Movie Review: Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
by Jason Koenigsberg
Marvel’s latest movie Black Panther is a fun action packed blockbuster that the whole family can enjoy. But it is not without its flaws. Black Panther follows the highly successful Marvel template and is formulaic and politically correct to an almost sickening level, but it still manages to deliver what paying audiences want and expect.
The opening shot is of the stars in space and we hear narration explaining the story of Wakanda, the Black Panther’s country of origin and how it is technologically advanced and managed to remain hidden from the rest of the world located in central Africa. Everything that follows is exactly what one should assume from Marvel Studios and it delivers a visually astonishing product as promised from the trailers. The colorful costumes stand out more than most comic book movies as they celebrate African heritage and customs in an exuberant manner. Black Panther also had a strong message about technology and how our main character and his people have relied on technology so much but their dependence on superior scientific advancements cannot heal everything.
The acting was terrific across the board starting with Chadwick Boseman in the lead role. It was nice to see him not playing an African-American icon as his resume is already stocked with his portrayals of Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get on Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017). He does a noble job as a prince trying to maintain his father’s legacy while protecting his people from outside entities who want to exploit his nations resources. Director Ryan Coogler teams up with his DeNiro in actor Michael B. Jordan as the main villain. They worked together in Fruitvale Station (2013), Creed (2015) and now this movie. It is nice to see how their careers have grown together and they have evolved from smaller indie fare to massive franchises with mega budgets exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars. They still always seem to make room in the script for the director’s Oakland roots and the same themes that they touched on in their earlier films about racial inequality and injustice. The rest of the cast from Oscar Winner Lupita Nyongo to veteran actress Angela Bassett to English actor Martin Freeman as a CIA agent and everyone else all deliver top notch performances which make up for some of the scripts shortcomings.
Black Panther is very much a product of 2018 and that works out in the films favor sometimes, and against it other times. Like so many other recent Marvel movies, there is never a sense of real danger while we are watching this. Black Panther is an overly safe movie and nothing too terrible happens to any of our main characters onscreen and even if they do it comes without a sense of urgency and simply as a means to drive the plot forward. As stated earlier this is a fun movie that the entire family can enjoy, not much else. Black Panther is a little too heavy handed in some parts and very blatant with its messages. It does not contain a single ounce of subtly. Making it even more a product of its time period not only are black actors the dominant race in what are usually movies crowded with white faces, but the females of Black Panther have strong, matriarchal, high ranking leadership roles. The women kick as much butt in this movie as the men, if not more. Once again, this is not a bad thing, in fact it is refreshing to see, but a very obvious reminder that this is how things are in 2018. Beyond beating you over the head with political correctness, that works out in favor of Black Panther since our title character is not particularly interesting. To be quite frank, The Black Panther himself is not very intimidating and it really helps that he is surrounded by such intriguing and forceful women such as Lupita Nyongo as his love interest, Angela Bassett as his mother, Letitia Wright as his sister and also Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, and Forest Whitaker added so much to the film with small yet terrific performances that one may walk out of the theater more enthralled by their scenes over the Black Panther’s. All of the supporting cast elevates Black Panther to being such an entertaining big budget blockbuster.
Black Panther is very much a product of it’s time which is not really a flaw but do not think for a second that this is the first comic book movie to feature an African-American as the lead superhero. Twenty-one years ago Michael Jai White starred in the film adaptation of Spawn (1997), NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal starred in Steel (1997) and twenty years ago Wesley Snipes helped give birth to the Marvel cinematic universe with Blade (1998). Even Anthony Mackie has played an important part in African-American actors as superheroes with his role as Falcon in the Captain America films along with Don Cheadle as War Machine in the Iron Man movies. Black Panther is not the first but the first one to blatantly celebrate the fact that it is an actor with African roots. Say what you want about Spawn, Steel and Blade as films, they were all strong, positive African-American leads with superpowers, their scripts just did not need to remind you in every scene that they were a minority. It comes down to the times we live in. Do you want your heroes to defeat the bad guys in a matter of fact manner or do you want them to do it with a message about the strength and great heritage of their culture as well? Maybe I am just old school but I preferred seeing Blade kill all the vampires that got in his way and it did not matter if he was black or white. Regardless, Black Panther is a fun action packed ride for audiences of all ages and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
As good as this movie is, no matter what I will always think of this when I hear the words “Black Panther”: