MOVIE REVIEW: Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER (2018)

GOING IN

This is the most excited I’ve been for a Marvel film in several years. Black Panther looks to be set in a completely unique world that feels like an African Asgard. The importance of this superhero film for African Americans is significant, too, and cannot be dismissed. With a cast of incredible actors of color plus two of my favorite Tolkien-universe stars, and director Ryan Coogler whose never made anything less than an excellent film, expectations are high that this will be a comic book movie to remember. Plus, his superhero persona is a cat. I mean, c’mon… who doesn’t love cats?

2 Hours and 14 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

There’s nothing quite like that feeling when a highly hyped movie delivers the goods. It’s euphoric and can lead to long bouts of smiling the rest of the day. When that film is in a genre that has largely become stagnant and routine, a diamond emerging from the rough is an even bigger deal, and cause for great celebration. Those who have followed Ryan Coogler’s brief career thus far (Fruitvale Station, Creed) knew the young director had the chops to pull of a great Black Panther movie, and boy did he ever.

Early in the film, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) tells him “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” This little nugget of wisdom feels like foreshadowing because that is exactly what Coogler and this fantastic cast have done with Black Panther. Marvel movies make money and are highly enjoyable, so the formula thus far has worked just fine. But Coogler, who also co-wrote the film, has definitely elevated that formula and created something with so much more depth than the majority of comic book films. Fans are constantly clamoring for these films to be more than just jokes and great action, and to have some genuine stakes. Because of the more personal level of the conflict in Black Panther it has those necessary stakes, both for T’Challa as a king and the nation of Wakanda. Coogler’s film also tackles the reality of African American history while comparing that to an incredibly advanced civilization free from colonization and bondage. The subtle but strong way the story handles all of these topics is what makes it so special.

Well, that and the acting. Black Panther features a standout cast that just rocks it in almost every role. Andy Serkis steps out of the motion capture suit to play villain Ulysses Klaue and promptly steals every scene he is in. It’s a performance that is dripping with that exaggerated comic book style and I ate up every second he was on screen. Pairing with him in the villain role is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, who unsurprisingly is phenomenal. Goodness gracious can this guy act! I’ll be blunt – these two together are the best Marvel villains we’ve seen. In Killmonger, for once Marvel has given us a villain worth caring about, and the difference in personality and motivation between he and Klaue makes for superb entertainment. Other standouts are Danai Gurira as Okoye, as T’Challa’s Wakandan General and absolute bad-ass warrior. Her performance is fierce and she epitomizes the strength of Wakandan women who may live under a patriarchy, but are every bit as equal and valued as the men. I could go on and on, but the aforementioned Letitia Wright also was excellent. As T’Challa’s sister, she provides an interesting picture of someone who has grown up with the comfort and technology of a secret tribal country yet still has the sensibilities of a wide-eyed teenager. She gives the film plenty of its humor and is the primary vessel for us to learn about and fall in love with Wakandan vibranium tech (which is AWESOME).

The setting of Wakanda is a beautiful, at times breathtaking, fascinating sort of African Asgard. The filmmakers took great care to make each tribe look and feel unique. Everything about this world felt so vibrant and traditional, from the rituals to the manner of conversation. Much of the score features tribal music with beating drums that fit perfectly, but at times it also switches up to modern musical styles. This is best shown in one particular fight scene where the style of music alternated back and forth based on which character was shown in battle.

Black Panther is truly great, but it isn’t quite perfect. My two biggest complaints about the film are its CGI and a few of the narrative choices made during the climax that felt like shortcuts. The climax also felt a little long to me, but that’s a minor quibble. The CGI being wonky was a major problem in a genre that showcases its heroes using their abilities. Many times it was so bad that it took me out of the moment and lessened the intensity of the action sequence taking place. There are definitely great moments, many relating to the Panther’s kinetic reflecting suit, but overall it was still a letdown from a studio that should be acing that element.

