DEFCON 1 Reviews: ‘Black Panther’

The Ups, the Downs, and the King on the Throne That We Didn’t Know We Needed

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Craig Duffy/Marvel

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) battle for the throne.

(SPOILER FREE)

Black Panther was undoubtedly the most hyped movie of the year so far. The character’s first appearance in Captain America: Civil War was met with widespread approval, which created mass anticipation when his solo film was announced. The hype around Black Panther was also met with controversy, as racism crept through the corners, some claiming that ‘no white people should see the movie’ and others asking ‘why do we need to have a black superhero?’ Despite these divides, it has been almost universally decided that Black Panther was a good movie. Now, I refuse to overrate the film like many have, but I also refuse to not give it its due diligence. So, as always, let’s start with the good stuff.

A Whole New World

One of the greatest parts of Black Panther was the fact that Wakanda was a character in and of itself. The futuristic African nation, ran with the mythical metal vibranium, brought a vast landscape of colors and sounds that had audiences staring in adoration. Through excellent integration of concepts and great scripting, we were able to be immersed into Wakandan traditions, and the politics of the Wakandan royalty. The landscape was vibrant and beautiful, a perfect blend of advanced and traditional cultures that opened the Marvel universe to an exotic paradise that isn’t an alien planet.

Long Live the King

Chadwick Boseman is the Black Panther. There is no one who could portray the flawed but steadfast king like he does. Chadwick displays T’Challa as a king who was born to be king, but one who didn’t understand the full responsibilities of being both King T’Challa and the Black Panther. The film’s leading man may not have been the best part of the movie, but he certainly brought the swagger the film needed. A true hero, however, is nothing without their rival.

The Man in Black and Gold

There is an introspective charisma that Michael B. Jordan brings to this movie as Erik Killmonger. The villainy he presents is not conventional; it’s a heartbreaking story of a misguided young man with the intelligence, cunning, patience and resolve of a king. Unfortunately, these qualities make him all the more formidable of a foe for T’Challa. I agree with the majority of the critics in that Killmonger was the best part of Black Panther. He made the film edgy and simultaneously fun to watch. Jordan convinces audiences that he’s someone they should truly love to hate.

Who Are You to King T’Challa?

Among the greatest feats that Black Panther achieves is an insane amount of character development in an insanely brief period of time. There was not a single character in the entire film who was not interesting. M’Baku was a minor character who had more charisma than many other people in the movie, especially considering the fact that he was a literal ape in the comic books (the film had a very interesting take on this concept, and that pleased me as a comic book fan). Every character in the entire movie, even Martin Freeman as Agent Ross, had meaning in the film. This brings me to Black Panther’s most interesting characters.

“For Wakanda? No Question.”

The girls. Oh boy, oh boy. The women in Black Panther performed phenomenally (and were phenomenally fine). Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira, who played Nakia, Shuri and Okoye respectively, were my personal favorite part of Black Panther. Nyong’o played a tender-hearted warrior, who not only made the audience fall in love with her but also foiled King T’Challa’s personality, making his appeal more powerful. Letitia Wright played T’Challa’ s little sister and was absolutely hilarious. She tied our generation into the film, bringing current terminology into a film made by thirty year olds. She also foiled King T’Challa, taking that ‘King’ mantle away when it was necessary and making Boseman into just another dude with a little sister who annoys the piga out of him. Last, but certainly not least, Danai Gurira’s character had my jaws consistently on my kneecaps. She was so tribal, traditional and straight-up awesome that everything about her personality was solid. She never flaked on her beliefs, and she was essentially the personification of black power (plus she rocks the bald head so clean that it keeps Amber Rose up at night like ‘if only’).

“I Never Freeze.”

Black Panther’s pacing was perfect. Contrary to popular belief, I liked Thor: Ragnarok back last year, but the pacing was so awful that it ruined a decent story. The same was not the case in Black Panther. The action and story occurred that told more of a coming-of-age story than a superhero story. This was an excellent choice on writer-director Ryan Coogler’s part because it set the film apart from other Marvel films. There were still a bunch of awesome action scenes, explosions and black sedans flipping over, but Black Panther was a story-driven beauty, using its landscape to set up a ‘way of things’ that made audiences feel like part of the Wakandan population. That kind of storytelling helped make the action even more enjoyable, as the fantastic sci-fi sequences left entire theaters either yelling ‘ohhhh’ or sitting purple-fisted in total silence.

La-Di-Da-Di-Da, All the Songs Are Bomb

The first time I tried to write this article, I just couldn’t find the inspiration to do so. I would start off okay, but then it would come out like ‘meh,’ and I’d leave it alone for a while. I figured out why. All I needed to do was listen to the Black Panther soundtrack. Haven’t heard it? Bruh. Listen to “Paramedic!” and if your face doesn’t look like this by the end, you’re not a human being.

NFL/FOX Joel Reyes

The songs that Kendrick Lamar, SZA and The Weeknd compiled on this playlist of tribal bangers is unreal. I’m not a hype monger either, and when I first heard the sneak peek a month ago, I thought this album would be trash. When the entire thing dropped, however, I realized that I’m actually a long lost Wakandan prince who needs to reclaim his throne. The entire playlist is fantastic, with hip hop smashes like “Paramedic!” and “King’s Dead” (we don’t talk about Future’s verse on that song) and smooth R&B joints like “All the Stars” and “The Ways.” Blending hard-hitting modern hip hop with actual lyrics and African tribal rhythms makes it one of my favorite playlists of 2018 so far.  

A Wardrobe for Warriors

Ruth Carter, I’ma need you to chill. The costumes in Black Panther were absolutely extraordinary. Everyone from the King of Wakanda to the fourth extra in the crowning ceremony was looking fresh to death. No wonder T’Challa was walking through his sister’s lab like his barber just looked at him and said ‘I got you’ (for real though, dude looked like he just got some twists with a fade on the side and they just dabbed his forehead with that oil that makes you want to scream). Alexandra Byrne would usually be the one I’m praising for this section, since she’s Marvel’s go-to costume designer. However, Carter is an urban couture specialist and a pro when it comes to African prints, so she knew what she was doing, and it certainly showed. The warriors looked both fierce and fine, making me wonder if I should pull out a vibranium spear or a tin of Altoid ‘cool mints’.

Wakanda Forever

One of my fears walking into the theater to see Black Panther was that it would be too ethnocentric. I knew it was going to depict a lot of black people doing a lot of super dope stuff, but I didn’t want it to try too hard to shove ‘black people are awesome’ into audiences’ faces. The film is, after all, a superhero movie when push comes to shove. My fears were put to rest promptly. Black Panther excels in not emphasizing that everyone is black, but simply depicting Wakanda as an amazing place full of amazing people. It is extremely important that the people are, indeed, black Africans, but that’s in the real world. This is Marvel comics, where kings in vibranium catsuits fight scar-chested, dread-headed step-brothers to retake their throne in a sci-fi influenced African nation. There were race issues addressed in Black Panther, but they weren’t talking about how Africa isn’t as bad as the media perceives. The movie just shows you these ‘not as bad’ African people doing ‘not as bad’ things, almost as if saying “obviously.” The commentary on race in Black Panther is more directed towards America, but it isn’t explicit or dividing; it’s introspective and abstract, which gives audiences the ‘dang, that’s crazy’ moment they were supposed to get.

As I move into the negative part of this review, I want to emphasize again the fact that Black Panther was good. Cinematically, the film was just solid. Most debates aren’t about whether it was good or not, but instead just how good it was. That was the beauty of Black Panther in my opinion. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the flaws in the claws.

“How Much More Are You Hiding?”

This may not have been a major flaw, but Black Panther’s CGI was particularly shady. At this point, multi-million dollar films should either be able to make their computer animations virtually seamless or find a better means of shooting the scene. Black Panther’s final showdown between T’Challa and Killmonger was a computer generated sequence. How did I know? Because it is ridiculously obvious. Sure, the scene was cool, but it was very obvious that the physics during the battle were generated by a computer, especially with the ‘camera’ shot close-ups. This took a lot of the climactic tension away from the final duel, which was disappointing after so much exposition.

Freeman’s Not a Free Man

Dumbest part of the movie alert. So what was up with Martin Freeman? He’s an excellent actor who played one of my favorite Lord of the Rings characters in The Hobbit trilogy. For some reason, however, the writers didn’t get that memo and stuck him on ‘filler plot’ duty. Freeman flew a filler plot jet plane after some filler plot ships full of filler plot War Dogs to stop a filler plot apocalypse. The entire arc was essentially a waste of time, as we didn’t really get emotionally attached to Freeman’s character enough to care about his fate in the film. In fact, Freeman’s part was the only sequence that took the battle outside of Wakanda, which kinda eliminated the entire point of the film’s monogamy of scenery.   

The Wrap-Up

Black Panther was simply a good movie. The film did everything it was supposed to do: it unified comic book fans, provided a new Marvel flick with plenty of replay value, and it highlighted black beauty, culture and ingenuity. The greatest part about it, in fact, was that it was more than just a movie by being just a movie. Black Panther has not only flooded the media with memes and challenges, but it has created a cultural phenomenon that transcends far beyond the superhero strata. For that alone, Black Panther has accomplished something great. The story was introspective, but not particularly phenomenal. The great thing about Black Panther, however, was that a good start was all we needed. I base my reviews on the expectations made by previous installments, especially regarding Marvel films. Technically, this movie should be a three-and-a-half-star piece. That being said, Black Panther was a masterpiece in its own right; maybe not a cinematic masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless. That’s why I plan on seeing it two more times. For Wakanda.

VERY GOOD