Black Panther Review (2018)

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?: YES

 

IMAX: YES - 3D: UNNECESSARY - MID-CREDITS: YES - POST-CREDITS: YES

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I’m torn. Exasperatingly so.

As a movie reviewer that focuses on comic book, action, and sci-fi/fantasy related material, being torn usually means deciding between the quality-in-execution of a film, and being a fan of the subject material. This movie presented its own unique challenge: Black Privilege. As a reviewer, I'm rarely able to fully appreciate what's on screen for the pure and simple fact that these worlds are created by and filled with people who do not look like me and do not have the same existence as I do. It’s not unlike what T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) goes through in his character arc, but we’ll get to that in a bit. What I’ll attempt to do is to review the movie as any other and then get into the bowels of my feelings on the movie as the cultural juggernaut it’s shaping up to be.

If you’ve seen Captain America: Civil War then you’ve met the Black Panther. As prince of the sovereign “third world” nation of Wakanda, T’Challa had to watch his father T’Chaka (John Kani) die in an explosion used to frame and expose the Winter Soldier’s (Sebastian Stan) whereabouts. His story arc in that film centered on rising above the desire for revenge and balancing the needs of a son versus a future ruler. After all, the death of his father meant that he was now a King and had an entire country to see to. Black Panther takes place just a week or two after the events of Civil War. T’Challa has returned to complete the rituals necessary to ascend to the throne.

We meet up with Panther en route to see Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his love interest and a Wakandan spy on mission in Nigeria. Aiding Panther is Okoye (Danai Gurira), the greatest warrior in Wakanda and leader of the Dora Milaje - personal guard of the King. T’Challa interrupts Nakia's mission in order to explain what has happened and bring her home for his installment. It is now that we finally get to see Wakanda in all its glory for the first time--a jewel hidden away from prying eyes by advanced holographic technology. When they arrive we meet Ramona, the Queen Mother (Angela Bassett) and his genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). We get a great sense of the splendor of Wakanda and the familial nature of the main relationships here, even Okoye and Nakia who are not blood-related.

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Meanwhile, Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) is shown perusing the West African exhibit in a British museum asking about artwork when Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) breaks in and steals a vibranium artifact to sell to the highest bidder. As T’Challa finishes the rituals necessary to become the rightful King of Wakanda, the news comes in of Klaue’s actions at the museum and the Wakandan council can’t pass up this chance to bring him to justice after all the lives lost when he stole vibranium from them decades ago. Black Panther, Okoye and Nakia go after Klaue at the point of sale and manage to capture him with the aid of former Air Force pilot and current CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Before he can be brought to justice, Erik Stevens breaks him out of prison in order to aid Stevens in his attempt to enter Wakanda and start a global war.

This was a phenomenally acted movie. Even the accents, which are notoriously difficult, were managed with grace. Not everyone can get perfect marks for their accents, but most of the actors sounded fantastic. I should mention that a real standout in this department, negatively speaking, was Daniel Kaluuya's W'Kabi. He had the worst time trying to reproduce the accent, by far, but it never took away from the film. He was serviceable enough and played his part with steely resolve. Overall the real standout of this movie was Michale B. Jordan. He brought a palpable emotional range to the film that I haven't seen from any other Marvel villain save Tom Hiddleston's Loki, but to a much deeper degree than Hiddleston. There's talk on the internet that he's the best villain since Heath Ledger's Joker and while I may need a few more viewings to say one way or another, but he's definitely in the conversation. This is only the second time an MCU villain had any real character development and it's the best villain they've come up with, in potentially their best film to date

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Right next to Jordan's Erik Stevens is Letitia Wright's Shuri, the smarter-than-Tony-Stark younger sister of T'Challa. I will say that the movie didn't exactly show me that she was smarter than Tony Stark (she actually is), which is unfortunate. Given the technological advancements Vibranium allowed Wakanda, it's hard to say whether or not Tony Stark would have been as successful had he been given the same tools for the same period of time and had been living in a Vibranium world his whole life. All that to say that while she IS smarter than him, the movie didn't do a good job showing that to me, albeit that was never their intent. I only bring it up because the media made a huge deal over that fact given that Tony Stark is widely expected to take the big dirt nap in Avengers 3 or 4 given Robert Downey Jr.'s age and price tag. She would be a top notch replacement. Regardless, Shuri was a breakout star in the film and I would not be surprised to see her pop up in more than just the next adventure in Wakanda, and, oh yes, there are more adventures to be had.

