This review is designed to be spoiler-light. My hope is to release something which gives you the feel of the movie without spoiling the experience for you — which means I won’t be revealing anyone’s motivations, actions or scene-by-scene analysis. I figure we have the rest of the year to read such things. This is about my experience with Black Panther.
The summary which follows is all you’re gonna get outta me. I want you to experience it the same way I did. Unspoiled, except with the knowledge that Marvel did good.
Black Panther (2018) follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, King T’Chaka, returns home to the isolated, technologically-advanced African nation of Wakanda to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. However, as defined by tradition, a king’s succession can be challenged by royalty of one of the tribes of Wakanda.
When an unknown royal cousin appears, one whose martial skills may be the equal of T’Challa’s, he is forced into a conflict which places the fate of the world in the hands of the ruler of Wakanda. Unsure of his allies, bereft of his crown, the young king must rally and bring control of the technological might of his nation back under his control before his people lay waste to the free world.”
Ryan Kyle Coogler will be a name to conjure by if his latest masterpiece, Black Panther, is any indication. This film simply, inexorably crushes the competition to dust. Black Panther was an experience which amplified the energy of the people who came to see it, who cheered it, who were in the presence of something they didn’t expect to see in their lifetimes. A movie celebrating Black excellence, which dared to address questions of the slave trade, the diaspora of Africans and the effects of colonialism on African populations around the world. Then it posits the possibility of something better in the future.
With Marvel having produced more than a dozen blockbuster movies, the bar had risen so high it was simply unexpected that the eighteenth movie in a long line of films could do anything to surprise me, the jaded superhero movie and comic-reading veteran.
I had hopes but lets face it, it’s been a decade of superheroes and maybe I was afraid Black Panther simply couldn’t match the hype or beat the possibility of superhero fatigue I thought might be creeping in at the edges.
Captain America: Civil War, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, are all outstanding movies, each with great performances, a commitment to reproducing the comic-reading experience live, and with each well-choreographed punch, kick, repulsor blast, shield throw, arrow nocked, or lightning bolt thrown, nothing could have prepared me for the experience that was Black Panther (2018).
Strangely, I can’t point to any single thing which defines the movie other than the sheer excellence in every aspect of the film. It’s the synergy of art, story, pacing, design, cinematography, color, technology, enthusiasm and the sheer love exuded from every frame. It is clear the actors aren’t phoning this in, they want to be there. They know they are making history…
My single disappointment was with the music. I am no music connoisseur, but even I recognize, most Marvel movies have underwhelming soundtracks. Try to remember even a singular musical number which has the same resonance as the Star Wars soundtrack. Black Panther‘s is stronger than most, yet I had hoped there would be more Afro-centric pieces than I heard. As complaints go, this is a minor one.
With this many actors, it would be easy to think the story would be muddled, motivations clashing, an unnecessary collection of actions which could have been lost by a script less tightly woven. Like a good short story, it started fast, explained nothing, never apologized, took risks, presented challenges for everyone, and at one point collapsed upon itself, changing the status quo in a fashion which in lesser hands would have been problematic.
In my opinion, each player brought their story arcs to acceptable closure while embodying an ideal worth fighting and maybe dying for. I could see everyone’s perspective, even if I disagreed.
There was so much to love I scarcely know where to begin.
But let me get this out of the way. One of the reviews which marred the Black Panther’s perfect record claimed there weren’t enough fight scenes and the Dora Milaje overshadowed the Black Panther in his movie. Preposterous. The movie is well-balanced in the fight scene department, offering ample opportunities for everyone to strut their stuff on the battlefield.
The Dora Milaje do not force T’Challa out of the spotlight, as was hinted by the unhappy reviewer, instead they amplify his fight, as they should. The Dora Milaje (the Adored Ones) are the martial right hand of the Black Panther. Where he moves, they move, where he fights, they fight.
The Dora Milaje were magnificent. If you enjoyed Wonder Woman‘s Amazons, then the Dora Milaje will give you that feeling all over again. Beautiful, black women of every shade and hue, who were well-armed, technologically sophisticated, with amazing fighting skills; watching them in action, there is no doubt they can deliver in any confrontation they engage in.
Lead by General Okoye played by The Walking Dead‘s Danai Gurira, her fierce countenance belied her easy humor and I think it was the duality of all of the heroes of Wakanda which made them so easy to love and to relate to. Okoye spoke her mind, knew her job, and was very, very good at it. Her loyalty to Wakanda is never in doubt even when tested, she was never found wanting. What a woman.
Chadwick Boseman’s depiction of the Black Panther is majestic. Every costume he appears in when he wasn’t wearing the Panther habit, left me drooling. When T’Challa visits Djalia, the purple-skied realm of the ancestors who have been the Black Panther after taking the heart-shaped herbal mixture which gave him his powers, his outfit was a white long tunic which was as breathtaking as the scenery crafted for it.
The scene-stealer of this movie is the technical genius which was Shuri, sister to the King (played enthusiastically by Letitia Wright). Despite the Black Panther’s genius, he did, after all, create the habit he wore in the Captain America: Winter Soldier, Shuri’s only joy in life was creating better technology than his, and playfully teasing him about it. Shuri is said to be an inventor whose skills rival or even exceed Tony Stark’s and judging by the technology surrounding her through the movie, she lives up to the hype.
