Killmonger's name, nor his motivations anytime soon, and that is a rarity for me with the MCU.
- Ugh, what must I do to not be turned off by the humor in these Marvel films? Is it really so wrong of me to say these films are just a little too jokey? While some of the Marvel films are much worse than this one in terms of excessive humor, the other side of the coin is that most of the jokes aren't really even that funny. The film, for some God knows what reason, attempts to bring back that "What are those???" meme when T'Challa shows off some sandals he is wearing. That's just one of many jokes coming from T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who acts like Q from James Bond, as she shows off all of Wakanda's neat vibranium equipment. Several of the lines are chuckle-worthy, but a handful of chuckles isn't enough to justify your film as funny. Once again, for about the umpteenth time, the humor sinks my spirits.
So while Black Panther is far from a perfect superhero movie, it still shows to be a pretty damn good one, although my personal distastes prevent me from fully enjoying the film the way others will. Even if some of the same MCU problems linger, Black Panther is able to transcend some of the others, particularly in its deliverance of a worthy villain and an underlying social commentary that's all the more effective for its timeliness. The action is great as well, elevating Black Panther into something that is a little bit more than just a fun, popcorn superhero flick. Another strong outing for the MCU, but I still think they can get better and maybe risk changing things up a little bit.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: