Title: Black Panther
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comic Book, Science Fiction
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Release: February 16, 2018
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright
Feature image: Source
Normally I only do TV recaps for this site. It is hard enough for me to keep up with my TV assignments without adding movie reviews in the mix. It would have to take something special to get me to do one, and that something special premiered nationwide on Thursday. If you aren’t a comic book reader but love watching the MCU, you were first introduced to the future King of Wakanda in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Chadwick Boseman gave a standout performance as T’Challa/Black Panther. In a movie full of established superheroes and big movie stars, Boseman shined as a grief stricken son, determined to gain revenge on his father’s killer. While his co-stars were giving more humorous performances, Boseman was giving a quiet, subtle, but powerful one. The seriousness and determination he showed in his pursuit of the Winter Soldier put everyone on notice; T’Challa was not someone to be trifled with. I along with others eagerly awaited his return.
Since I usually do recaps, I’m used to spoiling the hell out of the shows I cover. I’ll do my best not to give away any significant spoilers. The film picks up soon after the events in Civil War. We are introduced to T’Challa’s family, friends, and foes. His mother Ramonda is played by the regal and ageless Angela Bassett. His genius baby sister Shuri is played by Letitia Wright, a newcomer who steals the movie with her humor and charm. Playing T’Challa’s ex is Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia. She is a Wakandan War Dog [spy] who believes that Wakanda should become engaged in the world to help Africa and those of us in the diaspora. Danai Gurira plays Okoye, who is head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda. She is a traditionalist who believes in Wakanda’s isolationist policy. Though Okoye and Nakia differ in their politics, they are friends who deeply respect each other.
Other major players in Wakanda are Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, T’Challa’s close friend who is in charge of protecting Wakanda’s borders. Winston Duke plays the towering M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe. They are the one tribe that has isolated themselves from Wakandan society. They believe in traditional Wakanda practices and don’t favor Wakanda’s technological bent. Zuri is an elder statesman who was close friends with T’Challa’s father. Zuri is played by Forest Whitaker.
On a mission to both retrieve vibranium stolen from a London museum, and capture their hated enemy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis); T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye meet up with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman). Klaue has a long history with Wakanda, he stole vibranium from the country and is one of the few outsiders to know Wakanda’s secret. He committed a terrorist act there that killed W’Kabi’s parents years ago. One of the participants in the London heist was Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. He is more than just a thief and ruthless killer. He has a connection with Wakanda through his deceased father N’Jobu, played by Sterling K. Brown. This connection gives the film its power and pathos.
I’ve seen many movies that had a great cast and basically did nothing with them. The supporting characters were two dimensional at best, and when it came to the women in the cast, they were there to be sexy damsels in distress. Black Panther doesn’t make that mistake. All of the major characters had agency, they didn’t do anything stupid just because the script called for it. Killmongers’s actions though villainous were logical and thought out. W’Kabi’s actions made sense when you knew his viewpoint about Wakanda engagement in the world, and wanting justice for his parents. No one in the movie did anything that made you want to slap your forehead in frustration. The characters and their relationships to other characters felt lived in. T’Challa and Shuri had a loving sibling relationship. Okoye and Nakia felt like old friends. Everyone gave a great performance, and as a group made you feel as if you were in Wakanda.
This was a top notch film in every way. Ryan Coogler has only made three pictures, but when those three pictures are Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther, that places you in select company. If he continues this trajectory, he could end up being in the company of the Spielbergs and Nolans of the world. Even though this was a big Marvel picture, he found a way to make it personal. It wasn’t a film made by committee. He and Joe Robert Cole wrote a beautiful script. It raised major issues in the black community such as issues of identity, on the damage we sustain living in a racist society. It asks what we can do if we are privileged enough to help those less fortunate. Should any country practice isolationist policies that prevents it from engaging in the global community. What do we owe to others? It does this without being didactic and being exclusionary to only our community. Even if the issues don’t interest you, the quality of the movie will.
What contributes to this quality is the production design from Hannah Beachler. She did a great job in making Atlanta Georgia look like Wakanda. She used different African cultural influences and added the advanced technology that Wakanda would have on it. She grounded the look of the film with African influences and added the fantastical. Ruth E. Carter added to this look with the clothes she designed. Like Beachler, she used different African designs to create her costumes. She used different color schemes for the different Wakandan tribes. When she made the costumes for the Dora Milaje, she made sure to create armor for them so they looked like warriors instead of a harem for T’Challa. Both Beachler and Carter’s efforts made Wakanda feel like a real place. The film’s cinematographer Rachel Morrison used Beachler and Carter’s work and made sure that she made the film crisp with colors and vibrant shots. She would use contrast for different locations, Wakanda was always lush with warm tropical beauty, while the rest of the world’s colors were more neutral.
Music played a major part in creating Wakanda. The film’s score was composed by Ludwig Göransson. He also did the film scores for Fruitvale Station and Creed. There is a short documentary on the Making of Wakanda. It shows the African influence the film’s score has. Here is the finished product Wakanda. Along with Göransson’s work are the songs Kendrick Lamar contributed. He produced an album for the film called Black Panther: The Album. My favorite two songs from the film were Pray for Me by the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar [the casino and car chase scene] and All the Stars by Kendrick Lamar and SZA [end of the movie]. The music from both the score and album are excellent and enhance the film.
Like everything else in life, the film isn’t perfect. Some of the CGI in the final big fight scene was noticeable. There were a few slow parts here and there in the beginning of the movie. Small quibbles that didn’t take me out of the movie. There has been a lot of hype for this movie, and the hype is real. As of this writing, the film has made $201 million in three days. That is Avenger money! By the end of the four day weekend, it will have made over $235 million. All I can say is Wakanda Forever!