John's Take: 'Black Panther' starring Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan

Ten years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and finally the Black Panther, a staple of the Avenger’s animated films that pre-dated the MCU, has come into his own with a solo film. After blowing the doors off Captain America: Civil War with a standout debut T’Challa is back to take us deep into the heart of Wakanda. I don’t think I need to dive deep into the cultural resonance of this film as other far more talented people have already done that in force, only the second black-led superhero film in 25 years. That’s right second, poor Blade is always forgotten, not only was it lead by African-American Wesley Snipes but it was also the first true blockbuster superhero movie, predating X-Men by a solid 3 years. That’s no to take away from what Ryan Coogler’s done here with Panther, while Blade featured a black man in the lead he was, to my memory, the only person of color in sight for three movies. Black Panther takes it a step further to show us the strongest women we’ve seen on screen to date.

The film starts shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War with T’Challa, soon to be crowned King of Wakanda and protector in the form of the Black Panther, settling back into his nation and taking part in the rituals that will solidify him as the Wakandin leader. Not long after Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) a poacher and long-time enemy of the Wakandin state is located trying to sell Vibranium, the resource from which all Wakandin technology and wealth comes, on the black market. Klaue is joined by Erik Killmonger (a very ripped Micheal B Jordan) who may be more then just a lacky. T’Challa heads out with his team to capture and punish Kalue for his crimes against Wakanda. What he doesn’t know is that the mission to capture Klaue will lead to the rise of an unknown Wakandin who is intent on taking T’Challa’s crown and using Wakanda’s technology to dominate the world and punish it for what it’s done to his people.

First all, I hope the term is Wakandin, because I don’t want to go back and change all of those entries. Second, there’s no way this movie can live up to the hype that’s been thrusted on to it, right? For the most part wrong. Black Panther is easily a top 3 MCU movie and something unlike we’ve seen before. The inclusion of Wakanda almost makes this film as eye opening and expanding on the MCU as Guardians of the Galaxy or Dr. Strange were with their inclusing of outer space and magic to the canon. I’ll lead with the most impressive thing about the film, the visuals. Ryan Coogler presents a world to our eyes that’s every bit as beautiful and imaginative as we’ve seen on screen in any movie. I challenge you to find a scene quite as pleasing to the eye as the ancestors’s realm scenes are in this film. The care taken in design to make Wakanda and it’s technology not just more advance but also drastically different then anything we’ve seen is reason enough to call this film great. It’s an easy mistake that a lot of designers make when designing future-tech that they will make it similar to what we already know. Like how spacehips are almost always white on the inside, or thrusters on a ship are blue, or even how most “futuristic” designs are drastically angular. Coogler and his team built a world that is both drastically different and strangely familiar, the way you’d imagine things would look in an advanced civilization that was cut off from the rest of the world. A close second for finest aspect of the film is it’s lead, Chadwick Boseman. He IS this film. I honestly don’t know how great it would be without his inclusion. His total embodiement of T’Challa’s caring and regal yet fearsome persona is unlike anything we’ve seen since RDJ took on the role of Tony Stark. All of the players in the MCU fit their characters well, but Boseman takes it to another level. While we are on the cast Lupita Nyong’o and Dania Gurira as Nakia and Okoye, respectively, nail their roles as T’Challa’s longed for love and top spy (Nyong’o) and his top military general (Gurira). Gurira has always had a solid presence on The Walking Dead but she is truly something to behold in this film. I honestly can’t think of a single performance that was less then great, with the exception of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in some scenes, we’ll get to that later but long story short the issues there aren’t with the performance.

The gripes I had with the film are few and far between but if I’m going to gush I also have to be honest and point out where it lost me. The scenes between Erik Killmonger and T’Challa seemed oddly awkward and this really could have been due to a large number of things. Basically, you have T’Challa with his very reserved and regal accent and delivery talking to Killmonger who seemed to be spouting an over the top street vernacular.  This could be just the drastic difference between the two making it sound more off then it was, editing could have made the cuts between the actors too fast, so the flow wasn’t there…I really don’t know what it was, but it seemed off to me. The next was the final fight scenes between T’Challa and Killmonger…about 70% of the fight was wonderful but when it nears the climax and the two are really going at it on a train platform the video game CGI look started to take over. I get that they needed to showcase the superhuman speed and strength of the two, but I feel like a real fight scene shot the correct way could have accomplished this and given the chance to showcase some lesser seen but still deadly African martial arts.

All in all Black Panther is what you’ve heard it is. The action is astounding, the performances are top-notch, the story is engrossing, the visuals are unmatched and most importantly it deals with some VERY real and timely themes. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say any MCU fan will thoroughly enjoy this film as one of the top MCU stand-alones and a really nice and well needed palette cleanser before Infinity War hits  in the coming months.  

4.5 out of 5