Ok, let’s just get this out of the way before I start my actual review. Yes, I realize that this is a major milestone in the representation of black people and strong female characters in film, and I’m thrilled that finally a studio is willing to put this much money and effort into a superhero film which does not star a white lead. There’s finally a cinematic superhero that people of African descent can look up to, and it’s about time! Those real-life circumstances, however, I’m not going to take into account in this review so that I can just focus on the movie itself. Don’t worry this review for a new release is spoiler free!
Black Panther is about the newly-crowned king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of the fictional country, Wakanda, who inherits the throne and position of Black Panther from his father who was killed in the events of Captain America: Civil War. While trying to decide what kind of king he wants to be and how he wants to lead Wakanda, he is challenged for his position by a mercenary named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). His journey leads him to learn more about some past events which involved his father which are now resulting in dangerous consequences.
My favorite part of this movie, by far, is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. This is the Marvel villain I’ve been waiting for ever since Iron Man. He’s deadly, intelligent, and above all MOTIVATED. His reasons for doing what he does are extreme to the point of villainy, but at the center there’s a sentiment that is somewhat valid. He knows exactly what he wants to do and doesn’t care who or what is in his way. His backstory is well explained and he remains interesting throughout the entire movie; there’s a point where he could have easily disappeared for a while, but instead they gave him a scene which spoke a lot about him as a character. There wasn’t a single scene where I was bored with Killmonger and I actually wish he had received more screen time.
Loki has become a good villain in the Marvel Movies. The Netflix TV shows have excellent bad guys: Kingpin, Purple Man, Diamondback, Jigsaw (and Madame Gao until Iron Fist). However, none of them have established themselves as such a dangerous threat as quickly as Killmonger did in Black Panther. I really hope Marvel keeps this in mind as an example for future movie villains.
All of the actors here do a good job: Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend Nakia, Letitia Wright as his sister Shuri, and Forest Whitacker as his adviser Zuri standing out in every scene that they are in without Killmonger. I look forward in particular to seeing Wright in the future on the silver screen. I was already been impressed by her performance in the most recent season finale of Black Mirror a Netflix original show. The acting from Jordan and the rest of the supporting case is such a strength of the film, however, that it sometimes seems to work against it.
Boseman does a good job as T’Challa, but it’s a testament to the ability of the other actors that he sometimes seems bland by comparison. It’s not bad by any means; he emotes well enough for the audience to know when he’s conflicted and what he’s thinking, but there’s never a sense that he’s going to cross the line. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but there was a scene where we’re supposed to think he would do something excessively violent and I just never felt he’d actually go through with it. It doesn’t help that the writing for the character was predictable and lacked a depth that I had been hoping for. There are glimpses of the deeper workings of T’Challa’s mind and conflict present as he learns about his father’s past, but not enough in his words or actions to make us question anything about him. In fact, the payoff that I had been hoping for with his character didn’t happen until the credits. Usually I wouldn’t notice this as much, but the supporting cast is strong to the point where these shortcomings stand out more.
Wakanda itself is beautifully realized, and it’s great to have a look at fully realized vibranium technology after only seeing hints of it in previous movies. Shuri in particular is very adept at inventing with it and could probably make Tony Stark feel like an idiot after a few minutes; I particularly enjoyed a scene where she uses remote driving technology that she had developed. The question of whether they should share their resources with the rest of the world is presented early on, and is an interesting point. Given how powerful this metal has been shown to be, anyone who has it would have an advantage, so who should get it? All I’ll say is that I wish the way that this question is ultimately answered is that I felt could have used some more explanation.
Despite all of this, I did enjoy watching Black Panther. The action scenes were well done, the effects were a pleasure to see, Andy Serkis as the villain Klaue was a lot of fun, the supporting cast overshadows the main character, and the villain is the best one I’ve seen in a Marvel movie. I just don’t think, based solely on its qualities as a movie, it should be considered a landmark in film making. I’d recommend it more for the character of Killmonger more than anything else.
Rating: 4/5 ★★★★
What did you think? Was Black Panther overrated or a masterpiece? Comment below!