I'm going to give you a guess. It's a live action Marvel Studios film. What could it be? Could it be G? No. G doesn't exist anymore, especially for live action films. Could it be PG? Nope. Could it be R? I mean, we have Deadpool, but that's not Marvel Studios. Of course this movie is PG-13. I now took up a bunch of lines of filler. You're welcome for this quality writing.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
It's another one of those podcast ones. We just threw up the podcast yesterday, so I ask that you give it a listen. I can't wait to watch this one again. Marvel is seriously crushing it and I just keep gushing and gushing about how great these movies are getting while the DCEU is getting more and more meh. It is making me a full on Marvel Zombie. I know that there are those who will defend the DCEU tooth and nail, but Black Panther is all about how to make a franchise feel fresh despite hitting a lot of the tropes that the MCU has been criticized for. I'm not sure about this because I want to watch both movies again, but Black Panther might knock Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the best film in the series.
I was really worried. The early reviews for Black Panther were so good. They were too good. It was being touted as a Shakespearean epic. It was being labeled as the best. I've been there with the Marvel U. Marvel has been on such a streak lately that I have learned to take that with a bit of hyperbole. The Marvel movies have been amazing, but to say that each one is the best is problematic. When I started watching Black Panther, the first twenty minutes didn't warm to me. In fact, I was really worried that I was going to be in a Wonder Woman situation. I was wondering if people needed it to be amazing, so they were just saying that it was. Again, I enjoyed Wonder Woman, but it is a fairly generic superhero movie that succeeds because it is simply functional. Black Panther had a lot of that going on in the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes spend so densely discuss the background and political background of the Black Panther mythos. Wakanda is so important to understanding Black Panther that the movie, admittedly wisely, spends a lot of time establishing why Wakanda matters. For a guy who already knows the ins and outs of Black Panther because I've been reading the books for years, this came off as boring as sin. But then I thought about it. This is Black Panther's big debut. His story is way more complex than getting bitten by a radioactive spider. The movie really needed this. There was a turning point in the movie where the main plot takes off and separates itself from its setting and that's when I realized that everything I watched was super important not only to establish the character, but to make the plot make a lick of sense. Sometimes I have to be made aware that everyone isn't a nerd like I am and if I want more of these movies, sometimes they have to be made more accessible.
And the movie is accessible. Coogler does something nearly impossible. He takes a complex political climate of a fictional universe and makes the eighteenth movie of a franchise in ten years something completely accessible to new audiences. I have a student who hasn't seen a Marvel movie. I would say that she's living under a rock, but she's seen every nomination for Best Picture this year. She went into Black Panther as her first movie. (She may have seen The Avengers. I may concede my point.) She loved it. She knew everything that was going on. That's insane that Coogler didn't take the easy way out and simply assume that everyone's seen the movies that everyone's seen. That's genius. People can go see Black Panther without having any understanding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it isn't so accessible that it isn't interesting to people who know the MCU. The world has been established for people. There is a deeper appreciation for T'Challa assuming you knew Captain America: Civil War. The movie, and I can't establish how genius this really is, builds upon the other movie while presenting something that might actually be fresh. I can't say "wholly new" because the movie does use tropes only to subvert them, but Black Panther feels both closely related to the rest of the movies while feeling completely new. I keep using the following as my description for Black Panther: It's a sci-fi Game of Thrones. The other movies are nowhere near hitting anything close to that description. But it also feels like the other movies in the franchise. I talk about this on the podcast a bit, but what is really interesting is that Marvel took the thing that they were most criticized for and fixed it. I thought they'd avoid it, but they just dove deeper and made it right.
I'm talking about the villain problem that Marvel movies have been criticized for. Many, many of the Marvel movies have a villain that is a mirror image of the hero. Erik Killmonger is the mirror of T'Challa. He goes as far as to become the Black Panther himself. (It's in the trailer. I'm not counting it as a spoiler.) That got old in other movies. I think the worst example is Ant-Man. But Killmonger is the closest to T'Challa, but he also makes the most sense for a villain. Killmonger works because he's kind of right. This is the fine line that Coogler had to walk while making this movie. Killmonger is always the villain, but he might be the most sympathetic villain at times. I don't want to give too much away. The podcast does that already, but Killmonger's ideology is noble, but he enjoys the violence element too much. His motivations throughout the film actually make the hero become a better hero. T'Challa starts the movie as a hero and he never loses that status. But he also makes T'Challa see the flaws of his own personality. I've seen movies and read books where the noble protagonist has to question if he is a good man. T'Challa never goes through that, but rather, through his encounter with Killmonger, becomes a better hero. It's so weird that the entire MCU might be centered around T'Challa sooner than Steve Rogers in the future. Killmonger's confrontation with T'Challa gives Black Panther more value. That's super cool. There's a real meta element to that. If I told you a decade ago that there was a Black Panther movie, that might have been considered uncool. Other people of color have had superhero movies and they tended not to be amazing. (Sorry, Blade, I really like you. But you are just about being cool.) The movie itself might be a metaphor for Black Panther's cultural importance.
The movie is socially relevant as all get-out. It is an important movie to see because it gets into some really complex stuff. (If you want to hear my thoughts on this one, please listen to the podcast. I can't stress this enough. That's where my spoilers are.) But the movie itself is great. The action is absolutely fantastic. There's this scene in Korea that is absolutely perfect. I know, it's a car chase. It's not Vanishing Point or anything, but it still works as great superhero action. I think Feige realized that Black Panther really works as a high speed action hero. There's the scene in Civil War where T'Challa is racing cars on foot. Adding the technology that the movie adds makes the action sequences even better. The fight sequences are absolutely fantastic. Occasionally it can be hard to tell what's going on, especially when you have two characters who look almost completely identical in matching costumes, but it's never for long. Coogler does some cool camera and costume stuff to make sure that you aren't confused for too long. Also, every character is great. I know people are crapping on Agent Ross. It will take a lot for me to sell out Martin Freeman in a functional performance. But the star of the movie is Letitia Wright as Shuri. The movie is less funny than the other Marvel movies, but Shuri not only adds a nice dose of humor to the movie, but she also is a complex character who has this rich future history in the Black Panther canon. An honorable mention also goes to Danai Guria as Okoye. I often found myself rooting for her than I was for Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther. Her fight sequences -and pardon the colloquialism -were DOPE. Like, so great. I know that is a very simple look at the movie, but every time she was on screen, I knew something was going to go down. Remember when Legolas did stuff in Lord of the Rings? Same deal. If she was on screen, something amazing was going to happen. I loved her.
This movie is so good, but I think I managed to write a pretty solid review without delving into too many spoilers. I can't wait for this to hit Blu-ray. I hope I can convince Lauren to see it before then, but we still have to knock out Phantom Thread. Regardless, it's an absolutely fantastic film.
Also, hooray! It's first review of film from 2018! I think Logan was my first last year, so superheroes in February is the way to go.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.