It’s good to be king.
Many people are hailing Black Panther as “the best Marvel movie to date.” Some are even calling it a masterpiece, among other flowery, complimentary terms. Do I agree with them? Well… no. Actually not. Not entirely, anyway. But do I think they’re completely missing the mark? Absolutely not, because this movie… is freaking awesome. Words cannot express how much of a relief it is, seeing this film succeed in such a convincing manner.
Black Panther manages to be one of the more thought-provoking and compelling of Marvel’s movies for certain. Definitely on a level very near that of the second and third Captain America films. Possibly even surpassing them. The film is very politically aware and hits home on some pretty major subjects. It also came at a ripe time for such a discussion. Not only is there a massive debate in this country regarding race politics at the moment, but it was absolutely no mistake that this movie came out in the middle of Black History Month, despite very much being most of what you’d expect from a Summer Blockbuster.
Now, full disclosure, none of this is the African/American in me talking. Largely because I’d feel like a phony if I pretended to identify enough with the struggles or culture of others who look like me, just to use that as validation for the movie. I don’t. I’ve never had to deal with discrimination (at least not over my skin tone) and never really got into a lot of the subcultures and norms that many of my ethnicity traditionally have. And pretending otherwise would be a disservice to the film and to people who have actually dealt with the issues presented in it. But I’d like to think I have the basic human concepts of empathy and sympathy down. And with that in mind, I really appreciate the messages that come across in this film. They’re challenging and they don’t sugar coat anything. It’s refreshing, really.
A lot of people are saying that the villain of the film, Killmonger, is the best Marvel villain yet. Is he? Eh. Your mileage may vary. Something I always hear is that “A villain is the hero of their own story.” Essentially, no good villain sees themselves as the villain. Do I believe that? Not really, no. But I do think some of the better villains do, in fact, hold to that logic. Killmonger is certainly one of them. His internal logic, the tragedy of the character, all of it makes for a really gripping villain in a lot of ways.
But, my personal favorite villains are the ones who are entertaining. They’re charismatic. Likable, in a way. Villains like Loki, the Joker, or Doctor Doom. They’re all just so darn enjoyable to watch that half the time you can almost root for them purely because they’re so much fun. Killmonger was a good villain. Arguably even a great one. But not a particularly charismatic or likable one. So I don’t personally think he’s the best villain, but that’s entirely down to personal preference. Either way, I saw where he was coming from and really dug the direction the movie took with him.
Though I will say that the villains are once again the most significant shortcoming of a Marvel movie. Ordinarily, this comes with the criticism that the villains just aren’t very deep. Ronan the Accuser, for example, was comically shallow. In this case, it’s not so much that the villains lack depth, but that there are bits of wasted potential and a few forced moments to consider.
Killmonger murdering a certain character, for example, just struck me as a move that was there exclusively to make him look less sympathetic and more hardcore. Why were they even in the movie, then? They contributed exactly nothing other than to be window dressing for Klaue to try to use as leverage around that point of the film. And considering the lengths taken later to make us sympathize with Killmonger, him saving that character from Klaue would probably have worked out better, narratively.
Speaking of Klaue, I feel like there was a lot of squandered potential on that front. In no small part due to how significant Klaue is in the comics. The character is just really cool and fun. So it’s upsetting how underutilized he is and the direction they wind up taking with him. They essentially made a plot device of him.
But the most significant bug for me was a development around what might’ve been the midway point. A friend of T’Challa winds up getting angry with him for… honestly no reason. And later turns his back on him wholesale, which just struck me as especially weak. Yes, T’Challa screwed up (well, technically he didn’t, but still), but it was just the one time. And he genuinely tried and would presumably try again. If you’re supposed to be that close, then I can’t believe you’d turn on him that easily.
As for the actual components of the film, we can’t talk about it without talking about the absolutely amazing cast. T’Challa and those around him were wonderful. Danai Gurira’s fearsome as the warrioress, Okoye and Lupita Nyong’o was excellent as the savvy Nakia. Then, of course, there was the always-great Martin Freeman as Everett Ross, who was a surprisingly enjoyable part in the film, despite being rather unlikable in Captain America: Civil War.
But this movie was pretty much carried by the outstanding performance of Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the titular Black Panther. I particularly appreciated the confliction he managed to bring to the role. The Black Panther is a historically levelheaded and wise character. I didn’t want to see him treated as some kind of hotheaded and reckless youth. He wasn’t. But without his father, and thrust into this situation, he is lost. Lost and looking for guidance. When, in fact, it’s his job to guide his people. I’m thankful this is the route they took, primarily because I’m just getting a little tired of the “young hothead becomes humble leader” arc.
Of course, Michael B. Jordan brought a top-tier performance as the nuanced villain, Erik Killmonger, proving his star power without a doubt. It’s nice to see that this time a Marvel movie worked out for him. But I have to say that the show was stolen by Letitia Wright as the brilliant and witty Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister. Add to that a few excellent performances from seasoned actors such as Angela Bassett, Forrest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis and you’ve got an amazing ensemble to work with.
The action was also pretty good, especially in that final climactic battle. There was an awesome car chase around the middle of the film that gave T’Challa and Okoye plenty of shine moments. And also a pretty hilarious moment that may just be my favorite in the movie.
The world they established was visually amazing as well, which I expect out of Marvel movies, at this point. The sort of “afro-futuristic” vibe was awesome to see. The costumes were all great as well. If I had any gripes, it was just that I preferred the Panther suit to the new one. Or, rather, the mask. I dunno. It looked sleeker. Rounder. Less angular and blocky. But it’s a preference thing. I also wasn’t really into the music. Didn’t dislike it. But none of it was really doing anything for me.
All in all, the only major problem I had wasn’t even the movie itself, but the viewing experience. I was basically sat down next to someone who, while watching the film, could not help but snicker every time something was on-screen that was “blatantly African.” So some of the jewelry, the dancing, etc. And while I understand that to a point, it was just annoying to hear repeatedly. You can laugh at the culture all you want. Some cultures have some objectively funny customs. But do try to be courteous to the other people watching the movie.
Overall, I had a fantastic time with Black Panther. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is a Super Effective superhero flick that goes the extra mile by actually providing some relevant social commentary and challenging ideas. You know. That thing that comics have always been majorly into doing. It had an amazing cast of great characters, a really captivating style, and all the bombastic action and witty humor one expects of a Marvel movie. Totally check it out if you get the chance.
And with that, I’m done for today, folks. Thanks for reading, as always.
Keep up the awesome,