The Watchers Issue #20: Black Panther
Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to The Watchers. Marvel's latest addition to the MCU, Black Panther, just hit the big screen and my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing it on opening weekend. I am here to give my full review, go over what was good, what was bad, and where it all fits in with the comics and the rest of the MCU. This review will contain spoilers for the film, so if you haven't seen it yet, I would recommend watching it first before reading this.
So let's start off with an overview of the plot. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his country of Wakanda after the events of Captain America: Civil War to take his father's place on the throne, following his death. T'Challa is crowned king, then immediately goes off on a mission to capture Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a smuggler and all-around pain in Wakanda's butt for decades. After the mission fails because of the actions of a masked individual, T'Challa returns home. The masked man is then revealed to be Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the estranged cousin of our protagonist who was raised in America after the death of his father at the former king's hands. Killmonger challenges T'Challa's right to the throne, and thus challenges T'Challa's views on how Wakanda should interact with the world and his own ability to protect his country.
First, I have to acknowledge the music in this film. Original songs were provided by hip-hop juggernaut Kendrick Lamar, but where the soundscape really shines is in the score. Traditional African drums and wind instruments are beautifully complemented by electronic beats and EDM influences. This creates an incredible fusion of tradition meets present day, which is an obvious nod to the fictional nation of Wakanda and the themes of the movie itself.
The acting in the film is excellent, with real intensity being portrayed in the pivotal moments of the film. Boseman delivers a Black Panther that is simultaneously regal and down to earth, blending the stoic nature of an African king and the joking and light-hearted nature of a young man in the world today. Jordan's Killmonger is terrifying and sympathetic, making arguably the most complex villain in the MCU since The Avengers's Loki. You want to see him fail, but you understand his motivations and at times find yourself almost agreeing with him.
The world of Wakanda is beautiful, with the African landscape perfectly balancing out the technological marvels portrayed. Everything, from the clothing to the buildings, to the way people speak, shows a deep attention to detail to create the feeling of a traditional society thriving in the modern world. A perfect example of this is T'Challa's shield during the ceremonial challenges, which is a traditional shield, the likes of which can be seen on the Kenyan flag today, but clearly made of the fictional metal vibranium.
The plot is poignant in the world today, addressing issues of immigration laws, foreign aid, discrimination, civil unrest, compliance, and racial inequality. These were all dealt with tactfully and respectfully. That being said, it was very clear at points that this movie was not made for me. As a white man, I was not the target demographic for this movie. It spoke to those that have faced discrimination and prejudice their whole lives, and I can't identify with that. The few white characters in the film are occasionally referred to as "colonizers," and the first time I heard that it felt like a punch in the gut, even though the first time is in a comedic way. Killmonger's dying words ring with me in a drastically different way than they do for minority viewers, "Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who knew death was better than bondage." This film was a beautiful way to give a voice to people who have felt voiceless for so long, and it was incredible to witness that. I've been saying for a while that this was not just a film, but an event in movie history. I feel that this is true, and that we will be talking about Black Panther long after the MCU has come and gone.
Now, after saying all that, I can't say that this was a perfect film. I had some issues with it, but they are admittedly minor things in light of all the good things.
First is a complaint I have had with a few Marvel movies as of late. The comedy in this film is definitely rolled back from that of Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but when they do deliver jokes, the timing was strange, and occasionally drew away from the heaviness of the scene. A great example of this is when T'Challa's loved ones think he is dead and come to plea for help from M'Baku (Winston Duke), only for him to make a vegetarian joke at the expense of Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). It is meant to be an incredibly heavy scene, and the joke takes you out of the moment. This is a problem that a lot of people are having with Marvel lately and seems to be more of an issue with Disney's influence, as we are also seeing it in the new Star Wars films.
Some of the special effects in this film are beautiful, and some are... well, not. T'Challa is thrown down a dreadful green screened waterfall at one point, and it takes all dramatic effect or suspense away. Also, they must have run out of money in the budget before filming the scene where they cover T'Challa's body in the snow, because that has to be some of the worst fake snow I have ever seen.
The "shaky-cam" was strong in this movie, particularly in the first half. Fight scenes were nearly incomprehensible as the camera jumped around haphazardly, to the point where I started developing a headache during the brawl in the South Korean casino.
My only other complaint is the first scene where T'Challa and Okeye (Danai Gurira) fight African slavers to rescue Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o). Admittedly, this could be an issue with my local theatre, but this whole scene was so dark, my wife and I could barely tell what was going on. The scene is in the African jungle at night, but it was not a great scene to start open with.
Black Panther clearly draws a lot of inspiration from Priest's run on the title. The Dora Milaje, as well as many of the characters portrayed directly come from his run, and it's an excellent read if you are new to Black Panther as a character. Admittedly, I haven't read a whole lot of Black Panther comics, so it is entirely likely that I missed a bunch of references to characters within that mythos, so feel free to leave a comment and educate me.
As far as the MCU, the film clearly takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, but beyond that, it is a fairly standalone film. There are little to no mentions of the rest of the MCU, the Avengers, or even SHIELD. While I would recommend watching Civil War before Black Panther, that is more a personal suggestion than a requirement. The film sums up what you need to know in the first few minutes, and then you are set for the rest of the movie.
I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it lived up to the hype in nearly every way. My grievances were admittedly minor, and my wife and I gushed about it for most of the rest of the day. She isn't a comic fan, but she said that it was one of her favorite Marvel films to date, and I would have to agree. As I said earlier, this movie was not made for us, but that didn't stop us from really enjoying it, and won't stop me from recommending it to everyone. It is a beautiful movie, and even if it weren't, getting to see how empowering has been for minorities has been incredible. I hope this movie blows the doors wide open for more diverse characters like Ms. Marvel, Falcon, Miles Morales, and Silk.
I'm giving this film an 8/10, with the full expectation that over time, it's cultural significance will make that higher.
What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Until the next time, excelsior!