Before Black Panther, there played a trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp, the not-exactly anticipated follow-up to one of Marvel’s blander films. And all I could think about, in the packed opening-night audience of Black Panther was, after seeing this powerhouse, who could possibly still be excited for Ant 2?
Black Panther is, of course, the latest offering from Marvel Studios. It follows the story of T’Challa, the king of a hidden African nation called Wakanda, and his rise and struggles as both the ruler of his storied heraldry, but also as the masked vigilante known as Black Panther. But, as constant think pieces have been written over the past week, this film is so much more than just that. It is the first major black comic book film ever released in theaters. Sure, we’ve had some attempts before, whether it is the financially successful though oft-overlooked Blade Trilogy or the regrettable messes that are Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel or Halle Berry’s Catwoman, but all of these cases are films surrounded by white executives just trying to cash in on an actor’s success rather than any attempt to make a “statement” as it were. It is undeniable, that if Black Panther is anything, it’s a statement. The film unapologetically oozes black culture, from its nearly entirely non-white cast to the hiring of Ryan Coogler, acclaimed director of Creed and Fruitvale Station, to the sharp colors and dynamic sets. All of this caused this film to already become a bonafide cultural phenom. In just four days it made no less than 242 million dollars domestically for a worldwide total of $427 million, doing wonders for the representation of black actors and filmmakers as well as simply create a figure that millions of young people of color can look up to in a sea dominated almost entirely by people who look nothing like them. BUT all of this cultural significance aside, is still it a good movie?
The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes. This movie feels immensely fresh while still being decidedly familiar. The script is a token good versus evil story, but one that is tackled with care. While it might be fairly predictable at parts, the in-between is just written so well by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole that it really doesn’t matter. The lush world of Wakanda is beautifully designed, presenting a kind of Afrofuturism that, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t really ever been portrayed on screen before. The cast is rounded out by some of the heaviest hitters in Hollywood right now. Chadwick Boseman, of 42 and Get On Up fame, brings a triumphant physicality to the role of Black Panther, as well as a certain suaveness to the scenes where he’s not wearing the suit. His counterpart is the incredible Michael B. Jordan as the villain Killmonger who genuinely dominated this film. Every scene he was in had this incredible gravitas to it, helping to elevate this film over almost all the other Marvel films to date. I mean, not that the villain from Thor is bad per se, but he is just a robot that shoots lasers out of his face. Lupita Nyong’o classes up the joint with her unique kind of regality that really just floats off the screen like a fine wine of some sort. The cast is rounded out with more incredible talents, including legends Angela Basset, Forrest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis, as well as relative newcomers Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Florence Kasumba. Every actor fits in the world perfectly helping to create one of the best casts in a blockbuster movie made in recent years.
Black Panther easily has more style than any other modern superhero film. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison brought an eye-catching pop to the camera that is sorely missing in far too many of Marvel’s film offerings. This energetic camerawork mixed with some genuinely stellar costumes and set design helped this film to feel undoubtedly alive. Not to mention the fact that the film’s many action sequences are effortlessly directed by Coogler to feel simultaneously both blood-pumping and personal. Probably the most notable sequence is a duel between Jordan and Boseman on the top of the waterfall that can easily go down as one of the best-directed scenes in the MCU’s entire filmography. And who could forget the music! This film was composed by Ludwig Goransson and comprises of a mixture of tribal beats and orchestral tones to create a really emphatic mixture of sounds. PLUS the film features multiple original songs by Kendrick Lamar so…what more could you really need?
The film is, of course, not perfect. The script, while great, is not revolutionary. As I said before, it can get a little predictable. It suffers from some exposition issues early on, some things remain confusing while others are presented very blatantly creating a somewhat uneven first twenty minutes or so. But, once you get into the thick of things it really picks up. It can get a little silly at times with classic Marvel talk of “Vibranium” and all, but at the end of the day, the film’s inherent swagger helps to look past it. Lastly, there are some shots in the movie that look glaringly computer generated, but, I suppose at this point, that’s just something we’re going to have live with. But, none of these things are really detrimental to the overall exuberance you leave the theater with. Do yourself a favor and see this movie in the cinema. There really won’t be an audience quite like this one for a long time.
All images are from Black Panther, a movie by Marvel Studios