“Black Panther” – Big Cats Rule!

So I had the very pleasant pleasure of viewing “Black Panther” on Saturday of this past weekend and I can tell you, it was definitely a good time.  What I mean is, not only was the movie satisfying, but the experience itself was as well.  To put things into perspective, let’s address the elephant in the room.  This was a movie that was Afrocentric in nature and worked well in its ideology of uniting the world through technology and education.  Hopefully that last part wasn’t missed as I think it was made pretty obvious via the wording in the film.  But, back to the Afrocentric part.  I spoke of the experience.  This isn’t something to be taken lightly for a film such as this in regards to its societal implications.  There has been, for a long time (that would be forever) a great concern in Hollywood and dare I say the film industry as a whole about the lack of positive movies, television and characters on the big and little screens for black people as a whole.  “Black Panther,” I believe, is one of the instances where a measure of relief is delivered on this issue.  I’ll just leave it at that for the moment and will elaborate on the issue after the bulk of the review.  At the core though, the movie is primarily a superhero flick that takes a look into the world of dynastic politics steeped in mystical lore.  It’s really good stuff.

What It’s Sort of About

The movie takes place some time shortly after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and T’Challa has returned home to prepare for his ascension to the status of king of Wakanda.  In the midst of this, he is mired by the goings on of Ulyssess Klaue and his attempts to undermine Wakanda by introducing a secret arch nemesis to the unsuspecting new king.  T’Challa himself is already dealing with the issues of being a hero and trying to decide if he’s ready to be the king that Wakanda needs and, if so, what direction he should take their considerably advanced society.  He ultimately comes face-to-face with his fears and rises to meet an unforeseen challenge that brings him into the path of his purpose.

Ok, very vague description I know.  But you’ll thank me later for not delivering any spoilers at this stage. The story and its telling warrants me to keep this review spoiler free so that’s what I’ll stick to.  I think everyone who plans on seeing it should view it cleanly to really get the best experience.  I’ll say this as I’ve said before, I’m not into the comics for DC or Marvel as I’d really like to simply because of time.  So, when I went into the movie, the only thing I really knew of the Black Panther was my viewing of “Captain America: Civil War” and a couple of episodes from one of the animated shows.  Because of this I decided I would keep it that way so as to get a fresh experience going into the viewing.  It actually worked for me and I think I had a much better time not having brushed up on the material before hand.  I think I would’ve gotten completely lost in the material otherwise and would’ve ended up nitpicking at every flaw in the movie.  Now, that’s not to say that my level of anticipation wasn’t completely through the roof because it definitely was.  It’s  a Marvel movie after all and the overall content was an intense bonus.

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About the Really Cool Characters

I’ll state it once more that this was an Afrocentric movie.  That is, the majority of the actors and actresses were black.  I’ll come back to this point later.  That fact is cool in and of itself, but what’s cool too is the two white actors in the film.  Why you may ask?  Well, it’s pretty simple… Both actors are from Lord of the Rings lore. Well at least Andy Serkis is, but we know Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins; two characters from the same universe with two actors playing two different movies. It’s good stuff and you can’t help but stare at the screen and go wow they are so cool.  I guess enough about that geekiness, so I’ll just continue on with some of the characters.

I think it only prudent to start with T’challa who is of course playing the titular character of Black Panther who is played by Chadwick Boseman. I’ll say this, Chadwick Boseman is a hot actor in Hollywood right now and has done a really good job in other movies he’s been in. This character was no exception and I think he nailed it as far as what the directors in the story were calling for. I hear word that many people criticized him for portraying t’challa as being too perfect but I really do think that that is a misnomer. I think for this particular character in this particular situation, it was necessary for him to portray the character in that type of light. That is to say, that he portrayed him as being greatly confident. At the same time, we do see on screen, and no as the audience, that t’challa was actually very insecure about taking on the mantle of King. Even at one point he speaks to the spirit of his father and expresses to him that he is not ready to be king. Of course his father explains a few things to him and t’challa becomes more willing to take on the role despite his insecurities. For whatever has been criticized about Chadwick boseman’s portrayal and the complaint that he was too perfect, I think maybe the folks who see it that way or possibly missing the point of what’s actually taking place within the characters heart. So in other words and simply put, he behaves as a king in front of everyone else but deals internally with his insecurities. It’s no doubt within the movie that those insecurities plagued him at certain points and hindered him in completely taking the throne up front. This constitutes the growth part of our hero.