VERDICT

Black Panther may not be king of the MCU, but it certainly is a worthy challenger for that mantle. The film’s deep themes and focus on developing characters makes it linger in your thoughts even after the high has passed. This is the first Marvel film in a long time that I immediately purchased tickets to see again. There are so many great lessons and they’re all contained in a beautifully unique wrapper unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Representation matters and Black Panther is certainly an important step forward in film, but it’s also just a damn good comic book movie and reminder of what the genre can be at its height. Wakanda Forever.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: March 5-11

LESSON #1: THE SUCCESS RATE OF INDIE DIRECTORS STEPPING TO BLOCKBUSTERS IS IMPROVING— Other than Marc Webb stepping up from “(500) Days of Summer” to the ill-fated “Amazing Spider-Man” double bill and “Moon” director Duncan Jones bombing on “Warcraft,” the recent push of larger studios’ farming of indie directors to helm blockbusters have gone pretty successfully.   All of the greats started small (take Christopher Nolan going from “Memento” to Batman), but the trend is swelling lately.   Colin Treverrow turned “Safety Not Guaranteed” into “Jurassic World” and J.A. Bayona will be moving from “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls” into the dinotastic sequel.  “The Kings of Summer” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cashed up to “Kong: Skull Island.”  This list goes on and on, and 2017 is full of more.  Rian Johnson flips “Looper” for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Taika Waititi goes from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” for “Thor: Ragnarok.”  Jon Watts of “Cop Car” hopes to not pull a Marc Webb with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

LESSON #2: BIGGER IS BETTER— Speaking of “Kong: Skull Island,” the head honchos at Legendary Entertainment found the easiest and most irresistible route to selling a new Kong film: Make him bigger.   The powers that be have smacked an invisible label on the cinematic Cheez Whiz jar that reads “now bigger than ever,” jacking up the normally and plenty-imposing 25-foot gorilla into a gigantic 100-foot bipedal behemoth.  That changes everything when it comes to the monster’s capacity for destruction and man’s impossible chances of opposition.  Go see the film.  It’s a blast.

LESSON #3: KEEP AN EYE ON THE SXSW FILM FESTIVAL— For nine days and 125 features this month, Austin, Texas becomes the center of the independent film scene with the annual South by Southwest Film Festival that is starting to rival January’s Sundance Film Festival for exclusive films and a Hollywood-level red carpet.  This year, you’ll get the premieres of the latest films from Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), Terrance Malick (“Song to Song”), and Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire”).   SXSW’s merger of the arts is becoming a hot ticket with good gets.

LESSON #4: THE WHITEWASHED CASTING OUTRAGE IS STARTING TO SMARTEN STUDIOS UP— I think the combination of warranted complaints,  butthurt rants, and internet courage-fueled protests are starting to work.   Movie news reported this week that director Guy Ritchie will seek Middle Eastern lead performers for Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” re-imagining and Niki Caro looks to be doing the same for “Mulan.”   If you look past the animated curtain and beyond all of its inherent entertainment value, “Aladdin” is one of the worst perpetrators in film history for white-washing.  I’m intrigued to see something different and call these active attempts an initial victory towards improved diversity.

LESSON #5: LET’S MAKE UP A NEW WORD: “BRITWASHING”— Piggybacking from Lesson #4, race relations also have a national vs. international bend to them from time to time.  Samuel L. Jackson just stepped out in an interview to criticize the casting of black British actor Daniel Kaluuya to play an American African-American guy in “Get Out” and wonders about missed opportunities.  Honestly, the man isn’t wrong and, as I coin the term, “Britwashing” has been a quietly unsettling trend when you see the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Henry Cavill, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Oyelow playing real and fictional American heroes.  One has to wonder if there is a talent gap between the Brits and the Americans.  What do you think?  How do you feel about foreigners playing American figures and heroes?

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current President of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

Minisode 15: Get Out

In this minisode, horror writer and superfan Blake Collier joins the show to discuss Get Out, the new hit film from freshman director Jordan Peele. Get Out is a special film that has managed to subvert the genre in many ways and become not only a fantastic thrill ride but also an important social commentary on race in America today. We do our best in this conversation to remain sensitive to those who truly do experience the fear that Peele’s film lets us have a glimpse of. So come along as we unpack the narrative choices in Get Out and how they might just teach us all something about life that we weren’t expecting.

Download this Episode 


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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