Is Black Panther good?
Okay, but is it “especially” good or just another really well-polished, solid Marvel movie?
No, it’s an exceptional film – Marvel or otherwise. Probably the best of its type since The Avengers (the first one.)
What’s it about?
Set not long after the title character’s introduction in Captain America: Civil War, the film takes place all but entirely in Wakanda. Which is a secret civilization hid in central Africa whose science, technology and culture have been light-years ahead of the rest of the world for centuries owing to being built on a gigantic supply of the valuable mineral “vibranium.” But as the newly-crowned King, T’Challa, ascends to both the throne and the symbolically power-armored mantle of “The Black Panther;” the outside world is finally catching up with Wakanda and threatening to discover their long-kept secrets. When a confrontation with an old enemy reveals a surprisingly new and deadly threat, the new King and his allies they encounter new challenges. They must face not only the unanswered mistakes of their ancestors but the prospect of how their world can open itself up and change for the better without putting Wakanda in danger or seeing Wakandan weapons used the endanger the rest of the world.
Sounds like a lot more going on than just a superhero movie.
Yeah, the most immediately notable aspect of the film is that it’s so much bigger than the title character alone. Imagine if Guardians of The Galaxy had just been called “Star-Lord” – or if the first Star Wars had been “Skywalker” for an idea of just how much more there is to Black Panther than The Black Panther himself. It is really a movie “about” Wakanda both storywise AND thematically. I.E. the idea of what a hyper-advanced/uncolonized Black African civilization could be and what such a civilization’s presence would mean in the world. Where the king wearing space-age jungle cat armor to go on superhero missions is just one part of an intricately-woven narrative that involves the royal family, T’Challa’s friends, his rivals, the various tribes that comprise Wakandan society, the geopolitical ambitions of its government and it’s placed in the wider world.
Ryan Coogler, late of Fruitvale Station and Creed; here cementing his stature as one of the great filmmakers of his generation – and clearly one of the most effectively ambitious. At times, it almost feels like Coogler, having been tasked with “merely” creating a Black counterpart to the Iron Man or Captain America franchises. But instead decided “Y’know, while we’re here and have Disney’s money to spend – why not also make Black Star Wars, Black James Bond and Black Lord of The Rings?”
Who’s in the cast?
Chadwick Boseman is T’Challa, giving a finely nuanced performance as a guy who’s ready for everything about being a King except the emotional strain. Lupita Nyong’o is a socially-conscious spy named Nakia, Danai Gurira is Okoye, general of the all-female royal guard. But Leticia Wright has a star-making turn as T’Challa’s younger sister and chief weaponsmith, something like a young female answer to Tony Stark. Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out in a very different sort of role as a childhood friend of T’Challa’s, relative newcomer Winston Duke making a VERY strong impression as M’Baku, essentially leader of “The Big Strong Dude Tribe” and Andy Serkis is an absolute riot as Klaw. Additionally, Angela Basset and Forest Whitaker are on hand as Wakanda’s Queen Mother and High Priest, and Martin Freeman is back as the CIA operative from Civil War.
Is it weird that people are acting like this is the first Black superhero movie?
I mean… it’s the first Black-led Marvel movie, which means it’s the first Black superhero movie under the current “gold standard” of the genre. But I think a lot of that sort of hype is coming more from a place of being hyped about a quality the movie has that’s not fully defined in the public consciousness yet. There’s never been a huge-budget afro-futurist blockbuster and the idea of a Black director and predominantly Black cast getting together with a truckload of Disney’s money to spend on imagining a hypothetical Black African civilization unmolested by Western colonialism/slavery/etc. is a really big, powerful idea. I can definitely see where the excitement is coming from.
Is there anything “wrong” with it?
Not really, to be honest. All the important stuff is really, really solid and more often than not outright excellent. What minor issues I noticed were technical: There’s some dodgy CGI in Act 3 and a handful of not-perfect green screen composite shots. But the sequences they occur in are so well-staged, directed and imaginative, it’s hard to care too much. And as with most good action movies of the last decade or so I wish it was about half an hour longer just to let things “breathe” a little more, but… is “so good I want more of it really a ‘negative’ trait?
Look, this is the sort of movie where it’s easy to get caught up in the “historically important” aspect, so it’s prudent to be skeptical and objective. But Black Panther is the real deal – a genuine masterpiece of popcorn filmmaking that raises the bar really high for 2018 blockbusters and a near-perfect of… well, itself.
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