Movie Review

Film Review: BLACK PANTHER (2018): A Superhero Film with Heart, History, & A Vibrant Soul

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Black Panther Review

Black Panther (2018) Film Review, a movie directed by Ryan Coogler, starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, and Daniel Kaluuya.

Black Panther is one of the most mature superhero films that Marvel has produced up to this point in time. Black Panther has all of the bells and whistles that Marvel films are known for but unlike some previously released Marvel films, Black Panther has a soul. A vibrant one, pulsing with: history, song, dance, culture, traditions, and a way of life.

No other Marvel film can say that, in part or in whole, besides Captain America: The First Avenger. It is that African foundation, that Wakanda world-building, that makes Black Panther shine.

Standing by as slavery and war engulfed the world, with advanced technology at their disposal, was a terrible emotional burden that the council of Wakanda carried for centuries. As part of the backstory for Black Panther, this pragmatic decision is not dwelled upon, though it is bravery brought up (introducing the theme of interventionism), and it effects a major event in the closing moments of Black Panther.

Black Panther wrestles with many heavy issues of this nature behind the colorful fabrics of its characters: innovation versus tradition, isolationism, the greater good, Third World poverty, and famine.

Keeping their advanced technology to themselves may have been a cold-blooded and shrewd act (instead of fighting barbarians at the gates, the Wakandans hide the gates and what was behind them), benefiting the Wakandans, their society, and their way of life, but it was a selfish move when one considers the world around them (and the ones that had previously existed).

N’Jadaka / Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) recognizes these facts in Black Panther. Killmonger is a well-realized villain – a creation of his past, driven to enter M.I.T., endure Navy S.E.A.L. training, and survive war theater campaigns – but he and Black Panther fall victim to an unneeded world domination subplot. Killmonger manages to beat King T’Challa in fair, honorable combat, seize the throne of Wakanda for himself, and the first major act he executes is the initiation of global war? That’s the best that director / screenwriter Ryan Coogler and screenwriter Joe Robert Cole could come up with? The old world domination plotline? Again?

Marvel film fans already saw that plotline in The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was not necessary in Black Panther but since it is such a small part of the film (it creeps to life in the third act), this lack of imagination can be forgiven, especially since such vibrant imagination is on display in other aspects of Black Panther.

To an exacting degree, atmosphere is paid attention to in Black Panther. From the streets of inner cities (a surprise), to the jungles of Africa, to the high-tech capital of Wakanda, Black Panther oozes culture, African society, and ways of life among real and fictional people of color.

American streets teem with diversions, the middle class, and modern technology while Walandan streets bustle with industry, trade, unparalleled tech, and tradition. It is the difference between a new society and one that grew up in ruins of a begone one, like those in Europe.

Black Panther takes positive steps forward with how Marvel lays out the story-lines of its film. Black Panther isn’t about spectacle and CGI. They are present in the film but they are satiating, background elements. First and foremost, Black Panther is about good storytelling with anchored, ameliorating surprises within its narrative.

Like the magic-induced sequences in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the dream sequences and the past sequences in Black Panther are some of the most illuminating and engaging in the film. They tie the past to the present in Black Panther in a substantive way: certain events in the past directly impact the fate of certain characters, how other characters are created, and how others prosper. An example of this is the death of Killmonger’s father and how that shaped who he became later in life.

After enduring the forced (no pun intended) jokes and comedy in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Black Panther shows the viewer what a deftly written script with thought-out, well-placed humor looks like and how well-received by audiences such care can be greeted. M’Baku (Winston Duke) steals most of the scenes that he is in during the second and third acts of Black Panther when he says something comedic. Example: at the ending of a heart-warming moment in the third act of the film, M’Baku, whom the viewer did not even know was present in the room, says out loud “Are you through?”

The car chase scene in Black Panther is more cool and humorous than breathless entertainment like analogous scenes in The Fast and the Furious film franchise. The viewer is laughing and following intently during the scene in Black Panther instead of oohing, aahing, and sitting on the edge of their seats like in a Fast & Furious car scene. The car chase in Black Panther is action / comedy and it performed both functions excellently, ending in a telling moment where King T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) almost lets emotion motivate him to murder out in the open on the streets of Busan, South Korea.

And then there are the little touches in Black Panther that add to the film’s grandeur in multiple ways:

Dora Milaje General Okoye (Danai Gurira)’s fight scene during the James Bond-like scene in Black Panther contains a melding of sound and action, a small, auditory tweak not present in other Marvel films, that makes her fight scene, and some others that follow in Black Panther, stand out.

The Wakandan ship, in the clouds above N’Jobu’s apartment building, is a fairy-tale moment for the children below. It also serves as a stark contrast to how far Wakanda is ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technology.

Regardless of Black Panther‘s technological or VFX-flare, like any superhero film, Black Panther is not free of plot holes, a lack of physics, and real world-ism:

Example 1. The C.I.A. would never give over one of their operations officers to someone, even a well-intentioned King of a foreign nation, who is shot in the spine when C.I.A. has their own top notch doctors and world-class surgical bays. It would never happen.

Example 2. No one, not even King T’Challa, could survive the impact of that waterfall fall, not to mention the blood loss he  suffers from the abdomen wound. He also miraculously needs no blood transfusion, suffers no broken bones, and is only alive because of snow.

It is silliness but because of the quality of the film surrounding it, the viewer goes with it, suspends disbelief, and enjoys themselves.

Minute logic flaws notwithstanding, Black Panther, its detail, successful world creation, and minorities in leading roles, is a good modern day superhero film and is hopefully the beginning of a new trend in comic book films.

Rating: 8.5/10

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About the author

Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started FilmBook during an eCommerce B-School course in 2008. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook, he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He has also created ProMovieBlogger.com and Trending Awards.com.

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