Who would have thought that the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would consist of great self-contained films that also smoothly lead up to one of the biggest comic-book films of all time? I am of course talking about the ten year universe culmination that is Avengers: Infinity War. I and many other fans were very vocal about some of the films of phase two feeling dragged down by almost unnecessary plugged in franchise set up. Phase three has not let us down when it comes to improving on this critique. The five previous MCU films have all succeeded in telling self contained stories from the perspective of the director and screenwriter with little to no studio interference.
I am very happy to report today that Black Panther continues this artist first studio ethic in ways that no other Marvel film has done before. I understand that being eighteen films deep in this world makes it seem like “the best MCU film since…” comment has now been overused. Believe me, I type with no exaggeration for Black Panther is one of Marvel’s absolute finest entries for it excels at celebrating the title character and black pride through outstanding work both in front and behind the camera.
If you are worried about spoilers of any size, then I can assure that you can read on without caution. To get you started, you need only know that the film takes place almost immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa must return home to Wakanda as a new man and leader ready to guide his people after the tragic events of CW. It is here at home that he will learn that leading a nation is far more complex than he could have ever predicted. The lines drawn on Wakandan soil simply do not separate the black from the white side of crucial conflicts. Who is to decide where these lines get drawn and what they signify? The King or his people? This is as far as I am going to delve into the plot. I advise that you stay far away from spoilers because there are plenty of surprises in store that pack the narrative punches harder when unknown. The film presents dilemmas that are too complex to be quickly predicted or resolved.
Let us transition first from the artists at display in front of the frame to those at work behind it. Even though our main hero has the honor of having his name being the sole title of the film, it would be unfair to say that this simply just his film. This is one of Marvel’s strongest ensemble films. You probably do not initially think so because you are not paying to see the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. However, this is a royal family affair like no other. The term family here is not limited to bloodline; you will learn that the people of Wakanda unite in ways that real life countries can only currently dream of. T’Challa’s royal family consists of relatives and fellow national servers played by Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, John Kani, Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, and Danai Gurira. The sheer amount of talent here is enough to stun anyone on a first read.
This is exactly how you will feel upon your first watch because every single member of this family brings something new and special to the table. Frankly, it is amazing that the script offers everyone listed special moments to shine with character development. Nyong’o, Wright, and Gurira will be the MCU favorites for the current and next generation of fans to come. These three women of color do not have to work to gain anyone’s respect, are brilliant, show a variety of emotional struggle, and kick ass without breaking a sweat. I dare you to walk out of the film and look me in the eyes and say “yeah they totally did not almost steal the show”.
If Chadwick Boseman did not already sell you on his interpretation of T’Challa in Civil War for some weird reason, then fear not for he is about to reveal to you what he is truly made of. I found myself actually progressing to like the character more and more throughout the film. The emotional journey Boseman puts on full display proves that T’Challa is unlike any other MCU lead. You can probably say that he has similar patriotic traits to Captain America. I would agree, but they differ in attitude and the ways that they present their emotions to the public. Boseman’s range I feel will provide Black Panther fans with many sides to the character that they have been longing to see on film. Along with the amazing cast that is his royal family, Boseman will easily provide more entries that are going to stand high next to the Captain America and Iron Man trilogies.
No hero can prove to be triumphant without an equally cunning foe. Many including myself have often critiqued the MCU for lacking strong antagonists. However, I must admit that I have not had this strong complaint in all of phase three. If you disagree with me and think that the Marvel villains are still lacking, then once again I dare you to look at me in the eyes after watching this film and say, “yeah the villain totally did not also almost steal the show”. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is without a doubt one of the franchise’s strongest villains to date. You understand where the root of his intentions lie and almost want to root for this same cause.
The previous three villains (Ego, Vulture, and Hela) all were great because they did not let the tragedy that came with their origins drag them down. Killmonger’s story is also tragic and he is willing to go above and beyond to not let that define who he is or what he can do. The character has plenty of moments where he displays his intent and they will surely leave people stunned. I also must mention that he has some fantastic dialogue. I am not talking about evil speeches or generic hero slander. The choice of words he uses to get his point across literally almost lifted me out of my seat at one point. Can you imagine that? Leaning so far forward that you almost stand up. What an amazing feeling to experience in a theater.
I mentioned that you almost want to root for Killmonger’s cause. This is because it is rooted in real social and political context. Make no mistake, this film is one hundred percent black and proud. Carrying this pride also means that the film is not afraid to articulate anything that the black community around the world would not say out loud in public. These social and political themes are weaved very naturally in the script. More than often films feel like they force politics and real-world issues on audiences almost as if it is a burden. The case may also be worse when these topics are used for shock and awe. Black Panther wants to celebrate black culture while also talking about current issues in the forefront. Not only does it come off as a natural attempt, but it more importantly succeeds. Persistence and unity can bring people together to plant the proper seeds for the future.
Any comic book film would not be successful in achieving this rare political and social balance without a spectacular crew behind the frame. You feel like director/writer Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole understand the source material well with a passion to reach it to an audience with no limitations. Such a futuristic location could not feel more real without realistic ideas and issues at hand. Of course, there are more crew responsible for creating Wakanda with great beauty and surprising reality. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography boasts the beauty of the land with great poise. Colors could not be more vibrant and the camera could not move more elegantly regardless if it is catching scenery or intense action. Every single person involved in the art, makeup, costume, and set departments deserves all the love possible from audiences. All of these teams could not be more respectful of various real inspired African cultures. The direction they took from their inspirations offers plenty of stunning and memorable designs. I would be very shocked if these teams are ignored at the Academy Awards next year.
There is one final topic that I must discuss, the visual effects. Some effects and shots look absolutely stunning while others are not as polished. I want to stress that this does not have a large negative effect on your viewing of the film. It can be very easy to lose an audience with bad or noticeable visual effects. This does not happen to great extents in this film, but I can guarantee you that many will nitpick this topic because it is one of the only things you can actually nitpick from BP with solid ground to stand on. Understand this, films have budgets and cannot exceed them. Coogler, Morrison, and the visual team did not want to limit themselves when showing the true landscape and possibilities of this land. You can really respect this for some scenes look gorgeous, but others just suffice. It is not a huge problem, but my only current critique. However, I understand budgets and the types of difficult decisions made when deciding effects. Ryan and his team’s vision still firmly stands.
There are so many moments that triggered a reoccurring comment in my mind. “This just feels so right”. The way Coogler directs, Morrison frames, all accompanied by a beautiful score by Ludwig Göransson? It is very hard to not get this thought in your head on a first watch. I strongly advise you to go into BP without the preconceived notion of MCU film rankings. This is not going in the same direction than any previous Marvel film has followed. Get ready to watch this for what is going to be a superhero family affair that embraces black pride with loving arms. I am latino and you reading this may not be black either, but regardless of what you identify as, be ready for the cultural event of the year. A film with this much representation rarely comes around and the fact that it is a top-tier Marvel film makes it even more special. Hopefully, this leads a new standard for blockbuster cinema, because this film may be bigger than what you initially expected. One watch is just not going to be enough. Wakanda is going to keep inviting you in its borders and you are going to find it impossible to say no. Just please be respectful and do not touch or break anything.
Review written by Andrew J. Salazar (@yokis101 on Twitter)
Black Panther releases in theaters on February 16th, 2018
Black Panther – After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king— and as Black Panther — gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman.