★★★ out of ★★★★
There’s a reason why Black Panther is selling more presale tickets than any movie in history. Black people have been underrepresented in film for years. So a movie with not only a primarily black cast, but a black director (Ryan Coogler) and writers (Coogler, Joe Cole) has African-American churches, schools and youth groups buying tickets in droves. Some of us take for granted seeing characters that look like us represented in media. Heck, some people may not even notice how represented white people are. But if you’re a person of color who grew up only seeing images of the white heroic male, this movie may give a feeling of acceptance. As Tyra Banks puts it, “…It’s not a movie…it’s a movement.” In fact, it doesn’t really matter how well Black Panther does critically, the motion has been set for its cultural and cinematic impact. But impact aside, Panther delivers.
Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, the king of fictional African country, Wakanda. Wakanda on the surface is an impoverished third world country. But underneath, it flourishes with beauty and technological innovation. This is all thanks to vibranium; an almost magical metal that can make the greatest weaponry and has the power to heal. But that kind of power means the wrong kinds of people want to get their hands on it. Insert Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
One’s a crazed mercenary, the other a crazed idealist. Killmonger believes that vibranium should be used to better the world instead of being kept for only Wakanda. And thus is the crux of the story. Should the powerful use their powers to police the world? Or should they stay out of things to keep themselves safe? It seems like they’re trying to drive home a message. This is evident in a scene when Wakandans have no interest in taking on a refugee. The movie has no bones about making statements as it relates to race and universal politics. Killmonger may want to better the world, but only for black people. He wants to turn the tables and put people of color in power to take over. It’s not exactly what King T’Challa has in mind for the world’s betterment. This creates a schism within Wakonda, creating intense conflict and epic battle scenes. In fact, all the battle scenes in Black Panther are action-packed and beautiful to watch.
There’s a little something for everyone (as long as you don’t mind mild violence). We have a dogfight aircraft sequences, one-on-one combat, fighting rhinos, and so much more. With the exception of a few disjointed scenes in the middle of the film, the action is nonstop.
One question that comes up is “how are females represented in the film?” Best word to describe the women in this film is “strong.” It’s a little clichéd but it’s suiting. Take for example Ramonda (Angela Bassett). She’s the matriarch of the royal family who keeps her son in line while also empowering him to be the man he’s destined to be. Nakia, played by Lupita Nyongo, is T’Challa’s no-nonsense ex-girlfriend who, even in the first few minutes of Black Panther, saves a group of women from slavery. Shuri is played by Letitia Wright. She is T’Challa’s sister who’s as smart as she is witty. She keeps everyone safe thanks to her tech savviness and love of science. And then there’s Okoye (Danai Gurira). She may not have the most lines in the film but she most definitely has the most presence. She is a tough-as-nails guard to the throne who has no problem killing or dying for her king. Her fierce loyalty and overall badassery makes her the scariest character in Black Panther. Yes, even scarier than the one-armed Ulysses Klaw.
What sets this film apart from some of the others is it’s fleshed out characters. The villains, heroes, and the folks in between all have clear intentions and motivations. Sometimes bad guys do bad things simply to move the plot along. But not in Black Panther. Killmonger has a POV we can even relate to on a human level, making his character that much more complex and seemingly less evil. T’Challa’s motivated to do right by Wakanda and his assassinated father.
To say this is another comic book movie would be selling Black Panther short. It has messages of social justice, social improvement, racial divide, gender equality and potentially more.
And even with all the film’s current popularity, it’s likely these messages and those defined characters will put Black Panther into a higher strata of what a superhero movie can be.
The Good: a fresh take on the genre propelling the idea that superhero movies can have heart and meaning. Wakanda is such a unique and fun concept that the opportunities are boundless for this unique world.
The Bad: The middle of the film gets rather slow. And not that every second has to be action-packed but it definitely lulls.
Final Word: It’s thought provoking without being pretentious. It sends a message without being too in your face. It’s a fun movie of importance but doesn’t take itself too seriously.