Nico’s Movie Review: ‘Black Panther’ Is A Stimulating Celebration Of Africa And Humanity
I don't consider myself the biggest fan of superhero movies. The last Marvel Cinematic Universe film I saw was Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2014, for example; and the last DC movie I saw was The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 (unless you count last year's The LEGO Batman Movie).
The main reason is, I can't get excited about them anymore. That's why I had such high hopes for Black Panther going in; it was the first superhero movie in literal years that I actually wanted to go see!
So did it meet my expectations? Well, mostly.
Black Panther is the 18th film (holy cow) in the MCU, and introduces us to the titular Black Panther, the guardian of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. When not donning the mask, Black Panther is T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the king of Wakanda, as well as it's main diplomat. He is a man of many, cat-eared hats.
From a simplistic view, you could look at Black Panther as the anti-Batman; he's incredibly wealthy thanks to his country's natural resource (the fictional vibranium, the super-strong metal well known to Marvel fans; it's what Captain America's shield is made of, for example), he doesn't really have any super powers and instead relies on superior technology, and he very rarely gets involved in problems outside of his own domain (Gotham and Wakanda, respectively).
However, unlike Batman, Black Panther seems to have his life together relatively well, and is appreciated and loved by his family and people. He's not a vigilante, rather a state-sponsored spearhead of a team effort. That team includes his former girlfriend Nakia (the always fabulous Lupita Nyong'o), the head of the royal guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), and his techie sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who designs his suit and all the gadgets he uses.
The story of Black Panther picks up with T'Challa assuming the mantle of King of Wakanda, after the death of his father via assassination. Shortly after, his team learns the whereabouts of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who had stolen a large amount of vibranium from the Wakandans many years ago. Their quest starts there, but begins to unfold into a Shakespearean-style drama of betrayal and loss.
This film is a true feast for the eyes, ears, and spirit; Wakanda is supposed to be an East African nation, but it is a decidedly pan-African, afrofuturistic nation, with pieces of various cultures thrown in; the country has five tribes, and each clearly has its own heritage, culture, and practices. I will admit I am not an expert on Africa, but I know enough to identify bits and pieces; the Wakandans worship the Egyptian cat goddess Bast, while various tribes have features ranging the whole continent.
The performance that every actor provides really is top-notch. Boseman as T'Challa does fantastically as the monarch on the cusp of radically changing his nation; Wakanda has stayed hidden for centuries, and many characters in the film argue its great wealth and technology should be revealed to the world. T'Challa is torn between tradition and what he believes might be right, and that conflict is driving for his character.
The women of Black Panther are a treat as well. I was a personal fan of Danai Gurira as the captain of the guard, as her character contains such an intensity in everything she does. That's not to say she's one dimensional; there's a scene where Okoye is split between being loyal to T'Challa or to Wakanda, and you can feel her pain clearly. Lupita Nyong'o was great, serving as a kind of moral compass for Black Panther, but I must admit I had trouble feeling the chemistry between her and T'Challa. And Letitia Wright as the "Q" of the movie was quite fun, serving up laughs to break tension nicely.
I had a lot of fun watching the two main villains of this film, for two very different reasons. Andy Serkis as Klaue is absolutely ridiculous in the best way, and you can tell he had a blast in the role. His character, an arms dealer, is clearly a little wacky, but in a way that is simultaneously funny and terrifying.
On the other hand, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger is the archetypal tragic villain, one who channels justifiable rage into improper outlets. He grew up in Oakland and saw his father killed at a young age; he shows great disgust at the treatment of black people throughout the world, and feels like Wakanda is in the wrong for doing nothing to stop it.
Killmonger's solutions to the problems he sees are horrific, but what makes Black Panther interesting is that you understand his motivation, and to some extent you sympathize with him.
Now, it's time for the unfortunate negatives, because Black Panther is not a perfect film. Despite the original story, in the end this is still a superhero movie, and all of my typical superhero movie gripes are embodied here, so I'll do a quick rundown.
Marvel movies have this problem where they love fight scenes, but they hate showing the action properly; this film does better than most, but there are still many scenes filled with poor lighting, quick jumps and weird choreography that makes it very, VERY hard to work out what the hell is going on. When scenes like this happen, you just kind of have to wait for the dust to settle and see who won.
Black Panther also has a somewhat confusing lore that leaves me with more questions than answers; for example, the Black Panther is set to get his super strength from a plant that was given to him by the goddess Bast. So, does Bast actually exist? I mean, the MCU literally has the Norse pantheon of gods, does it also have the Egyptians? We never actually see Bast in the film, but we do see something akin to a "spirit world", although that could have just been an internal trip a character went on.
This film also suffers from an unfortunate predictability, that is just a symptom of any blockbuster action film. Characters are in danger but they escape right before the last second, the two people who are estranged end up together at the end, and so on.
Despite this, Black Panther is a whole lot of fun. It is a celebration not just of Africa, but of all African descended people around the world and of the common humanity in all of us. Between the driving story, the beautiful visuals and fantastic soundtrack courtesy of the GOAT Kendrick Lamar, and the fun action, I personally would rank Black Panther a must see.
Ultimately, it's a popcorn flick that makes you think, and I really appreciate that.
See the trailer below.