Number 18 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther prepares to keep the powerhouse franchise on top this weekend.
Not technically the “first black superhero film,” but it might as well be. With a massive marketing push, huge budget, a prominent place in the pantheon of what is without a doubt the most impressive run of genre films ever seen, and an almost completely black cast (of some of the most talented stars acting today), there hasn’t really been anything like it before. That alone is enough to generate a massive amount of hype for many. Does it live up to expectations? Mostly.
Marvel continues its trend of allowing their directors greater creative control as their films become more and more distinct while still fitting in their overall arc. Just like none of their films before felt like the off the wall comedy that Thor Ragnarok was, nothing they (or really anyone) has done before feel like Black Panther. A character driven socio-political, urban sci-fi, spy thriller it is pretty out there in a lot of ways. What is amazing is that a movie about a secret African country with technological marvels, ruled by a king who is mystically imbued with powers and runs around wearing a panther suit is perhaps the most real film Marvel has put out to date. And I use the word “film” here intentionally because if you are the type to make the distinction, this would surely earn that title as opposed to just a “movie.”
Not only is this film distinct from the other connected Marvel movies, it stands alone securely like none other. You could quite easily watch Black Panther with absolutely no prior MCU stories under your belt and come away without losing a beat. Yes, there are connections as T’challa and a few supporting characters are reprising roles that were introduce in prior films. And yes there is a post-credits scene that reminds you of what’s coming next for Wakanda in the greater Marvel universe. But there is virtually nothing else. No real call-backs or easter eggs to the other 17 films before, or those yet to come. If it wasn’t for those small moments and the insider knowledge of how this is all connected, I would just assume, in fact, that this was the start of a very exciting, brand new franchise.
A character film that draws upon social issues, rather than being an action flick, it is much more about racial equality, duty to one’s country/people, social justice, and how sometimes ideals regarding those issues can be strikingly conflicting. The right thing to do, and the right way to do it. Means and ends. Coming to terms with past mistakes and finding the balance of tradition and forward motion. These themes and more are explored in a relevant and timely manner as surely people will see themselves and today’s society reflected here – it is no accident that people of color and women both are elevated in this film. There is even a thinly veiled jab at the Trump administration near the end that feels particularly appropriate.
But how does it hold up as a superhero movie? Pretty well. It is closer to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation than The Avengers as it trades blazing battles for council discussions and personal conflict. It isn’t without some great action sequences, and T’Challa certainly gets his moments to shine in the panther suit, but it seems almost secondary to everything else. I wish we got more of him in action, but that will surely come in future films. The final battle is perhaps the biggest weak point here as it seems fairly anti-climatic despite some great moments, and perhaps over too quickly. The whole movie, in fact, does not have a great number of truly memorable moments that would make this a guaranteed multi-watch affair.
It should go without saying that the whole cast is fabulous, given their talented pedigrees. Of special note is relative newcomer Letitia Wright who you may have recently seen in the Black Mirror episode, Black Museum, now showing up as Black Panther’s younger sister. She steals any number of scenes against the heavy hitting veterans and is sure to be a crowd favorite. Talents like Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira shine and carry the film with talented ease, while the supporting cast includes the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Angela Basset, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. Serkis and Freeman are particularly entertaining given that each is very much outside their normal MO – Freeman is an American agent as opposed to his very British regular self, and Serkis actually plays a human being. Both had minor roles in Captain America: Civil War (the only real links to the rest of the franchise other than Black Panther himself) which are nicely expanded here.
I liked it a lot but didn’t fall in love with it. The strength of the actors, the realness and enjoyability of the characters, the distinct style, and the well thought-out story though make this a true must-see film though for at least one go-round.
Mrs. Hamster did not yet screen this film
Brother Hamster did not yet screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
Black Panther claws into 4,020 theaters, including IMAX 3D, February 16