A Spoiler-Filled Review of Black Panther
People blind to the character of Black Panther are about to have their minds blown across several continents. Here stands a superhero that earns the suit and title they each represent. Here is a long overdue film for one of the strongest characters in Marvel’s gallery of heroes. Most importantly, here is Ryan Coogler screaming to the entire planet, “I’m ready for the big dance!”
Coogler, who dazzled with Fruitvale Station and Creed, delivers on the promise of a new cinema talent who understands entertainment and drama while never losing sight of where he comes from. By opening the film in Oakland, California in 1992 he’s taking his past and using it as a push off point for this MCU outing, making it one of the most personal Marvel films from jump. He’s saying, “I’ve been given this opportunity, and not only shall it not be squandered, I promise to inspire as well.” Coogler sells us on the mysterious and highly technological world that is Wakanda with flying colors. Hell, I want all the tech in this film just as much as I want a blaster from Star Wars.
The MCU train loses no momentum with Black Panther. His introduction in Captain America: Civil War was nothing short of perfection, but it definitely left die-hard comic fans wanting more because they know how deep Panther can get, especially if you factor in the excellence that is Wakanda. Chadwick Boseman brings so much to T’Challa, never half-stepping the role. He is vulnerable and confused in his ascension to being King, making his triumphs shine ten times harder when he gets heroic. He must earn every step to that throne, nothing comes smoothly because of Wakanda politics and demons from the past rear their ugly heads. T’Challa is also able to commune with his ancestors via a sacred ritual, allowing him to speak to his father who was killed in Civil War. Acquiring knowledge and even challenging his elders, asking hard questions, T'Challa is a fully rounded out character; one that is tough in mind, body, and spirit.
All great heroes need a great villain, of course. Black Panther has two villains to contend with, each fascinating in their own right, but one is a top-tier MCU villain without question. First, we have Andy Serkis reprising his role of Ulysses Klaue, an enemy of Wakanda and Vibranium thief. Serkis is clearly having fun, playing such a slime ball character who could’ve just been a one note tough for Panther to clash with, but here the filmmakers do an amazing thing with him. The title ‘thief’ goes beyond stealing Wakanda’s most valuable resource; Klaue is a culture thief as well. Loaded from that Ultron Money, he swaggers everywhere with a massive entourage. He has a mixtape, with a Soundcloud link no less (we never hear it, thankfully), and he horribly says “I made it rain!” after blasting Black Panther in an underground casino with a sonic weapon causing money to fly everywhere. He leans into it and, man, does it work. It’s another great role for Serkis in the books, as he makes something special out of a small role.
Our other villain however, is one for the ages. Michael B Jordan play Erik Killmonger, a broken boy who grew to be a malicious man, hellbent on taking Wakanda by force. That awesome 1992 opener ties into the message of the film, and Killmonger drives it home with bullets and knives. Killmonger’s father was killed by T’Challa’s dad, also a Black Panther, and was left to grow up alone in America. He knew of Wakanda’s secret existence and spent the rest of his life training and killing to reach it so that he can take the throne from the ones that left him behind. Jordan is flat out stunning as Killmonger. His soul is tortured, and his malicious actions make perfect sense, adding a true sense of danger to his presence. Jordan is funny, charismatic but completely homicidal, crushing anything in his path. He is also still that little boy who tragically lost his dad, cheated out of a better life he may have had in Wakanda. In a powerful scene where Killmonger communes with his dead father, we truly get to see a solid villain become a great villain, one that future MCU films should look to as the bar to hit. Killmonger will resonate thanks to various elements at play, all clicking to create something magical.
Fact: the women of Wakanda need to run the world. Every female character brings so much excellence to Black Panther that they steal the film from the men. The raw power that Angela Bassett, playing Panther’s mother, is still able to wield this deep in her career is staggering. From proud speeches to her son, to her goosebump-inducing screams as she watches her son fall in combat; just amazing.
The general of Wakanda’s armies is led by Danai Gurira, who plays the badass Okoye. Okoye offers advice to Panther and is never afraid to be in the field fighting alongside him. Hell, the women she leads are equally as potent, clad in the same armor, ready to die for their country. The MVP of the film for my money belongs to infinitely cute Letitia Wright playing the super genius, Shuri. James Bond has Q for his great toys, Black Panther has his amazing younger sister, Shuri. She is capable of making tech wonders with the Vibranium, thus aiding Panther in his missions. Supreme intelligence mixed with guts make her a joy to watch.
Also, I can’t forget the love of Black panther’s life, Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, who is introduced to us during her liberation of enslaved women, by the way. She is wise and wishes to aid the world outside of the secluded Wakanda. She sees the pain, much like Killmonger’s father, and cannot stay happy while the world suffers. Best thing about these strong female characters is they are in every fight sequence the film has to offer. They are front and center, kicking ass with amazing sci-fi toys and it is beautiful to witness. They play a huge part in the film’s climactic battle sequence; queens who run into, and not from, the fray.
Saving all communities with the tech of Wakanda is something several characters want in this film. Wakanda, with its amazing resource of Vibranium and the technology it creates, can save many places on Earth, but introducing it to the world means weapons could also be made, weapons of untold destruction. How does one rule a country with such a terrible yet beautiful resource? What happens when a foreigner steals it and profits? This film is smart by leaning into both, the pain and the glory that is introducing anything Wakanda into the world. Lives can be destroyed by their power but as you can see by the film’s finale, whole communities can be saved even at ground zero where the pain originated from.
The blackness of Black Panther will be celebrated for decades; key elements of this production are driven forward by strong black women and men. This alone makes it the most interesting MCU picture by a long shot. Sure, many of the Marvel higher-ups are white, but they made the right decision with this important character—hiring correctly and letting the filmmakers fly. The result is a timely ride that shows a new generation of children a black superhero who can be king. The ultimate our-voices-will-be-heard beacon that can be seen for miles, Black Panther is a film that will hold your heart and attention. Coogler has made a landmark picture in Black Cinema and that is something this Mexican/Puerto Rican can happily appreciate from a distance, cheering the entire time.