Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis.
Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Review by Insha Fitzpatrick
I always worry about the MCU. It’s starting to feel like a friend I see three times a year. I’m happy when I do, but they’re always up to the same old shenanigans. With Black Panther, I felt like I was greeting a new era of this friend that got finally got their life together. A friend that resonates with me in a way I’ve never seen before. Black Panther takes the MCU in a direction that was honestly needed. A full embrace of culture, ideology, storytelling, and community.
Black Panther focuses on T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a prince thrust into power after the tragic death of his father and former Black Panther, T’Chaka (John Kani). T’Challa must come to terms with being the King that Wakanda needs him to be, but still grieving the death of someone who was dear. After his ceremony, T’Challa takes a mission to bring Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to Wakanda and have him stand trial for his crimes. Things seemingly come to a halt when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an unknown enemy, threatens a destroy everything that Wakanda has fault to protect.
Black Panther is something truly different and unique to behold, especially within the Marvel formula. It’s still within but breaks the chain almost immediately. From the start, we have the history of the Black Panther and Wakanda. This took me by surprise. I’m so used to dropping into the action. It almost became disorienting when dropped into some historical knowledge of Wakandian history, but the history of the world around it while Wakanda thrived. You’re as invested in the history of this place and of this people as much as this child is. Black Panther takes its time throughout the movie to teach you the culture, to explain its way of life, to invite you in.
Ryan Coogler directs this movie with so much to say. You can almost see it oozing from the screen, and you wish he had more time to say it. This does create a pacing problem throughout the movie because even though Coogler lays out the truth, he embraces superhero-verse. He also details everything dealing with race, politics, and ideology. Not only is there a world outside of Wakanda, but also so many different ideas and suffering outside of it as well. That’s where the pacing becomes a bit off but doesn’t take you out of the film. It only gears you to learn more, but also, hurry the process along.
The film encompasses so many different themes within its two and a half hour time frame. Issues dealing with black identity, black culture, spirituality and a substantial abundance of truth that black people have had to go through for years. I could go on about this, especially with black identity within this movie, but I’ll save that for another time. It’s something of a marvel to see this within the texture of a superhero movie, especially it now being such a critical time to say it.
Joe Robert Cole joins with Coogler for the writing of Black Panther. The dialogue for this film has to be some of the most substantial dialogue for any Marvel movie. Cole and Coogler write perfectly seemly dialogue, allowing a back and forth with every character. They write strong dynamics and relationships, especially that of Shuri and T’Challa. They tell the truth, straight to your face and without question or stopping and also make every single character important. Something that a lot of Marvel movies have failed to do recently. Each character in their own way is vital to Wakanda and to each other. That’s important to note as we see Wakanda as a whole and the influence of the outside world
It’s another thing that’s different from the Marvel formula (I’m gonna probably be talking about this a lot I’m sorry). These films are either serious, serious but have their funny little movies or comedic as a whole. Cole and Coogler give you a serious yet entertaining film. They get to the nitty gritty, present you with moments that stop you in your tracks, make you think about the message it gives you but also turns around to provide you comic relief. “Hey, Auntie,” “What are THOSE?!“, these are the moments that make you laugh and never bring you out of the importance of the movie’s message. It’s an art of structurally great storytelling that keeps you on edge but leaves you laughing as well.
I’m very upset we’re not talking more about Rachel Morrison’s amazing cinematography within this film. Morrison’s camera is like any other I’ve seen in filmmaking, and it’s a shame we aren’t talking about her more. Every goddamn frame is like a screensaver. She perfectly captures Coogler’s vision but deepens it. We see medium shots and close-ups shots that make us more empathetic and sympathetic with the characters. These have to be my favorite in the movie because it lets you see the emotion that each of these characters carries, especially when T’Challa is on screen.
We’re also given long shots of beautiful Wakandian land. Don’t get me started on that goddamn flawless pan with Okoye and her red dress. Rachel Morrison not only hypes Coogler’s direction but manages to exam character within her lens. She perfectly puts you in place with these characters instead of being so far away.
Now, it’s time to praise whoever you worship, for the most beautiful cast in the world. Let’s just… take some time to contain the thirst we all have in our hearts. I’ll give you five seconds.
Okay, let’s do this.
You know how I said each character in this movie is important? They sure as hell are. I love watching a movie where no two characters are alike. They have their own sense of vulnerability and badass and not afraid to display it on screen. Even if you’re a bad guy with a f*cked up plan, I love seeing that cause it leads you out from the pack. It often leads you to relate to a couple of these characters. In Black Panther, there are loads of characters that get the perfect amount of screentime without going over.
Chadwick Boseman SLAYED when he was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War. With Black Panther, this is his moment to show what he could do, and he does it with sensitivity, vulnerability, and consciousness needed in this character. I was hoping that we’d see the reality of T’Challa after his father died and I was not disappointed. Boseman hones in on trying to be a “good man” and a “good king” all at once, but you see the conflict within him to protect his country, his people and the influences of anything beyond Wakanda. Boseman really took T’Challa from page to screen, allowing for the man to shine and not just The Black Panther.
Lupita Nyong’o is magical. Danai Gurira is continuously badass. Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, (break out bae) Winston Duke, (SUPER BAE) Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman, everyone in this cast gives their all to the film. They never hold back, and you can tell how proud they are to be in this film. I feel like the words I say can’t express how fantastic this cast is. I can’t call them a supporting cast because each and every one of them matters to make this story as brilliant as it is.
That being said, we need to talk about this. We all think it, even if we don’t want to. Don’t @ me about it. Marvel has a villain problem. I think that’s just straight up fact by this point. Black Panther shows you a complex, emotional and complicated villain in Erik Killmonger. One the audience will sympathize with even if you’re like “dude… take some chill.” Michael B. Jordan not only brings us a villain that we can respect but a villain that so opposite of T’Challa in many ways that it can bring up another brilliant conversation about black identity and raising sons. Erik Killmonger is how a villain should be made. One that is just as important to the story and not thrown in. For what Joker is to Batman, Killmonger is to Black Panther.
Verdict: Why are you not at the theater right now? WATCH IT! Black Panther sets the bar high for Marvel movies to follow. This review took me a bit to get out because there are so many thoughts surrounding it. I’m still swimming in what I feel about this movie. Black Panther provokes conversation that needs to be had. It’s made such a spectacular impact on how we see superhero movies that deal with serious themes and how we see superhero movies. I guarantee if you don’t like superhero movies, but want to see this one; you’ll love it all the same.
Sidenote: Winter Soldier is still the best MCU movie though. Don’t @ me.