There has been a lot of background noise around the recent release of Black Panther. Unfortunately it did cause me some trepidation in going to see it. I thought, this better be good or the noise around it will be an absolute nightmare beyond what it already was. It is a MCU movie though, and while a couple have not met the bar you can usually expect a quality movie out of the studio. Black Panther is no exception. For me it was a good film, and a quality movie experience. It doesn’t rank as high as say Winter Soldier or Civil War for me, but it is certainly part of the large group of good MCU movies that follow close behind.
The first thing that struck me about the movie were the sets and costuming. They did a good job blending traditional African cultural imagery and architecture with an advanced technological society. It looked like the culture developed organically with access to technology that was almost alien compared to the rest of the world. I worried that they’d make it seem too alien, too science fiction that it wouldn’t fit, but that was put to rest very quickly. The costuming was beautiful, full of color and character. I actually would have loved more scenes in the city to see all the architectural touches and dress that breathed so much life into the land we’ve only seen in comics before. The designers really knocked it out of the park with this one.
Even the parts of Wakanda that were entirely techy didn’t seem too alien. The aircraft, nano-holograms, and medical tech all felt like they were just a step ahead of everyone else without appearing too futuristic. Shuri’s lab looked like what one might expect from a cutting-edge tech developer, but also incorporating her own style and culture. In contrast many of the people living outside the city choose to live in a very traditional manner. Small farming villages, ranches, and pastoral communities surround the city and create a lot of cultural variety that is unique to each of the tribes.
The plot of the movie was a decent delivery on a fairly common theme. It is what we’ve come to expect from classic Marvel when it comes to handling social issues. Clever, and handled with a subtle touch rather than a cudgel. T’Challa, the new King of Wakanda, is faced with a changing world around his isolated home. His desire to do the right thing outside his borders clashes with his duty to protect his people and home. It is all thrown into turmoil when Erik Killmonger shows up and usurps T’Challa’s rule. Killmonger quickly takes the role of extremist in a sharp counter-point to the former King’s temperance. We see the flaws in both isolated and imperfect power and the extreme of becoming the monster you hate.
The villain is where Black Panther shines above many other MCU movies. In many cases we are given forgettable villains that are written in just to give us someone to show how heroic the hero is. In others the villain is just so over-the-top evil, dark, evil bad guy that we just don’t care enough. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is on par with the best of the franchise. The character himself has an interesting story, and a believable reason to exist. He’s not just there to give the hero someone to fight. His reasoning makes sense, and even if you can’t agree, you can empathize. Jordan himself delivers a charismatic performance that is interesting to watch.
Chadwick Boseman gave us a Black Panther that was at times vulnerable, unsure, and conflicted. Other times regal, powerful, and confident. He is a hero that is still new to his roles and learning how to balance his responsibilities. There was a touch of humor to his seriousness and some real chemistry with his on-screen family. His debut in Civil War made him seem a good addition to the MCU family but this movie cemented it for me. I’m looking forward to seeing him in Infinity War fighting along side Cap and the rest.
The supporting cast was good, but the stand-out stars to me there were Angela Bassett and Danai Gurira. I can’t think of any actress who would have done a better job portraying the mother and queen, Ramonda. She was both regal as the queen of her people, and compassionate as the matron of her family. Then there’s Danai as General Okoye. I loved her in The Walking Dead where she played a wonderful counterpoint, and eventually a staunch partner to the group’s leader, Rick. Here she is mentor, guardian, and leader for the King and people of Wakanda. She slips from the role of ‘big sister’ to one of dutiful soldier quite well throughout the film.
The action and fight choreography were good. Not really anything that we haven’t seen before but I did like that we didn’t get a montage of architectural destruction that seems to be the norm for superhero movies. The variation on weapons and fighting styles across the various tribes involved in the final conflict was interesting. I loved the armored rhinos, which sparked one of the greatest real life scenes I’ve had in a theater. When the general gets licked by the rhino the entire theater was silent, absorbing the action, and as clear as a bell from near the front came a little girl’s loud “ewww”. I generally don’t like talking during the movie, but that was hilarious.
To make a long review short, the movie was good. We had a lot of fun, and I feel like it is a fantastic addition to the MCU. I look forward to more complex stories out of this character now that he’s established himself in Wakanda and the world. It will be interesting to see how the MCU’s Earth handles the revelations at the end of the movie going forward. Ryan Coogler has already established himself as a great director so I hope we also see more from him in the MCU. If you haven’t seen it already give it a shot.