Black Panther is a weird movie. In a good way. It’s a bizarre mashup combining the formulaic Marvel template with some welcome originality.
A big part of its success is down to the writing. We may be desperately looking for anything resembling cohesiveness after The Last Jedi, but Black Panther does a satisfying job of juggling everything.
The first hurdle it had to overcome was the fictional African nation of Wakanda that is decades ahead of the world when it comes to technology thanks to its abundance of the metal vibranium.
It’s the same metal that Captain America’s physics-defying shield is made of, and in this movie it does everything from power cities to miraculously heal people.
Wakanda, and vibranium, are a two-edged sword for this movie. On the one hand the CGI artists got to go crazy and make a city from the future with an African aesthetic, and on the other hand it takes away most of this movie’s punch.
When your main character is literally bulletproof and you see metal cure gunshot wounds to the spine, you rightly figure out that this movie has no stakes to speak of. The fact that Black Panther comes shortly before Infinity War doesn’t help this either, because you know that Marvel is saving the big moments for that tent pole event.
Speaking of that ensemble movie, Black Panther almost feels like one itself given the number of characters and their surprising amount of dialogue and screen time. We can’t get into every character here because of spoilers and time, but let’s start with the most disappointing.
If you didn’t like Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa / Black Panther in Civil War, you won’t like him here. He’s still too monotone for our tastes and it really doesn’t feel like he’s developed much as a character by the time the credits roll.
Luckily the rest of the cast fairs better. Michael B. Jordan as the big bad Erik Killmonger definitely suffers from the Marvel villain problem of being a palette swap of the protagonist (much as was the case in Antman), but Jordan makes it work.
Other standouts are Letitia Wright – T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri that we hope we see more of in future movies – and Andy Serkis returning as Ulysses Klaue.
We’re pretty sure director Ryan Coogler told Serkis to just go wild and enjoy the role on camera, and he winds up being a joy to watch with most of the rest of the cast pulling in respectable to great performances.
Other interesting aspects to look out for here is snippets of South African and African culture thrown in around the movie. There’s parts of our languages, music and iconography everywhere.
We desperately want to mention a specific song playing in the background of one song, but you owe it to yourself to pick it up when it happens.
This, and the last, more serious part of the review, are big reasons why you should see this movie in theatres. Audience reactions are abundant, even in smaller screenings.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, is this film’s themes of race and identity both in a local and global sense. We have a feeling that, after this film’s public release, there’s going to be a lot of heated discussion about it.
If you’re asking for our take there is a lot of genuine, thoughtful stuff going on here with parallels to past and present struggles. Unfortunately this is kneecapped pretty hard with the Disney / Marvel sheen that prevents anything one from taking anything too seriously.
That being said we are surprised that certain topics were broached given their weight, so kudos to the writers for getting them into the film.
The other big problem is the weird juxtaposition of talking about something like slavery and following it with a fight featuring rhinos and hover jets.
It gets even more muddled with the overarching idea being that “maybe history would be different if there was magic metal in Africa”. The outlandish superhero stuff and the more real world issues often slam against each other.
This piles onto some of the film’s other problems like lacklustre fight scenes and odd pacing which leaves Black Panther as one of the better Marvel movies, but not necessarily one you’ll be rewatching in the future.
It still gets a solid recommendation and can be considered a must watch for the group experience in theatres and the conversations you can have about it later.