Black Panther might be the greatest celebration of African and overall black culture to ever grace a cinema screen. Unapologetically black and not afraid to step on toes, Black Panther awakens your imagination and tests everything you know about colonialism. The film might be based in the Marvel cinematic universe, but you quickly realize Black Panther is on a different plane from previous installments in this series.
Being a black man, comic book geek, and cinephile allowed me to appreciate Black Panther on multiple levels. I had my doubts about this film, but director Ryan Coogler made sure to address each and every one of those doubts.
Wakanda is without question the most fleshed out fictional setting to ever grace a comic book film. Wakanda isn’t just a backdrop for the characters but a magical place based on the beauty of Africa, and technological advances human minds have yet to create. The best way to describe Wakanda to people who have yet to see this film is to tell them to picture the beginning of The Lion King but with real live people. To the harsh but gorgeous Jabari Mountains, the mighty rivers, or to the very majestic plains, Wakanda is the dream every person wishes they could experience. I wanted to see more, but luckily I don’t have to wait long before Wakanda is featured again in a Marvel film.
I have to give praise to the cast of Black Panther; everyone did a fantastic job to the point I would feel conflicted if I failed to mention more than just Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. Yet, if I wrote about everyone this would be the longest review ever. Furthermore, feminism and black beauty take center stage with a cast of powerful black women. There are no damsels in distress here, and often times it is the women doing the saving and fighting. This reminded of when Simba needs an army to face off against Scar and the hyenas, it is Nala and the lionesses who play that savior role. Every character serves a role and provides insight, instead of just moving the plot along.
I am so glad we have moved past the African flute music cues featured in Captain America: Civil War that set black people back 300 years. Black Panther features an original score, accompanied by songs from the Black Panther album produced by Kendrick Lamar. The music is amazing and is used in a way that only enhances the experience of the film. Erik Killmonger’s theme and the African music used for key moments are the standouts. Another great thing about the film is the high level of costume design that embraces African culture, while still being modern. I will be shocked if this film is not nominated for costume & design.
Despite how awed I was, there were some graphical flaws. The CGI throughout the film progressively worsens until the end. You often wonder if the CGI was stepped down to Marvel producing so many films throughout the year, or that they didn’t have faith in this film. The last few fights are a letdown, and honestly, the best of the action comes before the climax.
Wakanda is the most advanced nation in the world; they can create what most would consider the impossible. To maintain its way of life, it was shielded from the world, but with that comes moral problems. I love how Coogler addresses the problems that black people outside of Wakanda face, and how by Wakanda sealing themselves from the world they contribute to the injustices their black sisters and brothers face.
The main plot of the film, and what makes the film so great, is T’challa King of Wakanda played by Boseman and Erik Killmonger the extremist played by Jordan. These two characters have so much character development and nuance that whenever they talk, you listen. Their viewpoints and ideologies remind me of the Great Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Jordan’s character is the villain, but you can’t help but relate to him; often times if he wasn’t so brutal you would root for him as the hero. I can’t think of a greater comic book performance than that of Heath Ledger. Jordan’s natural charisma chews up any scene he is in, but Boseman reminds you why he is the star. Boseman might get flack for his accent, but that is easy to get over because his character portrayal is so great. The most powerful scenes have to be when T’challa broke his calm demeanor and let his feelings really show. We’ve seen this before, in Captain America: Civil War, where he really unleashed his emotion. It’s good to see the consistency of it follow through in Black Panther. The contrast between the calm and calculated king vs the radical and energetic newcomer is unmatched.
No more slaves, drug dealers, or white saviors. Black Panther gives young and old something to believe in and help inspire a change.
Black Panther is the eighteenth film in the Marvel cinematic universe, but it is the first with a lasting message and the first with layers of social commentary. I feel sorry for people who refuse to watch this film due to their viewpoint of superhero films or racism. Black Panther is not only a cultural phenomenon but also the first great film of 2018.