T’Challa deals heavily with the issues of what type of king he will be and where he should take the kingdom, but he doesn’t deal with this alone.  He has great support from his family and the royal court.  Of course his mother is there to support with encouraging motherly words.  What I like is the fact that he was already sure of himself as a man and those around him simply needed to be supportive. This left his mother Ramonda played by Angela Bassett, to comfort and guide versus coddle him.  No “Baby Boy” syndrome in this movie, thank God.  Instead, she was relegated to handing off the baton to her two brilliant and very capable children.  She had done all of the child rearing already and had the opportunity to show up in times of great support.

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Speaking of royal children, we have Shuri (Letitia Wright), a sixteen year old genius who also happens tobe the younger sister of T’Challa and princess of Wakanda.  The cool thing about this character is that she’s essentially the Tony Stark of the African world and it’s even hinted that she may be even smarter.  I sort of feel that’s debatable due to the fact that Wakanda is further ahead in technology than the rest of the world and this may constitute a major advantage when it comes to the perception of who’s smarter.  I mean, there’s some major heavyweights when it comes to intellectual power in the Marvel universe, so that statement is pretty darn heavy.  What I will say for sure is that Shuri doesn’t seem to be dealing with the same personality munching demons that Tony Stark has, and is, dealing with.  At the end of the day she’ll probably have more accomplishments under her belt, but that remains to be seen.  In any case, Letitia Wright nails the role of Shuri by coming off as hip, stylish, approachable and fun loving while still exuding this undeniable geekiness.  The banter and play between her and her brother was a lot of fun to watch too as you really got the sense that they were close as siblings.  Did I mention that she can kick butt too… I’m just sayin’.  A cool character that I really hope we actually get to see next to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner as they iron out critical scientific solutions to the whole Thanos dilemma.   

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Next on the list is the Dora Milaje (pictured above if you missed them), Wakanda’s mighty warrior women who have the honorable task of protecting the king as well as Wakanda as a whole.  So, what can really be said about these characters?  I mean, it’s essentially a unit of special forces, spy, secret service badasses who are entirely made up of women who are in super great shape and are really attractive.  There were a couple of James Bond type scenes in which T’Challa, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) are dressed up for the purpose of infiltration and they simply looked fantastic both in style and how they carried themselves…very gracefully.  No one suspected what would happen next because they just looked so damn good.  But that’s my point.  They were so well honed in their craft as warriors and protectors that it was all just convincingly beautiful.  To be fair though, we had the Dora Milaje proper who were seen in public with the king at all times, but then there was their spy and War Dog network which of course had to operate in secret.  To that effect, Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, had a more subtle way about how she handled things because, as a spy, she understood the importance of not rocking the entire boat.  The distinction between her and Okoyo’s methodology really stood out when it came to conflict, with the latter really looking to wreck whenever the occasion arose.  When the Dora Milaje squared off at the big fight scene, it was both awe inspiring and terrible to behold.  With all that said, my only disappointment was not getting a chance to see more of the character of Ayo (Florence Kasumba).  Our first glimpse of the Dora Milaje onscreen is Ayo confronting Black Widow in “Captain America: Civil War”.  I was awestruck at her presence onscreen and even T’Challa commented on how much he would enjoy seeing that confrontation.  But I felt there could’ve been more of her in the movie overall.  But maybe next time.  There were more members of the group but these were the forefront members in the movie.  

