Black Panther is a 2018 film based on the comic title of the same name. It stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, also known as the eponymous Black Panther. First appearing in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther continues the story of T’Challa after the dissolution of the Avengers in his home country of Wakanda.
The story of Black Panther manages to be both simple and complex. It’s easy to follow while also having layers of meaning and plot development. Like Spider-Man: Homecoming before it, it jumps right off the ending of Captain America: Civil War and wastes no time getting to the plot and characters. Not even thirty minutes into the film, T’Challa is being challenged for his throne and right to rule, a conflict that will last the entire film. The plot feels as though it is constantly moving forward whether it is setting the mood for the current setting or showing the internal conflict of the characters.
There are two major themes of Black Panther. The first is the “sins of our father.” T’Challa and Eric Killmonger both suffer from this to varying degrees. Both of their goals and eventual developments stem from this. T’Challa, now a king, must answer for and fix what his father couldn’t. Killmonger must choose whether to walk in his father’s footsteps and risk losing himself. The second theme has to do with supporting and assisting nations in need. Early on, Wakanda’s isolationism is questioned. Both heroic and villainous characters question whether or not Wakanda should help African nations and African peoples around the globe. This theme creates a sense of relatability between the audience and the fictional country. Many real-life issues involving race and the post-colonial state of Africa are mentioned in order to emphasize this theme including war profiteering and police brutality.
One of the major benefits of this film is that it doesn’t constantly remind the viewer that it’s a Marvel film. For example, most MCU films/shows either heavily reference other films/shows or actively show other characters in the MCU. The question then becomes “How good is this film in relation to the MCU?” rather than “How good is this film?” Black Panther only references one aspect of previous films in the franchise and that is the death of T’Chaka from Captain America: Civil War. In fact, only one other hero appears in the entire film, and he doesn’t appear until the post-credits sequence. This allows the film to stand on its own and be judged on its own merits similar to Guardians of the Galaxy before it. Some of the previous MCU films suffer from not following this pattern. Civil War is essentially Age of Ultron: The Epilogue because of how impactful Age of Ultron is to Civil War. Spider-Man: Homecoming stands alone to a degree, but Civil War is all but required reading in order to understand many of the important scenes in the film.
Characters and Acting:
Characters can easily make or break an otherwise excellent story. If characters are too unlikable, the viewer will want them to fail. If characters are too perfect, it becomes difficult to identify with them forcing the viewer to become apathetic. The worst thing a viewer can say about a piece of media is, “I don’t care about any of these characters.” Skillfully, Black Panther manages to avoid this trap. Almost every single character is enjoyable in one way or another. T’Challa is regal and powerful when on the throne, but awkward around the woman he loves. He also loves his sister and this is shown with how they interact with one another. T’Challa is often times unsure of himself, but never allows that to prevent him from taking action. It can be very difficult to make the average viewer appear sympathetic to a rich and powerful character like T’Challa. However, Marvel has practiced this form to an art. T’Challa’s interactions with Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye make him relatable. His sympathy for Killmonger makes him human.
Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the film, also manages to shine alongside T’Challa. Radicalized by the experiences he faces as a child and adult, his goals and desires are justifiable. No one thinks they are the villain. So, having a character like Killmonger actually makes the viewer question the actions of Wakanda as a whole. One major downside of the film is that Killmonger doesn’t have many scenes showing how he is when he isn’t a villain. He has relatable goals, interesting dialogue, and the star potential of Michael B. Jordan, but lacks the same scenes T’Challa has with friends and family members.
All of the side characters are entertaining. All of them. Nakia is complex and puts her goals before her desire to wed T’Challa. Shuri is loyal to Wakanda, but grows bored of tradition and complacency. W’Kabi loves his country but is clouded by his desire for justice as Klaue’s invasion of Wakanda harmed him personally. Every character has goals and motivations that are easily noted despite the very little emphasis on them. Most every character is forced to answer the question “How far are you willing to go for your country and your people?”
Naturally, the charm of these characters is emphasized through the actor’s performances. None of the actors feel particularly weak. Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross is the least interesting of the bunch but still manages to shine in his own way. Daniel Kaluuya, however, shines the most. After escaping in Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya shows his versatility in Black Panther.
Actions films, such as the subgenre superhero, are made or broken by their action sequences. Boring or overdone action sequences can make an action film into an overly violent film of another genre. However, the action scenes in Black Panther work. Attention was given to even the tiniest details such as T’Challa using a fighting style based on capoeira, a martial art created by slaves and former slaves of Brazil and Angora. It’s a perfect martial art to use in a film such as this one. Each action scene felt notably different from the one before it. One action scene would feel like a horror film while the next would be shot with few cuts and feel more like martial arts film. The biggest flaw is that many of the later sequences use excessive cuts which can be much less exciting. One of the best scenes is the fight in the Korean underground casino which utilizes as few cuts as possible.
More than anything, each character participating in combat or action scenes received an opportunity to shine. T’Challa never had to worry about having to protect everyone as everyone proved themselves useful.
While the music is good, it’s scarce. The music that does appear in the film is usually hip-hop influenced by traditional African music of varying cultures which works for the film. The film is about Wakanda coming into the modern world, so this mix of traditional with new makes the songs shine when they do appear. Overall, the music in the film was okay in conjunction with the film but may stand alone as an album in and of itself.
In visual media, design grabs a viewer long before anything else. The costumes, set pieces, and overall aesthetic will be the first thing that makes the viewer say, “That looks cool.” Black Panther lathers itself in a form of afro-futurism. The film also revels in it. Wakanda in and of itself is caught between pre-colonial images of African nations and the type of skyscrapers and internal aesthetics of cyberpunk. Even normal bracelets and sand are given a science fiction twist. The costumes themselves are inspired by both modern and historical interpretations of various African garbs. In particular, I was able to note some designs inspired by women’s robes in Sierra Leone. This film and the red carpet will certainly influence fashion for the next year.
There are very few films, if any, that are flawless. Black Panther has some notable flaws. One of the biggest is the humor that is awkward at times. While the jokes are funny, many are in the middle of dark and/or intense scenes which immediately snaps the viewer out of the film. The animals used in the film also don’t look very good. I’m not sure if they are CG, but they look like cheap CG considering this is a billion dollar film on par with other superhero films.
Overall, the film is great. It’s on par, if not better, than films such as Guardians of the Galaxy. The film is political when it needs to be and escapism during another scene. Because of that, the film feels like a comic book as comics have always been political while also being a form of escapism. The biggest praise one can give a superhero film is noting that it feels like a comic book. Black Panther fills several niches. If you love films such as Get Out, Dear White People, or Dope, this is a great film. If you are a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger, The Dark Knight trilogy, or Thor, this is also a great film. If you’re not a fan of these kinds of films, Black Panther won’t have much to offer.
Marvel’s Black Panther will be released next week on February 16, 2018.