Back in 2010 Robert Downy Jr.’s Tony stark was dealing with elemental poisoning from the chest piece that was simultaneously keeping him alive and killing him. If you look close enough you’ll see a map in the background pinpointing… that’s right, Wakanda! The seed has been planted! 5 years later in Avengers: Age of Ultron, While tracking the villain, Bruce Banner struggles to say the name Wakanda as they pay a visit to Ulysses Klau a known villain of… you guessed it, Black Panther! If you’re keeping score this is 5 years worth of seed planting and watering for things to come. Enter Captain America: Civil War. We’re introduced to the Wakandans in person King T’Chaka and Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who are catalysts for change in the way superheroes operate in the world. We then throughout this movie see a little more of who Black Panther is, and his path to becoming a king.
OK, now that the history lesson is done (for those not as astute in Marvel Cinematic Universe affairs), lets move on to why we’re all here. Black Panther’s feature standalone film! Let’s just address the Rhino in the room. THIS MOVIE HAS A LOT OF HYPE! And in this reviewer’s humble opinion the film surpasses the hype. Ryan Coogler’s vision for this work is extraordinary! It manages to take action, drama, social commentary, and a powerful message and present a package that is not only eye candy, but brain and heart nutrition to boot.
The imagining of Wakanda is like nothing we’ve seen except maybe Coming to America’s Zamunda, but Coogler goes way beyond “juices and berries” for impressive feats of an African civilization. We’re talking about a technological wonder of a civilization which takes the idea of a thriving black society to next dimension thinking. It’s an idea that simultaneously sparks hope, fear and skepticism in general populous for a number reasons… but we won’t go there, it’s a movie review.
The story takes place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War as we see Prince T’Challa make his transition to King, only to find that his legacy wasn’t everything that he thought is was. The supporting cast really takes you inside a completely fictional world as if it existed. Performances by Forest Whitaker and Angela Basset were… well it’s Forrest Whitaker and Angela Basset! They are great in this movie. The heartwarming emotion that they exemplify on screen makes their situations come to life. You feel the risk and consequence of every action, and the stakes at hand are made that much higher. Winston Duke who plays M’Baku is a scene stealer! When he’s in the movie even against the veterans he becomes the highlight. Menacing and determined, yet somehow makes you comfortable enough to trust your life to him.
The standouts however, are Danai Gurira, as the General of the Dora Milaje, Okoye, and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s little sister and resident genius scientist, Shuri (who I’m sure can give Mr. Stark a run for his money). These two stole the freaking movie! As fore-mentioned, the stakes at hand felt very real and decisions made in this movie are very real and at a home hitting level. This movie does not succeed without these two.
Now in terms of the “Marvel” formula, don’t worry it’s in there. Where the story becomes slightly “by the numbers” is the dynamic between T’challa and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). PLEASE HEAR ME OUT. Just because I said “by the numbers” doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good performance or the chemistry didn’t work between the two, but the story arc was par for the course. Lupita did an amazing job when it comes to being who she was meant to be, but this is the most telegraphed story arc in the movie. I would put it as one of the few weaknesses of the movie and that’s saying alot, because the arc WORKS.
Which leads me to Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) This guy HAS to be one of if not THE best villain in the MCU. One of the things you would worry about in a piece like this is because it IS set in Africa you wouldn’t be able to see any “swag” per se, but oooooo MBJ kills this role til there’s nothing left! Driven, intelligent, skilled, and very, VERY Dangerous. The Reason why he’s so dangerous is because you can totally see where he’s coming from. His point of view hits home harder than you would want although his execution is what sets him apart from being a hero. Once again this movie does NOT succeed without him.
Overall: This movie did what it needed to do and more! On social media I made the comparison to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, but in comic book form. It’s that important of a movie. Not just because of the black cast and crew, but because of the message it sends to society at large. It doesn’t preach at you. It symbolizes, makes you think while entertaining you at the same time. I would recommend any educators out there to see this film and create a dialogue with your students. Mentors and youth leaders the same. YES it’s an MCU movie, yes the action is terrific, but there is SUBSTANCE to this movie beyond an after school special (remember those?).
Black Panther gets a 4.5 out of 5
Release date: 16 February 2018 (USA)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Budget: 200 million USD
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Run Time: 2h 14min