Black Panther Review: An Old Story for a New Age
Black Panther review: Marvel Studios’ latest superhero offering has a lot of similarities to its predecessors, and yet feels fresh at the same time.
It would be negligent of me not to begin this review without appreciating that Black Panther is a culturally significant and important film. Whether the movie is a hit or a flop at the box office, Marvel Studios has done something that is noteworthy and yet long overdue. In that, it’s a success even without the all-important box office figures.
Like Wonder Woman before it, the importance of breaking an established mold and giving voice to a frequently neglected group can’t be ignored – nor should it be. It should be celebrated. And even if you are one of the people that frequent the darkest, foulest corners of the most despicable comment sections on the internet, ultimately you should be grateful that there is a film that can introduce people to new perspectives. It makes us better as people and stronger to accept that diversity rather than reject it. Societies that embrace change thrive, those that don’t die.
People will be talking about the importance of Black Panther for years, and with good reason. But putting aside the positives behind the lens, one big questions remains: is it any good?
The short answer is yes, even if it is a little familiar at its core. The trappings are fresh and unique, and director Ryan Coogler brings an artistic eye to the film. Beneath that though, the story will be familiar to fans of Marvel movies. The hero starts strong, is humbled and must make a comeback, then inevitably defeats the thing that humbled him and is better for it. Spoiler?
Marvel doesn’t have a patent on that formula, but it’s one that has been used in several of its films, including Thor, Iron Man 3, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and more. But hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Black Panther picks up almost immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War, further complicating the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline (if anyone cares anymore). Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is returning home to ascend to the throne of the fictional country of Wakanda, which thanks to a massive supply of the rare material vibranium is secretly the world’s most technologically advanced nation. The Wakandans have the power to reshape the world, but they remain hidden for several reasons that are addressed in the movie.
T’Challa’s first challenge as king arrives when Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a murdering arms dealer and student of Heath Ledger’s Joker, pops up to continue his storyline from Avengers: Age of Ultron. With the help of his love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his brilliant younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is basically the Q to the Black Panther’s Bond, and the fierce warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira), the king leaves his kingdom to apprehend Klaue.
After a run in with Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), T’Challa realizes that his real enemy is a highly trained soldier and assassin named Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), who has ties to Wakanda and a very good reason to hate the king.
Despite some obvious ties to the MCU, Black Panther is mostly a standalone film. It isn’t quite an origin story in the traditional sense, but it kind of is too, both for the Black Panther and the assorted characters of Wakanda who will play a much bigger role in future MCU films (as evidenced by the Avengers: Infinity War trailer).
The cast is exceptional from top to bottom. Boseman Boseman offers a regal air offset by a likable demeanor, while both Nyong’o and Gurira more than hold their own. When you have people like Angela Basset and Forest Whitaker in what are essentially bit roles, you know you have a strong cast. In fact, it’s so strong it helps to hide a few of the film’s flaws and plotholes. This is most evident in Jordan’s role as Killmonger.
Jordan steals pretty much every scene he is in. That paired with a compelling – or at least understandable – reason for doing what he did gives him some depth, but there are still some missing elements, and a little more development would have helped explain things – like how he was able to identify things even the Wakandans missed, and why he created an intricate plot when a much simpler one would have worked. There are plenty of possible explanations, but the film glosses over them.
The same is true of some of T’Challa’s fellow Wakandans who seem to alter their convictions on the drop of a dime. A little more buildup would have helped, but having characters you want to know more about isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But while the story is somewhat average, the themes it plays are not.
There is a thread throughout Black Panther regarding the concept of responsibility and what that means to the characters. It runs deep and adds a layer of depth to the film. It also challenges the idea of right and wrong, even if there is a clearly laid out answer, and you’ll find more than a few debates that are timely, especially in what the role of a powerful people should be in helping those less fortunate. That all helps to elevate the movie. The look of the film takes that one step further.
Black Panther excels in its world building. Wakanda is just cool. It’s like an idylic kingdom in a Disney film, where your logical mind knows it can’t exist because it’s too perfect, but you don’t care. The style of the characters is also outstanding, and the look of the Wakandans will make costume designers in other MCU films very jealous. If a film can inspire a fashion trend, this one might.
All of that adds up to a familiar story with an original coating, in the best way possible. MCU fans will like where the story goes, while action movie fans should enjoy the style. As for the cultural ramifications, there will be plenty of time to address those on the way to this film’s well-deserved and inevitable sequel.
Black Panther Review Conclusion
If you look beyond the cultural importance of Black Panther, it is still a very good film, albeit a very familiar one. It’s a story of a hero on a journey and a villain that wants to kill a lot of people. A little more development on the latter would have been nice, but overall Black Panther fits well within the MCU framework, and it is one of the best looking Marvel films to date.
It’s sad to think that this movie is considered by some to be “risky” given its cultural connotations, but that’s the world we live in. If you don’t like the movie because of that, you may want to reconsider your life choices. Black Panther is bound to be a hit, and it deserves to be one.
Black Panther is rated PG-13 with a running time of 134 minutes.