You know you’ve seen a good film when you start to ponder how it fits in the pantheon of great films let alone how it fits among other great films in its genre. Black Panther left me pondering just how director Ryan Coogler co-wrote this film with Joe Robert Cole and managed to pull it off. It not only stands out amongst the Marvel films as one of the best heroic journeys, but it stands out as one of the most satisfying action films in a long time.
The scope of this film is impressive, ticking off many boxes and accomplishing so much. It not only utilizes time effectively (with an opening flashback), but also establishes a hidden nation, a culture of a people, the powers of a superhero, and a deeper meaning of doing the right thing for not just your family but your neighbor. It’s easy to remember a film like Iron Man and think of it fondly as it established a hero’s personal journey, but here Coogler has done that and more by establishing Wakanda. With Wakanda comes an explanation for its peoples’ many technological feats, a spiritual realm for kings, and a believable explanation as to why a world full of high-tech spy organizations and superheroes does not know of this country until now.
What does it mean to be a king.
Black Panther is dense and expertly paced. There doesn’t seem to be a wasted scene or anything erroneous (unless of course, a little mindless action isn’t to your tastes). It effectively juggles different genres be it the action film (heroes fighting villains), war film (a big battle ends the film), spy films (a covert mission in Korea), and a family drama.
I couldn’t believe how many characters felt fleshed out and well written. Typically with superhero films, the main character gets all the screen time and the supporting characters add to the hero’s characterization and not much more. Not so here, especially when it comes to the women who surround T’Challa AKA Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman). Danai Gurira plays Black Panther’s general Okoye, who watches over him but isn’t afraid to push his buttons. Lupita Nyong’o plays the love interest Nakia, but she’s so much more — not only kicking ass at the end of the film but inspiring Black Panther to be better. T’Challa’s sister Shuri is played by Letitia Wright who ends up being a genius scientist and technician who creates wondrous gadgets for she and others to use throughout the film. Surprisingly Everett Ross (played by Martin Freeman) has a large role in the film as part comedic relief and part outsider looking in. By the end of the film his character is much better fleshed out than he was in Civil War and there’s an interesting bond he shares with T’Challa. There are many more supporting characters that were great in this film I didn’t mention, but again, it’s due to their acting, great writing, and well-paced moments that allows so many characters to shine.
Shuri is going to be a fan favorite.
Main villain Killmonger–played by Michael B. Jordan–is a compelling character who grew up in America and sees Wakanda as an enemy. Why wouldn’t you when you’ve only seen death and racism your whole life while an African nation so far advanced stood back and did nothing? Jordan does a great job with his scenes establishing a rage and sense of self-destruction that suits the character. By his side is Andy Serkis, who plays Klaw in an almost comedic way as he’s loopy and quite insane. Like a court jester who does and says random things, you’ll never want him to leave the screen. All in all the villains of this film are great.
By the end of the film, you’ll never want the characters to go and you’ll be hoping a sequel is announced sooner than later. Surprisingly the title character ends up doing more superhero fighting than scene-chewing acting. The scenes he’s in are good, but in many cases he’s more there to listen than to speak. This might make sense on a level of him being a good leader, but there wasn’t one scene-stealing scene for him to act it up. Think of him as a placeholder so as to tell the story of Wakanda, or introduce the spirit realm, or to introduce the rich supporting cast. I don’t want to say the character is boring per se, but he ends up resonating less than most of the rest of the film, which seems like a missed opportunity on some level. That said, that suit is pretty slick and it’ll be fun to see him kick ass in Avengers: Infinity War this May.
This is an excellent superhero film and one of the best thrill rides you’ll experience all year. It packs so much into a slim two hour and 15 minutes. Black Panther firmly establishes not only the greater purpose of a hero who is the leader of a nation but the nation itself. Black Panther stands out and may even outshine the rest of the renowned heroes in the cinematic Marvel universe — and that’s saying a lot.