“Black Panther” is directed by Ryan Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the newly assumed King of Wakanda. We were previously introduced to his character in “Captain America: Civil War.” At the time, we knew nothing about Black Panther, as it seemed he was thrust into the story by mere circumstance. Now we get to explore his traits, his family, and his kingdom, as he wrestles with a foe who brings depth and humanism to the central conflict like no other Marvel villain has.
There was a lot of hype from audiences for this movie. “Black Panther” predominantly lives up to it, though it is by no means a perfect movie. It is certainly one of the best Marvel movies, and that alone warrants the film to be of great entertainment value. What separates “Black Panther” from other Marvel movies is its antagonist and his exigent message. Michael B Jordan holds a threatening presence that is effortlessly charismatic throughout the course of the film. His character of Killmonger is intimidating, interesting, and relatable. The points he raises are poignant and resonate with T’Challa. Many Marvel villains simply seek world domination or disorder, but Killmonger brings focus to his mission.
Killmonger commands such attention to his cause that I found it impossible to not side with him at times. He’s not maniacal like the Joker or devious like Loki. His intentions are righteous, if not overly-so or selfish. He shows virtue, but his arrogance gets the best of him. Rather than simply demanding a hearing with Wakanda’s council, he craves the power of the throne and the influence that comes with it. His backstory that is explored at the beginning of the film provides insight into why he is this way. His struggle grounds him, and in a way, we can all relate to a degree of self-righteousness. Any casualties in creating his ‘better world’ are simply a means to an end, and that’s where our sympathy dissipates.
While Jordan may steal the show with his fantastic performance, Boseman and the supporting cast offer great work in their own right. Boseman brings intelligence and an introspective nature to T’Challa. In contrast, Killmonger is marked by extroversion, which is what makes their personalities so compelling and polarizing. Both make the other look within and beyond themselves. Danai Gurira plays an intimidating character named Okoye, who commands an all-female special forces that also act as bodyguards to the king. Her unwavering loyalty to her country makes for an interesting conflict within her own character.
Letitia Wright plays T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri. A young innovator, her intellect is unmatched, as is her naivety. Some of her sly comments I found to be irritable. Martin Freeman plays CIA agent Everett Ross, who has a satisfying character arc that broadens his horizons and capabilities. Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue is a delightful, over-the-top minor villain who’s a bit flippant with his remarks. It was nice to see Andy Serkis perform without the assistance of motion capture technology. Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o bring maturity to the cast, and their characters have personal connections to T’Challa. Daniel Kaluuya is something of a disappointment, as he bears the same facial expression throughout the course of the film. It almost seemed like they had taken one shot of him and pasted it in different backgrounds.
What really impressed me was the costume and production design. A lot of thought was clearly put in to the look of Wakanda. Costume elements were inspired from African tribes located in the regions around where Wakanda would be situated. Joe Robert Cole, who wrote the script along with Ryan Coogler, said that they sought to establish the cultural aspects before “extrapolating out our technology.”1 The cultural influences do feel authentic, and they lend themselves to not making the technological aspects feel too futuristic. The country of Wakanda fits in seamlessly with the rest of the MCU, and given what we’ve seen in the way of technology from Stark in the “Iron Man” and “Avengers” movies, I was not shocked to see hovercrafts, incredibly advanced suits, or a floating train. The scenes featuring T’Challa’s father are especially noteworthy for their impressive visuals and spiritualistic nature.
The cinematography is very well done (a scene involving Killmonger’s ascension to the throne is especially impressive), although I did not like how the action sequences were shot. I found them to be a bit too shaky and confusing for my tastes. At some points, I wasn’t sure who was punching who. I also was perplexed at the intentions of the characters fighting in the climactic battle. Wakandans are fighting Wakandans, and I had no idea if their aim was to kill or to maim. The showdown between T’Challa and Killmonger takes place in a very dark tunnel, and coupled with their dark suits makes it difficult for us to see what is going on. There was a lot of CG work in that sequence, and I found it to be distracting and somewhat disappointing. Fortunately, though, we finally have a Marvel movie with a soundtrack that sounds like some thought was put into it before post-production. The score expertly intertwines tribal elements found in the percussion and timba with modern trap beats that illuminate Killmonger’s rage and differing views.
“Black Panther” is another entertaining and humorous entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that delves deeper into sociocultural issues than any other Marvel film. While it will attract a larger and more diverse audience than many of its predecessors, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the film is a masterpiece or a cultural phenomenon. It will certainly be helped by its standalone nature in the universe and its originality. I look forward to seeing more stories involving the Black Panther.