The surprising performance in this movie is the major villain, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. I will admit, I had my issues with this choice initially, because, frankly, Killmonger isn’t in my top ten of Black Panther villains. But Jordan delivers an intense performance of a man possessed of a pure righteous rage which may indeed be justified. This makes him a villain whose arc makes him believe he is the hero of this story if you squint just right. Jordan’s rage in almost every scene is powerful and his casual tone does not undermine the menace he exudes whenever he engages in villainous monologue.
Speaking of villains, the MCU writers have finally begun to understand how to deal with their villains, distilling their essence while leaving their ridiculous costumes behind. Andy Serkis, plays Ulysses Klaue, the only mercenary who managed to both infiltrate and escape with Vibranium from Wakanda in its history. He then manages to hide for thirty years, selling Vibranium to the highest bidders on the world markets. He may be crazy but he managed to avoid Wakandan intelligence for thirty years, so he wasn’t stupid.
Unlike his red and pink comic counterpart, Klaue is loud, vulgar and seemingly a bit crazy. He gets to use his trademark sonic cannon, embedded in his arm, showcasing again, just how formidable Wakandan technology is in relationship to the Western world. He turns two armored cars into piles of scrap with one hit apiece. Terrifying foreshadowing to say the least.
Lupita Nyong’o was the spy/diplomat/love interest, Nakia. I admit to not realizing just how breathtaking Lupita Nyong’o was and when T’Challa sees her again for the first time, I could understand his feelings. Star Wars wasted her beauty and acting talents with that CGI mess, Maz Kanata. Any movie not willing to showcase this powerhouse talent is losing money. Nakia isn’t a wilting flower, needing to be rescued, either. Beauty, brains and brawn appear to be a requirement for being an operative in Wakanda, no matter what your role.
Angela Bassett embodies the majestic Queen-Mother, Ramonda and wears the fiercest outfits in the entire movie. While her role is a secondary one, she always feels as if she is embodying the role of a queen, where even a glance speaks volumes.
Forest Whitaker gleefully plays the shaman, Zuri. He appears to enjoy every second of the role as well. His reversal speaks highly of his love of Wakanda and his respect of the former king, T’Chaka.
The War Dogs, Wakanda’s border agents and espionage teams, led by Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya’s role as W’Kabi, surprise us with how technologically advanced they were, disguising it as little more than robes and swords.
One of the roles which was a pleasant surprise was that of M’baku (Winston Duke). M’Baku was born and raised in the Jabari Village within the nation of Wakanda, Africa. The Jabari tribe’s iconic animal was the white ape. He was one of the greatest warriors of the African nation Wakanda, second only to T’Challa, the Black Panther. Duke’s enjoyment of his role as the spoiler prince, is evident in every line. Though his part is relatively small, Duke manages to make the role seem meatier with his over-the-top delivery. One scene, he had begun to laugh so hard, I had to wonder if instead of acting like he was laughing, he had actually begun to laugh and couldn’t stop.
I think the costuming for this movie truly makes it the experience that it was. Costume designer, Ruth E. Carter’s work was cinematic magic and if she doesn’t win an Academy Award for her work, no movie should. Yes, I said it. Her futuristic fusion of African designs, cultural patterns, stylistic transformations make every scene a feast for the eyes.
Her redesigns of the costumes, particularly of M’baku and Killmonger are among the heights of this movie as they redesign what could have been questionable choices given the original character designs. M’baku design as the Man-Ape in the comics would have look ridiculous and Killmonger’s half-naked classic appearance would have definitely been out of place with the movie’s tone.
Ruth E. Carter, will you marry me? Will you dress me, too? I’m yours, for that one white tunic. In addition to a slew of costume designers, there was an army of hair stylists and makeup artist who appeared to be working around the clock to make sure everyone was perfectly coiffed, wonderfully lit, tattooed, scarified, or adorned with cultural paraphernalia.
I think the movie’s cinematic effects were excellent, scattered across an army of visual effects companies, because the designers wanted to make every scene’s technology an eye-popping experience. Only one or two pieces fail the total-immersion test, and even then, not by much. If the goal was to create technology which appeared to be the equal or even better than anything delivered by Tony Stark, Shuri delivers in spades.
Because there is so much to this movie, I can see deconstructing it at so many levels and I refuse to be the person who spoils the experience for anyone. You can safely know, this is the best thing Marvel has ever produced and if they stopped making movies right now, this would be a crown jewel worthy of a king. The Infinity War is going to have to get up early in the morning to beat this movie.
In closing, Black Panther was everything I hoped. Beautiful, sumptuous, detailed. It’s magnificently-crafted entertainment, perhaps the finest movie Marvel has ever produced. I rate it a 10 out of 10, easily as good as my previous favorite, Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Wakanda, now and forever!
Black Panther (2018)
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Black Panther (2018) IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1825683/
Erik Killmonger: http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Erik_Killmonger_(Earth-616)
Ulysses Klaue: http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Ulysses_Klaw_(Earth-616)