The next solo movie in the MCU revolving around the latest addition to the Avenger squad cannot meet all the expectations the massive hype has established. After a year in which we got three humorous movies, only one of which was great in my opinion, this is a more serious entry to the MCU before the superclash of the titans in the upcoming Infinity War. However, that is not to say that there are no jokes throughout the movie. Black Panther finds a very good balance between the characters bantering and establishing a serious enough mood for the plot to work. The latter would have worked way better if the movie had not tried to make the viewer believe that T’Challa was in peril. At no point throughout the movie have I believed that any harm could come to the latest addition to the Avenger squad, who had his first appearance in Civil War and who is known to reappear in Infinity War. Of course, this holds true for 80% of all blockbusters but then a great movie does not focus so much on pretending that this is not the case (no more details, for the sake of not spoiling the movie).
For a movie called Black Panther, the eponymous character plays a surprisingly small role in the movie. One of the biggest strengths of this movie is the stellar cast it assembles. Not only is almost every significant role played by an up-and-coming black actor, the less significant characters are also portrayed by very talented people. Martin Freeman as Agent Ross provides some connection to the MCU and Civil War and Andy Serkis, whom we have seen in a fun little role in Age of Ultron, apparently has a lot of fun in his role of bawdy criminal Ulysses Klaue and proves that he can also excel in non-performance-capture roles. Forest Whitaker is always fun and even Stan Lee’s cameo is woven into the plot nicely. The rest will be mentioned in the later paragraphs.
The first act deals with Klaue’s theft of a vibranium artefact (initiated and supported by the later-antagonist Killmonger) and his attempt at selling it to the CIA, which is interrupted by T’Challa and his team. T’Challa’s team consists of his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave), General Okoye (Danai Gurira, Michonne in The Walking Dead), the best warrior in Wakanda, and his tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright, Black Mirror), who operates the incredible technology from afar.
The chemistry within the team is fun and the characters’ interactions are the most frequent source of humor. I also like that there are three very strong female characters that stand up against and are superior to men but are not only defined by their skills. That aspect of Black Panther is one of the most valuable about the movie: Not only does it shed more light on African culture and assembles all the talented black people working in Hollywood (including Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario, Black Mirror), who is a little bit wasted in this) but it also empowers women, women of color, who are somewhat neglected in (superhero) cinema. However, although children (and people) of color now have more role models to relate to (given that one can draw some good messages from this movie), I think it must not be overlooked that this movie has its flaws. Similarly to the rave reviews surrounding Wonder Woman (which is a superior movie to this one), some of the critics might have let their judgment be influenced by how important and valuable the movie is.
Wakanda is introduced in this flick for the first time and it aptly combines ultra hi-tech infrastructure with traditional African culture. Not only the clothes the characters wear reflect that but also the plot elements with the tribes and the challenge of the king. However, Wakanda didn’t feel palpable at any point in time, maybe because of the insanely developed technology it offers, and I had trouble connecting to the plot. T’Challa is not a particularly enticing character, which might be why the movie focuses so little on him. Neither is the backstory about him and his father, which spawns the central conflict. Chadwick Boseman has been on a roll lately, portraying important black characters (Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall), and does a decent job but the character is just inherently not that interesting and might work better in the Avengers ensemble.
In contrast, the antagonist, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is one of the movie’s greatest merits and one of the best villains in the MCU. He is not some random all-powerful world destroyer but rather offers a compelling and grounded motivation, so much so that one could ask whether he really is a bad guy. Michael B. Jordan manifests his position as one of the most talented young actors in Hollywood and portrays both the physicality and the swag/arrogance of the character with a very captivating presence. For the first time in a while, I would have liked to spend more time with a Marvel villain. Nevertheless, his final clash with T’Challa was similarly generic and boring as previous third act confrontations in superhero movies.
If we take a look at the action, I gotta say that I was rather let down by BP. The first action sequence in Korea was breathtaking and felt fresh and inspired. I liked the use of the kinetic energy storing ability of the suit but even that had more potential, particularly for the later action sequences. The fight in the above picture was somewhat gripping, albeit slightly repetitive due to a similar scene prior to that. The final battle did not hook me at all and confirmed my feeling towards the end of act two that this movie is a good chunk too long. On the other hand, to not constantly rant all the time, the soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar is pretty awesome and enhances the movie.
Overall, despite being entertained for a good deal of the runtime, the massive hype did not do the movies any favors (at least in my book). While the movie dares to do some things very differently, it sticks to some formulaic superhero elements, which is why the movie loses a lot of its drive towards the final act. Ryan Coogler, who, together with Michael B. Jordan, has been on a roll recently with Fruitvale Station and Creed, delivers a very decent and mostly entertaining Marvel film that has its issues with the script and some uninspired action and cannot live up to its hype.
light (more of a 3.75/5)
PS: For my MCU ranking, cf. here