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Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU's most absorbing stories -- and introducing some of its most fully realized characters.
All Critics (460)
| Top Critics (52)
| Fresh (444)
| Rotten (16)
| DVD (1)
"Black Panther" lived up to the hype.
When it comes to creative visuals, engaging action and likable characters, "Black Panther" stands confidently next to the best fare offered up by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Whether or not this is the best film Marvel Studios has made to date-and it is clearly in the discussion-it is by far the most thought-provoking.
The identity politics provide a fresh spin to the genre's increasingly tedious narrative formula.
Jordan has swagger to spare, with those rolling shoulders, but there's a breath of charm, too, all the more seductive in the overblown atmosphere of Marvel. He's twice as pantherish as the Panther.
Coogler is trying for a lot of things in Black Panther, probably too many, but there is also a winning modesty to his ambition.
Black Panther is visually stunning, drawing artistic inspiration from every part of the African continent. But perhaps what is most impressive about the film is the villain and the political dilemma catalysed by his claim to the throne.
The film is painfully average. It does so much in every area but actually tell a riveting story.
Diverse representation alone doesn't make a film automatically good. But Black Panther did the diverse cast justice by giving them something worthy to do in a well-written, thought provoking film.
The women were all awesome and the conflict between the hero and villain is really good
"Black Panther" is a beautiful paean to big-budget auteurism, a film that manages to fit within the boundaries of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] while also being a very personal expression.
It does nothing truly distinct from every other Marvel Studios offering, I will be first in line. If they think they can sucker me into paying for outdated special effects and a movie I have seen many times over, they have another thing coming.
Marvel's most unusual film of its Cinematic Universe is big on world-building, empowerment, strong (female) characters and jabs at the current state of the world. All that mixed with the ingredients of a blockbuster film, a great cast, good humorous timing and spectacular set pieces makes for a very entertaining ride that works as a standalone film as well as part of the bigger picture. Sure, some of the action scenes might have looked even better with stunt people instead of CGI fighters, but the wonderful production design more than makes up for it. The right movie at the right time and more proof that Marvel is far from being a one trick pony.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been around for nearly a decade and not only has it matured as a franchise, but it has also evolved into something worth holding onto for generations to come. Sure, there are a few weak entries, but I don't think of this franchise as a series of movies anymore. This is a fantastic television series that's presented on the big screen a few times each year, that's had a few mediocre episodes along the way. Happily, Black Panther is their latest entry and not only is it far from mediocre, but it's easily the best film they've produced in quite some time. Look, I'm not going to sugar coat this review and call myself a fanboy who's blinded by the brand of Marvel. I genuinely thought this was a terrific entry and here's why.
One of the best things about this film is that it stands on its own. Yes, seeing previous movies definitely elevates your experience, but it's been a long time since the Marvel Cinematic Universe released a movie that's not reliant on viewers having seen previous movies. That being said, Black Panther picks up not too long after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Don't let that be daunting to you or anyone who hasn't seen that film because this movie does a solid job at filling in the gaps without having to see that movie. The king of Wakanda has passed away and his son T'Challa has taken the mantle. With looming threats to have his throne stolen from him, he must take any precautions necessary in order to reign supreme. Quite honestly, unless you want this movie ruined for you, it's hard to expand on the premise itself, especially when it comes to the villain in Erik Killmonger.
Everyone will want to discuss how well Chadwick Boseman fits into the role of T'Challa (Black Panther), but Michael B. Jordan is easily the highlight of this film. Once again, I'm not trying to let a highlight cloud my judgment of the movie as a whole, but the villain is honestly something remarkable here, especially for the standards that have been set by previous movies in this universe. His purpose for wishing to take down the titular hero will have you hating him and sympathizing with him all at the same time and that's when you know this character was created and presented with care. The interacting with Killmonger and the secondary character and the final few scenes that he and T'Challa get to spend together are honestly some of the best moments from any of these films in a very long time.
Yes, I can admit that I loved this movie from start to finish, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the few aspects that bothered me. Normally when I watch a movie, I never let CGI affect how I feel about a scene as a whole, but there were some noticeably cheap-looking effects here. Now, that's really all I have to complain about here because it didn't take away from anything. They're definitely noticeable, but I also found myself invested and tearing up during a couple of the final scenes, even though someone's body or a background looked fake, so I have nothing but incredible applause for Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole on their fantastically written screenplay.
In the end, superhero movies, in general, are hard to make these days, especially when many audience members seem to be growing weary of them. Personally, I think of this genre as any other genre. If you make a good film, then it's worthy of talking about, just as an indie drama that's up for Oscars is. This is a rich and wonderful world that's worth exploring. Superbly directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther is one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and easily one of the best solo outings for a superhero.
