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Film Review: Black Panther



Black Panther is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first superhero film led by a person of colour since the giant-superhero, cinematic universe explosion of films over the last decade. It’s the first solo outing of T’Challa since his debut in Captain America: Civil War, and the last film leading up to the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War, in which he also featured prominently in the marketing campaign. The film is also the third feature from writer-director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), whose filmography is pretty stellar, and Black Panther brings that up to a solid 3 out of 3 feature films from this exciting auteur.

Before discussing any further, the social impact of Black Panther should really be addressed. In 17 Marvel films, both solo and team films have been led with a white man centre stage. DC and Warner Bros. beat Marvel and Disney to the punch with the female-lead Wonder Woman, and the fan fervour from the success of that was enough to shift the entire marketing of their tent pole, Justice League, to feature Wonder Woman front and centre. Black Panther, however, isn’t just representation. It has an enormously talented cast of African-American actors, but it is also about the black experience in America. This film does not shy away from touching on colonization, international relations, the difficulties faced by African Americans in the US, and the international perception of Africa as well. This film tackles that head on, and effectively. As a white man, I can only imagine the effect this film will have for African Americans, and people of colour around the world. And that’s without going into the amazing and powerful women of colour, so intricate and resonate in the film as well.

As a film, social impact aside, Black Panther is one of the strongest entries in the MCU. Occupying an intriguing space somewhere between James Bond and Batman, lathered in Afrofuturism, and deftly crafted to be both entertaining and relevant, Black Panther is one of the most interesting chapters in the MCU, and one of the most exciting moving forward. The fictional African nation of Wakanda is gorgeous, colourful and inspiring. Although one criticism would be the way Vibranium is used as a sort of cure-all, explain-away, plot point that’s never really gone into in any depth. Doesn’t really make sense, but then again, neither does super-solider serum, gamma radiation, spider-bites, magic and suits of armour that let you fly, so hey! Welcome to the MCU!

Black Panther takes you all over the world, from Nigeria to California, London to South Korea, and of course Wakanda. If Ant-Man is a heist movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is a John Hughes movie, then Black Panther is James Bond in a cat suit. Complete with gadgets scene, and some damn kick-ass women, except there’s a whole lot less misogyny than your average bond flick. If T’Challa isn’t your guy in this flick, he’s definitely the quiet, brooding, strong-silent type, then the woman he surrounds himself with will surely steal the show.

The cast of Black Panther is something to behold, Michael B. Jordan and Andy Serkis are captivating villains, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker bring a certain clout to the project, whilst Sterling K. Brown brings his absolute A game in an emotional scene I was not expecting. Martin Freeman is great as CIA agent Everett Ross, the awkward white guy hanging around with a bunch of more experienced, influential black people, and I like that he wasn’t just the butt of every joke, and had his own moment to shine. Lupita Nyong’o and Daniel Kaluuya were both decent, but none of the above hold a torch to either Letitia Wright or Danai Gurira, T’Challa’s younger sister and captain of his guard. Those two are easily some of the best parts of this movie, and I would go so far to say that I wouldn’t blame someone who wasn’t a huge fan of Black Panther in his own film, because they’d rather see all the bad-ass women on screen instead! I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Coogler surrounded himself with women, including the first woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography, Rachel Morrison, as well as his editor, production designer, assistant director – if T’Challa has the Dora Milaje, the warrior woman sworn to protect their king, Coogler has his own Dora Milaje.

What I find most interesting about Black Panther though, is the approach to the villain. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is, for quite a while, intelligent, intriguing, seductive and I’d even go so far as to say correct – in his reasoning. You empathise and engage with his motives more than most Marvel villains. He does, however, fall short late in the second act, with some choices that really slam home the whole “look! Here’s your bad guy!” moment, and to be honest, I really wish we’d have steered clear of that. Instead, the film sets up some interesting discussions on his training, taught to infiltrate and disrupt political systems and government at their point of transition. I wish they’d leaned more into that, rather than where they decided to take Killmonger, but even so, he’s still a cut above your average MCU villain. And more shirtless Michael B. Jordan any day of the week, please.

There’s two main problems I have with Black Panther. Firstly, there’s a few too many jokes where characters seem to be up to speed on things like internet trends and pop culture, which seems out of place in a country removed from the rest of the world. Mostly though, there’s a brilliant character that dies in the second act that I really, really wanted to see brought forward and set up for a later film in the MCU, not saying who it is, but man am I disappointed I don’t get to see more of them.

Overall, Black Panther is a solid edition to the MCU, Marvel’s most political movie, and a big swing at what we can expect from future films. I’m impressed again at Feige’s ability to balance director’s visions with an overall tone in the MCU, and I’m glad to see Marvel taking strides in the right direction, not just with representation, but with their villains and music, both of which were exceptional in comparison to their previous entries. Black Panther will be showing in cinemas across Australia from the 15th of February. Get your tickets ASAP.

Black Panther
4.5 Our Score
0 Users (0 votes)
- Incredibly socially relevant. - Performances are great, especially the strong, female characters. - Visually interesting and different.
- Occasional misplaced humour. - Villain falls just short of how good he could be.
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