There were many supporting characters that seemed unusually effective in the movie, actors I hadn’t seen before.  Particularly the members of the council and king’s court.  It’s like some other movies where you see a council chamber and there’s other people there besides the main characters, and some may even have a speaking line or two, but you just know they’re expendable and may die horribly like the council members in “Mass Effect” (that’s right, I let those self righteous bastards bite bullet).  Not so in this film.  I felt everyone there had an important say and they needed to survive at all costs.  I’ve been trying to figure this one out, but I’d have to attribute it to camera work…the close ups?  Hmm.  Maybe something to research.  Any film buffs out there, please chime in.  Aside from these minor characters we have M’Baku (Winston Duke) who was the leader of rival tribe the Jabari and T’Challa’s challenger to the throne.  Also a very well portrayed character who we don’t actually get to see as his comic book alter ego Man Ape.  Daniel Kaluuya plays W’Kabi, best friend to T’Challa and who serves as the protector of the Wakandan borders.  Kaluuya really nailed it with his previous movie “Get Out” and a great episode in “Black Mirror”.  His acting chops are on point but it still felt like he was relegated to a more straight line role anchor and help the story along.  I was fine with his portrayal because I don’t think he could’ve done much more without knocking the plot off course.  As a whole, he primarily took the stance of not only helping Wakanda, but helping all oppressed blacks in the world and this was his motivation for decisions made in the plot.  This is sort of the issue with Forest Whitaker’s character of Zuri who was a close friend to King T’Chaka and a spiritual shaman to the land of Wakanda.  Though he had seen first hand the oppression of his people around the world, his first loyalty was to Wakanda and keeping her secrets safe from the world.  Forest Whitaker being who he is, I need not to state that his performance was solid.  

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This brings me to the toughest role in any movie… the villain.  So, Michael B. Jordan plays Erik “Killmonger” Steven / N’Jadaka.  I’ll just start by saying that as far as actors go, Michael B. Jordan is a fair actor.  What I mean is, I’m usually lukewarm in my response when I hear that he’ll be in a movie.  Now, that’s not to be taken as an insult, it’s just that I haven’t developed any expectation going into one of his movies that he’s featured in.  I guess it’s hard to explain, but I know I enjoy his performances but don’t necessarily get excited when he’s featured.  With that said, I heard he was playing Killmonger but didn’t know what to think.  I just sort of said “Ok, guess we’ll see how he does” and left it at that.  I think this worked in my favor when it came to expectations for a villain.  That’s one of the criticisms Marvel and other movie franchises have had to endure in recent times.  And, that’s what I’m hoping Marvel can nail with Thanos in the upcoming Avengers movie.  That’s one of the things that I think “Black Panther” was working to achieve, or at least start the healing process for the ‘bad guy’ conundrum that everyone’s been struggling with since “The Wrath of Khan”.  What made Khan so such a great bad guy was the usual ‘he’s just a sociopathic nut job’ along with the fact that it was so profoundly personal and he had to exact his revenge on Kirk for the death of his wife and for the survival of his people.  This is similar to Killmonger’s issue.  He had been scared, left alone and forgotten in the midst of the very people who needed Wakanda’s help the most and if it was the last thing he’d ever do, he would correct this mistake.  It was one hundred percent personal motivation and revenge would be exacted at any cost.  I think what was important too is that his character starts off as relatively unassuming before unleashing his fury later in the film.  So, in essence, Michael B. Jordan pulled it off and I felt a measure of relief.

 
What I Liked & Didn’t Like

I ranted before in my review of “The Last Jedi” about how a good story told is everything. No matter the subject matter, if a cohesive and conceptually sound beginning, middle and end can be delivered in a timely and non-monotone manner, any story can be told in an effectively interesting manner.  “Black Panther” certainly fits this bill.  Ryan Coogler does both a great job in co-writing and directing this outing for Marvel studios and I certainly look forward to viewing more of his work in the future.  The characters were well translated from the comics, the visuals were beautiful and the actors and actresses were aloud to do what they do best.  What is there not to like?  Well, I don’t know if it’s so much an issue with the movie as much as it’s concerned with the hype around it.  There were a lot of detractive issues that arose as a result of this movie’s release, issues that are bonafiably redundant in the twenty-first century.  But, I guess I can get into that in the next session.  Before I move on though, I definitely certify the movie family friendly unless you just want your children to stay away from middle of the road violent content.