Has there ever been romantic comedy fatigue? No. Has there ever been horror film fatigue? No. People let themselves think they're having superhero movie fatigue because there are many of them made nowadays, but as I said, it doesn't matter if people have powers. A great movie is a great movie if you have a story worth telling, and Black Panther proves that statement tenfold. I can't recommend checking this film out enough. For comics fans and average moviegoers alike, I feel as though this will be a movie long-discussed.
When it comes to Marvel films, I put this one right up there as one of the best. It has a great villain, great visuals, great performances, and a great narrative that tests the morals of every character. Coogler does a great high-wire balancing act managing a complex story while staying true to the comics, introducing new characters into the MCU, and making a strong social statement. I also enjoyed the struggle between T'challa and Killmonger being portrayed as less of a hero vs villain and more of one ideology vs another, both with its merits and flaws. I only wish Killmonger's violence and evil streak was toned down a bit to show off his better intentions and humanize him more, but there's so much to enjoy here that it doesn't become a huge issue. Impressive visuals, characters, and storylines come together to form a great film here.
Black Panther is unlike any other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film prior. It's unlike any other super hero film prior. Yes, there have been African-American leading men in comic-based movies, notably Wesley Snipes' half-vampire-all-badass Blade. However, this is the first movie I can think of with this kind of budget, this kind of backing, and with this kind of ownership over its cultural heritage and the heavy burdens it carries.
We last saw T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War mourning the loss of his father, the king of the African nation of Wakanda. The outside world does not know that Wakanda sits on a vast supply of virbanium, the strongest and more durable metal in the world and the key to Wakanda's impressive technology. Under a holographic cover, Wakanda is a thriving metropolis with flying cars, skyscrapers, and next gen weapons. T'Challa goes home and must earn the right to the throne. However, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a former top-level black ops solider, is looking for his own path into Wakanda and onto the throne. Killmonger teams up with arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), to force Wakanda to deal with being cut off from the world.
This is a movie populated almost entirely by black faces, notably black women (more on that later), and they are given a mainstream platform that celebrates its multitudinous African roots and traditions thanks to co-writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed). This movie is proudly black, which will rankle some on the fringes of society, as if celebrating one's own identity is somehow denigrating those who do not apply to that status. Black Panther is not an exclusionary movie because of its content and execution; this is a very accessible movie to a mass audience, even those who haven't been paying attention to every nitty-gritty detail in the previous seventeen MCU entries. There are only two characters from other MCU films that appear, one as a post-credits cameo and the other an officious representative (Martin Freeman) of the outside's clandestine organizations. This is a unique world isolated from the long shadow of colonialism. Wakanda has never known, to our knowledge, the depravity of the European and American slave trade. They have continued to develop uninterrupted by conquerors, slave traders, and the crippling aftereffects of racism. The Wakanda people could very easily be the conquerors themselves. They're the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and hide as a "third-world nation," utilizing the ignorance of the Western world to its security. The world of Wakanda is a fascinating, awe-inspiring, and defiantly independent nation.
The larger theme is over the responsibilities inherent to those with privilege. The nation of Wakanda is vastly successful by all conventional metrics. T'Challa must wrestle with whether to continue their exclusionary stance, ignore the plight of the larger world and say it's none of their business or engage with the world, potentially putting his own kingdom's peace and prosperity at risk. It's a simple enough theme and yet it has tremendous weight to it especially when you account for those on the other end of the Wakanda borders. The character of Killmonger is a direct reflection of this. His experiences in Oakland are not the ideal pairing with the luxury of Wakanda. Killmonger sees Wakanda's great influence as a way to protect beleaguered black citizens of the world and especially in the United States. It's a way to prevent more senseless deaths from black citizens who were slain as a result of the fear of just being black (a powerful example was Coogler's debut film, Fruitvale Station). It's a pointed political statement that doesn't get too heavy-handed (even though I would have preferred that). It questions the value of isolationism especially when suffering can be prevented. Killmonger works as a villain because you can understand his point of view. He goes beyond the need for vengeance. The wrongs he wants to right are larger and historical. Even Killmonger's last line really attaches itself to this theme. T'Challa offers him a way out but with imprisonment. "No," Killmonger declines, "My people were the ones who leaped over the sides of the slave ships. They knew death was better than bondage." The emphasis is "his people," not T'Challa's, not Wakanda. His people were the ones who suffered from slavery. Could Wakanda have possibly prevented it?
