Black Panther: Movie Review

Yesterday I was one of the first normies to see Marvel’s latest release, Black Panther, in movie theaters. By now, Americans are lining up at their local theaters to catch this year’s first real blockbuster.

There was a lot of hype building up to this movie. Despite being a standalone franchise not directly related to the Avengers, there was a lot of excitement leading up to this film. Much more than there was for say Doctor Stranger, or Ant-Man which fall into the same general category of the MCU as Blank Panther.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t even bring this up but the elephant in the room with this movie, and a lot of the hoopla leading up to this flick was the whole race issue. So I can’t not discuss it. I need to at least a little.

I think if this same movie had come out a decade ago, it would have been perceived as just another super hero movie where the hero just to happens to be black, such as the Blade Trilogy, Spawn, or Hancock. Movies that people seem to have forgotten even existed.

But even before the movie came out, there seemed to be the emphasis or willingness to make this movie about being black – where Blank Panther isn’t just a super hero who is black, he’s a black super hero. Like I said, that is what a lot of people thought the movie was going to be before it even released, when all we knew about it was a from viewing a handful of 90 second or shorter trailers.

The movie ended up surprising me in a lot of ways as I am sure it will surprise almost everyone. The biggest surprise was that the racial clamoring was wrong. This was just a super hero movie where the hero happened to be black. What surprised me even more is that it was the villain that was obsessed with racial identity and racial superiority – and that this villain…wait for it… was black.

Marvel went in a completely different direction with this movie than I thought they were going to, and Ryan Coogler of Creed fame walked the razors edge of making this a movie that acknowledges race, and racial issues, without rubbing it in your face or swan diving in it.

With that out of the way, the movie was very good. What made this movie particularly enjoyable is that I didn’t have a bar set for it. With movies like Guardians 2, or Avengers 2, we already had an idea of how good it was supposed to be. These were two massively successful movies and the sequel had to either live up to it’s predecessor or bust. Black Panther was a wild card. I didn’t go into the movie expecting it to suck, or to be the best movie in the world so I was able to actually enjoy the movie instead of holding my breath for 90 minutes waiting for the grand finale.

Ryan Coogler knocked this one out of the park. While not quite a good as Guardians 1 or Winter Soldier in my book, this movie gets a well deserved seat right next to Avengers 1, Iron Man 1, and Thor 3 at the big kids table.

The story is about T’Challa, a character that was first introduced to the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War, then Prince T’Challa of Wakanda seeks out to avenge the death of his father, who he thinks was murdered by the Winter Soldier. 2018’s Black Panther picks off where Civil War ended. Wakanda is a kingdom without a king, and the young Prince T’Challa must return home to assume the throne. But T’Challa’s rise to the throne is challenged, his legitimacy questioned, and his noble plans to run Wakanda undermined, all the while leaving the security and much prized privacy of Wakanda in peril. T’Challa must quickly fill his fathers shoes -er, vibranium suit – and navigate his way through war, geopolitics, globalism, and other temptations of the modern nation state’s leaders.

Yes, race is brought up in this movie, and there was a hint at between the lines politics, I would say that the movie was very even handed with regards to today’s political landscape. Isolationism, nationalism, immigration, refugees, capitalism, military industrial complexes, geopolitics were presented in some way or another, and not in the way I expected. This is not a stupid movie by any means. It’s intelligent, but most importantly it’s mature. Like Winter Soldier presented the moral dilemma of privacy vs. security, this movie makes the audience question whatever preconceived notions of how the world works that they brought with them into the theater. If you watch this movie and leave thinking “WOW, explosion!” you missed the point of this movie.

My absolute favorite part of this movie was the pace. Pacing is everything in a movie. You can have a great story that puts the audience to sleep with bad pacing. This movie hit the ground running and never looked back. So if you had a long week and you’re seeing this movie tonight, you won’t be taking any naps. It’s an interesting movie, with compelling characters, and a good, rhythmic pace. The score was incredible. I found myself tapping my feet almost the entire movie, even though I didn’t know any of the songs like I did with Guardians. Coogler’s use of music to set the pace and tone of the film and transition from scene to scene was brilliant.

Black Panther’s strong suit was character development and storytelling when the film is focused on a micro level, individual characters, and dialogue. As I’m writing this the movie reminds me a lot of another Disney movie set in Africa, The Lion King. If we assume T’Challa is Simba, his father is Mufasa, and well…. yeah, come to think of it. This movie is basically Disney’s Marvel’s Lion King. It has a lot of heart, it’s very touching, and is very character driven.

I love that the movie places such a huge emphasis on family. Lets not kid ourselves that this movie won’t be a tremendous hit with black America, a segment of the population that unfortunately has been struck with a bad run of single parent families and broken homes. Kids look up to heroes they can identify with, and hopefully T’Challa/Black Panther will be a positive, strong role model for kids of any color who otherwise wouldn’t have had one.

Black Panther has A LOT of CGI. We’re talking Avatar levels of CGI. But it was all done very tastefully, and it will come as a pleasant surprise rather than a shock to the senses. This does make for an interesting 3D experience. I’m not usually a fan of 3D movies but I would make an exception and see this movie again in 3D if the opportunity presented itself.

What about the action scenes? After all, this is a super hero movie, right? Oh yeah, action scenes. The one on one fight scenes, and tight knit fight scenes were excellent. Again, this movie really shines when the main characters are front and center. The choreography was incredible and the fighting styles were unlike anything we’d scene in any super hero movie, MCU or otherwise. The closest thing I could think of to compare the sparring sequences of Black Panther were those in Troy when Achilles fought Hector. There is a very tribal, very ancient fighting style portrayed in this movie that is very refreshing. The battle scenes on the other hand where you have dozens and dozens of people going at it were okay. Not horrible, but not Lord of the Rings quality, just okay. Coogler is very self aware and I think he knew this, because he kept these scenes to a minimum. We got a taste of Wakandan warfare, and I’m sure Marvel had some time to practice this for Wakanda’s role in this summer’s Infinity War.

We’ve become so used to the cinematic universe where every movie ties into every other movie in one way or another. Black Panther didn’t rely so heavily on the rest of the Marvel franchise. I think part of this is because the Wakanda angle is so interesting, they didn’t have to, but I also think that Disney realizes they need to start planting new seeds because eventually the Avengers tree will stop bearing fruit. Which means that we can expect more Black Panther in the future, wether that means more direct sequels, or more cross-franchise appearances like we saw with Civil War, or this year’s Infiniti War.

Finally, did this movie have the usual Marvel MCU Achilles heel? Did it suffer from having a mediocre villain? At long last I can tell you, no. It didn’t. This movie had not just one, but two great villains. As far as villains go I would say this movie makes it to the top four alongside Loki, Vulture, and Red Skull/HYDRA. The first villain was actually a throw back from 2015’s Age of Ultron; Ulysses Klaue, the black market arms and vibranium dealer portrayed by Andy Serkis. This guy is ruthless, determined, and hilarious. He steals every shot he’s in. The other big bad played by Michael B. Jordan is a bit of a mystery that I won’t spoil here, but you won’t be disappointed.

In the end, Black Panther is a thoroughly enjoyable film. I would definitely see it again in theaters, I will be buying it on Blu-Ray, and I am excited more now than I was yesterday to see Black Panther’s role in Infiniti War and any future films/sequels. What’s more impressive is how good of a movie it was for such a rookie director to be helming a ship as large as Marvel studios. This movie is strong in some areas than it is in others, but all things considered I give this movie a 8.75/10.

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