 
The Elephant in the Room

Ok, so let’s get into the real issues and motivations surrounding this, what would normally be accepted as, superhero movie.  I say normally because it wasn’t treated as such.  I was relatively objective with the review and meant every word of what was expressed.  I state this because of my “Last Jedi” review.  If you read it, you probably recognised a great measure of hurt, and maybe even despair, at how the Star Wars franchise was treated for the last movie.  Not to mention the scary possibilities of what the “Han Solo” movie will turn out to be after the studio and directors finish chopping it up.  So I was mostly excited for “Black Panther” and so was a whole lot of people I know.  Now, those people I speak of are black folks and my fellow geek brethren who are getting fed up with poor storytelling as well.  You can always tell the vibe of a movie and where it may be headed, but you can never really tell the truth of it till you see it.  Most of the Marvel based Disney movies have maintained a positive buzz and consistent production schedules, unlike “Justice League” which ran into the whole ‘oops, we had to change directors’ scenario.  That always messes with a story no matter how well it turns out.  But a good director left to his vision is a powerful thing.  Thankfully they didn’t mess with Ryan Coogler and his take on things.  

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Again, this is an interesting point to consider.  “Black Panther” in reality, is a movie about a powerful African nation who is decades ahead of the most advanced first world nations on Earth, something they chose to keep secret for fear of the corruption and misuse of their technology and inherent power.  They are the keepers of the primary hoard of vibranium in the world and have never abused this power despite having the potential to take over the world.  This is the greatest overall issue in the story arch and it will probably develop into a larger issue in the future.  It’s quite a powerful picture that’s drawn with this movie when it comes to many of the messages put to audiences.  That is to say, that many of the messages including an African nation that’s thought to have nothing has the greatest potential to not only develop the world beyond mosts imaginations, but will probably be key in saving it.  I can say with great honesty that no matter what the naysayers persist in spewing from their mouths, this message along with others has a very polarizing effect for blacks everywhere.  Picture for a moment an enlightened society of black people leading the world into the future.  A very interesting notion that has met with a very unsurprising amount of backlash, apprehension and confusion.  I think it’s unnecessary and should be taken in the light in which it was given…a hopeful future for not only blacks, but people everywhere.  It should, if nothing else, be viewed with the opportunity for cultural education and exchange.  Think about it for a moment, if it weren’t for media, including old dusty books, none of us would really know much of what was happening with other cultures around the world.  I’ve learned a lot from reading and watching the tube along with interacting with other cultures when I get the chance.  What I’ve learned most from it it that it’s all interesting and helps one to grow in perspective.  

Honestly though, I watched the movie and felt like running up to the screen and join in with some the ritual stuff that was happening onscreen and felt proud to be a part of the experience.  But, when I looked around, I was even prouder to see so many African-Americans in attendance and the cheers that arose from them at the end of the show.  What did disturb me was that the crowd was almost a zero mix of cultures at a time of day and at a theater where there usually is a mixed crowd.  So where was the usual band of moviegoers that I see come out for big movies?  What happened to those avid movie fans?  Where they scared off by the goofballs who ranted over such an afrocentric flick?  It’s silly and it needs to be eliminated from our hearts moving forward if we are to ever live in a world built on love, peace and understanding.  But enough of the rant.  Leave your comments below if you have any thoughts on this movie and its effects on society.  Thanks again for reading… Wakanda forever!!!

 

***Scale of 1-10: 9.0

 

Directed by Ryan Coogler
Produced by Kevin Feige
Written by
Based on Black Panther

by

Starring
Music by Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography Rachel Morrison
Edited by
  • Michael P. Shawver[1]
  • Claudia Castello[1]
Production

company

Marvel Studios
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios

Motion Pictures

Release date
  • January 29, 2018 (Dolby Theatre)
  • February 16, 2018 (United States)
Running time 134 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $200 million[3]
Box office $476.6 million[4]

 

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