Another wonderful surprise of Black Panther is its incredible all-female ensemble that provides expert support to their king. T'Challa has the good fortune of four strong women, each of them having a different and vital relationship to him. The standout will be Danai Gurira (TV's Walking Dead) as the fierce chief of security, Okoye. She has a swagger that vacillates between being intimidating and being brashly enjoyable. Okoye has many of the best lines and she throws herself into every fight. There's also a sense of duty that transcends a single man that challenges her loyalty. Letitia Wright (TV's Humans) plays Shuri, the Q of this world, the top scientist and creator of many a gadget. She's T'Challa's little sister and their interplay is very competitive and teasing. She's looking to be more involved in the action and a highlight is when she teams up with her big bro. Lupita Nyong'o (The Jungle Book) is Nakia, a former flame of T'Challa's who comes in and out of his life as an undercover spy. All three of these women have a powerful sense of agency and are integrated in important and essential ways. Even though Nakia may slide into that romantic interest role, she still has a vibrant life outside whatever feelings she may or may not have for the hero. Then there's T'Challa's mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who radiates strength and fortitude. These women gave me some of the biggest moments of entertainment in the entire 135 minutes of movie.
Now some careful readers might note that I haven't done much to emphasize the actual action of the super hero action movie, and that's for a good reason. Black Panther stands stronger on theme and character than it does its actual action sequences. Coogler had a wonderful sense of scale and verisimilitude with 2015's Creed, relying on long takes to put the audience in the heightened drama of the boxing ring. With Black Panther, the action sequences can lose a sense of immediacy. Many happen at night or are filmed and edited in ways that diminish some of their impact, like hand-to-hand combat in splashing water where the splashes obscure the activity. Other scenes felt like a video game CGI cut-scene. Speaking of video games, Black Panther's suit has a crazy ability to absorb the kinetic energy of weapons, which means the stakes take a dip when our hero can merely just stand and allow himself to get shot repeatedly. The payoff for this absorption is a giant energy shockwave but it plays out like a fighting game's special feature. It's an aspect that's not really utilized in a satisfying or unique way. The final showdown between Black Panther and Killmonger feels too weightless in execution. It's meant to even the playing field by nullifying their extra abilities, but if they both have the same "Panther powers" isn't the field already even? The third act, the usual punching bag for MCU critics, is the best part of the movie from an action standpoint. It utilizes the characters in significant ways and allows for organic complications while still maintaining its wider sense of spectacle. Plus it's one of the few action sequences that allow all the pyrotechnics to be enjoyed during the visibility of day.
Boseman (Marshall) was an excellent choice for a stoic and too-cool-for-school character that can glide right on by. The ageless Boseman is at his best when he's working off the other actors, especially his female posse. He has a couple of very effective emotional confrontations as he learns of his family's secrets. As steady and soothing a presence as Boseman can be, this is Jordan's movie. Michael B. Jordan (Creed) has been Coogler's cinematic good luck charm and we're still benefiting from that divine kinship. His character is at the heart of the central thematic question. While T'Challa is ultimately the one who has to decide, it is Killmonger who embodies that need for change and the desire to rectify the past. There's a flashback with Jordan that got me to tear up, and this guy was the villain! It's one of the film's biggest mistakes sidelining Jordan for far too long. After his introduction, Killmonger is strangely absent for the next hour or so of the movie, ceding the spotlight to Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes), a more antic and goofy scenery-chewing baddie who has a few regrettably "faux hip" lines of dialogue that land awkwardly. Serkis is having a blast but can feel like a holdover from a different film.
Much like last summer's Wonder Woman, this is a movie that is going to mean a lot to a lot of people. It has a personal significance that I will not be able to fully tap into, no matter the expansive powers of empathy. Black Panther, as a long-awaited cultural moment, will have many ripples of inspiration. After my early screening, I sat back and watched an African-American boy, no older than seven or eight, walk out of the theater in a daze. His eyes were wide, his mouth agape, and he said in astonishment, "That was the best movie ever." That kid has a hero he can call his own. That matters. Black Panther, as a work of art, is rich in topical themes and has a wide supporting net of exciting, robust, and capable women. I enjoyed how personal and relevant and political the movie could become, folding new and challenging ideas onto the MCU formula. Coogler is a marvelous director and storyteller showing rare acumen for being able to handle the rigors of a Hollywood blockbuster and deliver something hearty. The action has some issues and there are some structural hiccups that hold it from the MCU's upper echelon (I enjoyed all of the 2017 MCU movies better). Black Panther is a winning movie when it features its sterling cast celebrating their virtues and solidarity and a still respectable enough action spectacle when called upon for big screen duty.
Nate's Grade: B
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