(This review contains spoilers for Black Panther and Civil War)
Two weeks ago, I caught Marvel’s Black Panther at my local theater. Since enough time has elapsed since then, I thought I would share my thoughts on the movie and break down what I thought was great and what could have been better.
What did I think? Certainly, I thought it was money well-spent. Black Panther is a kinetic, high-octane action flick fueled by a vibrant aesthetic, an energetic narrative and clearly-defined, fleshed-out characters in the form of its hero and villain; T’Challa and Erik Kilmonger, with emphasis on the latter. The movie acts as a sort of coming-of-age story for T’Challa in the vein of The Lion King and tackles social, racial and political issues regarding a nation’s duty to foreign aid and the repression of a people.
Black Panther is set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, where T’Challa first debuted. In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa must return to his nation and his peoples, and face the many demons of being King of Wakanda in the form of ghosts of the past, many of which are the fault of T’Chaka, his father. T’Challa is torn by the mistakes and betrayals of his father that he uncovers after he is crowned, questioning his father’s legacy and his own role as king. One revelation is of the death of N’Jobu, his uncle, at the hands of his father. T’Chaka killed N’Jobu in a fit of rage, creating a monster that came back to haunt T’Challa in the form of Kilmonger; the movie’s villain. T’Challa wrestles with this new secret, as well as Kilmonger’s disturbing personal philosophy. This acts as the driving force of the movie and T’Challa’s internal and external conflicts.
Erik Stevens, otherwise known as “Kilmonger”, is the Magneto to T’Challa’s Charles Xavier. His wrathful radicalism and raging self-righteousness border on psychopathy, yet his morality and vengefulness against Wakanda can be fully understood by the audience; he was a victim of the senseless murder of his father, left to fend for himself as a child, and grew up with an increasingly incensed and vindictive fury against a world that was never fair or just. In this sense, Kilmonger is the perfect antithesis to T’Challa’s traditionalism and honor-bound moral code, providing the essential complimentary force to complete a poetic fundamental hero-villain conflict. Marvel villains are often criticized for being one-dimensional “dark reflections” of their hero counterparts. However, Kilmonger is a perfect example of when, like the Joker to Batman, a dark hero-inverse villain can be complex, fleshed-out, and sympathetic.
Another outstanding aspect of Black Panther I truly enjoyed was Wakanda itself. The vibrant, utopian aesthetic of Wakanda, a land of paradoxical fusions of traditional and futuristic design, infuses the narrative with a unique personality that is unlike anything seen before in the Marvel universe. Wakanda is an iconic and symbolic setting, as each character represents a different aspect of its nature; its traditions, its progress, its people, and its place on the world’s stage. It’s such limitless potential that makes me so excited for Avengers: Infinity War, as well as the introduction of Atlantis in the MCU in the future.
Despite being a thrilling and thought-provoking movie, Black Panther had some rather distracting flaws. The green screen and special effects used in some scenes in the movie (particularly in the waterfall fight scenes) were especially unconvincing. The fake-looking backgrounds bordered on off-puting. I also thought that Kilmonger ought to have been allowed to be develop over a few movies, in the style of Loki, instead of being killed off at the end of the movie. Kilmonger’s death was a particularly moving and emotional scene in the film. However, I believe his and T’Challa’s dynamic ought to have been explored over several movies, giving that beautiful final moment a lot more weight. This is yet another example of Marvel’s irritating habit of killing of villains at the end of movies instead of developing them as much as their heroes.
Nonetheless, Black Panther is a solid, entertaining movie worth your ticket and bucket of popcorn, full of exceptional set design, three-dimensional characters, and a roaring, beating heart. T’Challa’s journey as king, along with those of his family, friends and enemies are compelling and emotional. Black Panther is another win for Marvel and its fans. I am excited to see what Marvel does with T’Challa and Wakanda moving forward, in the Avengers movies, and the inevitable sequel. Out of 10 stars, I would give it an 8.
*I know it’s been a while since I posted, and I promise that will not be the case for the next few weeks. I’m practically sizzling with anticipation, and I’m ready to get back to work. Can’t wait to watch the Oscars in a few days’ time!
**An easter egg for my fellow delegates: I never freeze.
Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Michael B. Jordan and others. 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. PG-13.