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Famously, Taika Waititi, director of the irreverent and immensely profitable Thor: Ragnarok said that the title character of his film has to be the best character. He succeeded in that regard. In Black Panther I can't say that was the case. Chadwick Boseman was phenomenal, don't get me wrong, but there was so much to mine from so many talented actors that I can in no way say his was the best character in the film. However, one can argue that movies like this are only as good as their villain, and if that's the case then this movie is basking in the warm glow of Michael B. Jordan's love. From Okoye to M'Baku (Winston Duke) there are so many characters to love and love to hate. Duke had another standout performance and managed to bring the ill-thoughtout, semi-racist comic book character of Man Ape into the future. Not a bad apple in the bunch and I'm genuinely pleased at that. Also, let me just say: if you want to see strong female characters, look no further. Fantastic job on that front. Unbelievable.

Fruitvale Station - 94%. Creed - 95%. Black Panther - 97%. From the NAACP Image awards to the New York Film Critic's Circle awards, director Ryan Coogler's resumé and reputation speak for themselves. With praise from critics and filmgoers alike, it seems Coogler is a hitmaker and Black Panther is just the latest in what may prove to be a standout career by the time it's over. The next Oscars might have his name in the ears of the people once again if my hunch is correct. Ryan Coogler set out to make an unapologetically black superhero film. Contrary to popular belief, those of us who were truly excited for this film (and had any sense in our heads) knew that this wasn't the first black superhero movie. That's not what mattered here. What mattered was that this was a big-budget (200 million) superhero movie with an all-black cast, crew, director and was representative of the diaspora of the global Black collective. From African and Caribbean nations to African-Americans and those from Europe, from Black Feminism to Afro-Futurism, this movie represented Black Excellence on a global scale and that's what Coogler set out to do.

Wakanda represents an Africa untouched by colonialism, thriving without the cultural suppression and subsequent dispersion that has left many PoC without any link to their original homeland. However, Wakanda exists in the world today. The outside world. Our world. Where were they when we were stolen? Sold. Raped. Beaten. Killed. Where were they when we were robbed of our culture and left to create our own? T'Challa grew up in privilege. I'm not talking about wealth and prosperity. He grew up the same way white people grow up: without a system of oppression designed, from the criminal justice system to the education system, to keep them groveling in the dirt. He grew up without the stigma of slavery, Jim Crow, the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration and a whole host of other factors that not only binds and restricts, but dehumanizes and degrades. Black Privilege. Is that a thing? That's why the dynamic between him and Erik Stevens was so fascinating.

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The tension that has existed between Africans and those of African descent all over the rest of the world has been all too real. The movie successfully and thoughtfully tackles the issue and that's what makes Michael B. Jordan's performance all the more powerful. I'm really trying not get into spoiler territory here so forgive me. The idea of what colonialism has done all over the world and continues to do versus an Afro-futurist "what if" world are tantalizing to say the least. How would we be different? From the music to the ideologies of the film, there's so much to talk about and unpack that a review really isn't the place for it. Suffice it to say that this is a must see movie if there ever was one. See it as many times as possible and pick it apart. Absorb it.

A movie that almost requires repeat viewing, Black Panther lives up to the hype in so many ways. Not the most action packed Marvel movie you'll ever see but still so full of excellence and power. A masterwork by director Ryan Coogler, Captain America: Winter Soldier may finally have been unseated as Marvel's best work.

#WakandaForever

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