In a year that will see the release of the ultimate Marvel universe team-up in Avengers: Infinity War, it would have been somewhat easy for any other film from the successful studio to be overlooked. For eaxmple, it’s safe to say that, back in 2016, the attention given to Ant-Man was vastly underwhelming compared to what was given to Captain America: Civil War.
But with Black Panther, the 18th release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s undeniable that this film holds a special meaning for millions of people all across the world. As the first black superhero film that’s suitable for children (unless you’re the sort of person that thinks Blade or Spawn are great for kids!); there’s no doubt that the film, at the very least, will function as an inspiration to many. But does that automatically make it a good movie?
One week after the events of Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is travelling back home to the nation of Wakanda in order to be crowned king. Accompanying him are two members of his private bodyguard, Nakia and Okoye (Lupita Nyong’o & Danai Gurira).
However, reappearing on the scene is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a black-market arms dealer who is trying to sell a stolen Wakandan artifact made of a metal called vibranium. Being that vibranium is the source of all their futuristic technology, Wakanda jealously guard their position as the only nation in possession of this rare metal. Because of this, the decision is made that Klaue must be stopped and brought to justice.
But Klaue isn’t acting alone, as he has teamed up with Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a former black-ops solider that has his own secret agenda and will put the fate of Wakanda in ultimate peril.
What was the last beautiful thing you saw? A beckoning landscape filled with waterfalls? God’s creatures swimming through the bright and clear ocean blue? Your wife?
Quite frankly, they all look like shit compared to the world of Wakanda. Far better than even Guardians of the Galaxy, here is a fully formed world. Seemingly magical with its afro-futuristic technology, and yet also possessing real tangibility.
But a world is only as real as the people populating it, and it’s here that writer/director Ryan Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole outdo themselves by breathing life into a variety of supporting characters that could each easily have their own spin-off. There may be too many to mention individually, but the highlights are Gurira in her role as the head of the Dora Milaje (an all-female warrior group that serves as T’Challa’s bodyguard); as well as Letitia Wright in the role of Shuri, T’Challa’s 16-year-old sister and tech-genius.
It’s often said that a hero is only as good as his villain, and here the Black Panther team have knocked it out of the park. Jordan, in his role as Erik “Kilmonger” Stevens, brings so much pathos and humanity to what is a limited role, that you almost wish the entire story had been told from his point of view. As such the conflict between T’Challa and Kilmonger is one of the more stronger portrayals in the Marvel universe. It brings to mind the equally strong familial conflict in the first Thor, though ultimately Black Panther doesn’t succeed quite as well because, unlike Thor, the relationship was not already established when the film started.
Despite that this might be the first film since The Dark Knight where the villain is vastly superior to the hero. While Kilmonger is given true emotional depth and essentially becomes the driving force for the latter part of the movie, T’Challa comes across as rather out of his depth. We never truly find out any of his wants or desires. Does he even want to be king? Why does he want Wakanda to continue its isolation? Without this knowledge, T’Challa essentially become a rather one-note character, while being surrounded by immensely more interesting supporting ones. (In fact, T’Challa’s entire story-arc in Civil War is significantly better written than for his stand-alone film.)
As the film moves into its action-packed third act, it hardly offers anything of note. In fact, all the action scenes, while well shot, are just… fine. No scene in particular stands out, but nothing can be said to have been badly made. But the final battle is so CGI-heavy that it’s hard to have any sense of emotional investment. Indeed, in spite of the passionate upheaval between the hero and villain, the ending is essentially two men who look exactly the same beating the shit out of each other. (Though when I say they look exactly the same, I refer to the fact that they’re the same height, wearing exactly the same costume and both have their faces covered by the same mask!)
There’s a lot to appreciate in Black Panther. Its world-building is second to none, the supporting characters are engaging, and its villain can sit comfortably in the top three of the Marvel universe.
But with weak CGI, unexciting action scenes and a lead character that potters around in his own movie, Black Panther doesn’t quite reach the heights of Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy.