Black Panther

‘Black Panther’ Review: This Is How You Do It

'Black Panther'

Movie Rating:

4.5

It’s funny how perspective has shifted on Black Panther as a character so quickly. For years, he was a cult favorite who spoke to a specific community but never really took center stage. Then, as the Marvel movie empire expanded, Black Panther suddenly became an important pop icon. An obscure comic book character who Wesley Snipes struggled for years to bring to the big screen quickly grew into one of the most hyped and cherished superhero properties in development.

The pressure was on, and somehow what was intended to be a sideline superhero intro flick became arguably the most anticipated comic book blockbuster on Marvel’s slate (possibly even more than the grandiose ‘Infinity War’ crossover).

In a world where even Ant-Man got a blockbuster, Black Panther needed his due. More importantly, the character needed to be brought to life with a certain level of intellectual rigor and respect in addition to all the usual superhero badassery. Representation has never been more important in the entertainment industry, and getting such an important black superhero on the screen in style quietly became a big deal, even after a teasing and exciting debut in ‘Captain America: Civil War’. Thankfully, MCU mastermind Kevin Feige found the perfect filmmaker for ‘Black Panther’ in Ryan Coogler. Even better, he set aside the typical demands of cross-film promotion and Marvel mythology meshing for the sake of giving Coogler a chance to deliver a personal vision within an expensive round of superhero bang-bang. This isn’t just the next product plopped off the Marvel assembly line. It’s something special that just happens to also exist within Disney’s cinematic action figure factory. Anyone who claims that Marvel doesn’t give their filmmakers freedom needs to cut that line of discussion out right now.

The movie takes place in the mythical land of Wakanda, a fictional African nation dreamed up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby long ago that appears to be an impoverished country on the surface, but secretly houses an opulent kingdom. Generations ago, the nation discovered a supply of the ridiculously named but very important Marvel substance vibranium. The kingdom clung to the riches it brought and, through some delightfully convoluted faux folklore, also has a superpowered warrior/king named Black Panther. The title is passed through bloodline, now landing on T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who inherited the throne and costume back in ‘Civil War’.

For the first hour or so of ‘Black Panther’, Coogler takes his time to let this world and mythology breathe in a beautiful way. The team of production designer Hanna Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter meticulously created a variety of tribes (including one led by Daniel Kaluuya from ‘Get Out’), all gorgeously shot in vibrant comic book colors by the recently Oscar nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison. Coogler builds the world carefully and with grace. It has competing tribes with internal drama. Scene-stealing women warriors called Dore Miljae are led by General Okoye (Danai Gurira), who intimidates and dominates like few other Marvel ass-kickers. T’Challa’s kid sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) even proves to be a wisecracking techno genius who acts as Black Panther’s Q and ensures that the cast is uncommonly filled with potent women of color in front of and behind the camera. (I haven’t even mentioned Lupita Nyong’o, who’s on spy/love interest duty.)

The world of Wakanda that Coogler and his remarkable team create is so vivid and full of enticing drama and eccentric characters that it’s easy to get lost in. A great deal of care has gone into ensuring that this comic book tentpole takes Afrocentric representation seriously and with style (all backed by Kendrick Lamar’s pretty damn great soundtrack as well). It resonates. However, Coogler hasn’t weighed down a superhero yarn with political poignancy. That context springs naturally from the material and speaks without ever detracting from what is ultimately a brilliant bit of pop/pulp entertainment. Having grown from intimate indie drama (‘Fruitville Station’) to franchise filmmaking (‘Creed’) and now a superhero blockbuster in record speed, Coogler is a director loaded with talent and excited by the opportunity to show off. He relishes creating tension and exploding action sequences off the screen within all of his wondrous world-building. His flowing camera shooting style is perfectly married with a magically insane action sequence set in South Korea that’s an absolute showstopper. Although things eventually start to feel a little generic in the Marvel house style way, Coogler rarely lets a scene go by without injecting some sort of purpose and personality.

All that, and I haven’t even gotten to the best aspect of the movie yet. While it initially seems that the villain will be Andy Serkis’ deranged arms dealer who has been slowly built up in the MCU (alongside Martin Freeman’s bumbling CIA agent, who makes a return as well), that’s ultimately all misdirection. The real villain and secret star of the whole film is Michael B. Jordan. It initially seemed a little sad that Coogler’s regular lead actor would get only a small supporting role. However, that’s not really the case. What makes the character so special should be kept secret as the filmmakers intended, but he emerges as easily the most interesting Marvel villain to date, one with a motive easy to empathize with and a master plan that might even seem noble were it not psychotic. The character is written and played with surprising depth, and he brings fascinating and contemporary themes to the table that make this a far more thoughtful film than the usual superhero beat-’em-ups. It’s something truly special and deserves to be discovered as the delightfully complex surprise Coogler intended.

There’s so much going on in ‘Black Panther’ executed so damn well that the title hero occasionally almost feels sidelined in his own movie. Thankfully, Chadwick Boseman remains one of the finest actors of his generation and delivers a charming, flawed, and potent hero who earns his superhero status in ways few characters in this roving universe ever have. He’s a welcome addition to the MCU, and the film thrusting him into the spotlight is easily one of the highlights of this entire epic shared universe cinematic experiment.

The film may have the usual Marvel movie issues, like an overlong running time and moderately underwhelming action finale. However, the minor flaws in ‘Black Panther’ do little to detract from the whole. This isn’t just going to be the best superhero movie of 2018; it’s also likely going to be one of the most important and resonant films of the year as well. It’s a giddy popcorn blockbuster with all the necessary thrills and spills executed with so much thought and care that it cuts deeper than mere entertainment. This film will likely be a bit of a cultural phenomenon to warm up the cold winter months and then something that sticks around and is beloved for many moons after that.

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44 comments

  1. cardpetree

    I’ve got tickets to see this Thursday night. Been looking forward to it for a while. I know your reviews don’t usually spoil much but I’ll wait until after I see the movie to read it. Good to see you’re giving it high marks.

  2. Chris B

    I’m not interested in Marvel movies much these days. I’ll give them a look if they show up on a streaming service I subscribe to but the days of me bothering to see them in the theatre are long gone. That being said, I’m haply to hear Coogler has hit another home-run. I’ve been rooting for him ever since I saw his fantastic film “Creed” and successes like this ensure he’s going to be able to keep making movies for a long time. Props.

  3. Deaditelord

    While I’m very much looking forward to watching Black Panther, I wonder and somewhat expect a heavy backlash against the film… and not from the usual trolls. From what I’ve gathered, the movie doesn’t shy away from making a political statement and I can see certain folks bristling at its inclusion in a “superhero” film. Hopefully, I’m proven wrong.

  4. Timcharger

    4.5 Stars…
    The last blockbuster with 4.5 Stars from Phil was the Last Jedi, I think. Not a good sign.

    Does the Black Panther ignore the mythos of the prior MCU films? His techno-gadgets better than Tony Stark’s? His royal bloodline and mythic power more mighty than Thor’s? All unearned, that is. You know, that the Black Panther’s powers just awoken, and he’s at the pinnacle of all superpowers.

    Is Capt America in the film, as a broken, disillusioned patriot? Is Capt Rogers just hiding out in Wakanda ignoring the threats to the Marvel Universe, only wanting to fish in the Congo River and go milking pregnant hippos?

    Oh yeah, is there a pointless side plot where the audience is hit over the head with a poaching, animal cruelty moral lesson? Does the Black Panther detour from the main story to foil a big game hunting expedition by a dentist from Minnesota and a couple of New York brothers who travel with a security detail?

    • James

      Nah, it’s not that heavy-handed. It’s nothing so silly at the Cinematic Sermonizing of The Last Jedi. For starters, Coogler is just much better at his job than the freak show that’s propagandizing the Star Wars universe into oblivion. In fact, I liked the message stuff in The Black Panther and was pretty sucked into Killmonger’s story line, in spite of having a general distaste for that sort of thing.

      I just wish The Black Panther had been a better movie. The over-hype for this one is strong. The characters being so likeable and the thing looking so beautiful are all that’s keeping it from being in the bottom half of Marvel movies, in my opinion. Boring action choreography and absolutely telegraphed plot points abound. Forest Whitaker and Angela Basset, both gifted, acted poorly and without an ounce of nuance. There was none of that out-of-our-minds-with-excitement in the audience surrounding me to match the airport fight in Civil War or the geeky joys of several Avengers scenes. We all laughed about three times at the three good jokes.

  5. Phil i love your reviews, and your enthusiasm about this one solidifies my burning desire to see it (have to wait til Sunday tho). having said that, this line had me scratching my head: “he emerges as easily the most interesting Marvel villain to date” … and i want to make sure you weren’t exaggerating here. Marvel has had mostly duds, but a few cool villains so far (we all know which and which). i’m pretty darn excited to see Michael B. Jordan, having been a fan of his since The Wire, and so i’m hoping you are correct on that one.

    (and if there’s anything i can do to ease your pain, Timcharger, let me know. it’s rough seeing a person who was so hurt by a movie.)

      • Timcharger

        What?! But that’s so predictable! Developing the character of the villain, giving him a backstory; more sophisticated reviewers see beyond that old school storytelling trope. It would subvert our expectations if Michael B Jordan was just sliced in half and discarded. That’s new school! Phil don’t revert back to demanding those dated conventions. Stay true to your “Last Jedi 4 Life” tramp stamp.

      • cardpetree

        Eh, I’m not sure I’d say that. He was an okay villain. He claimed to have been oppressed yet he was still able to be educated at one of the top Universities in the world (MIT) and received military training from the top special forces unit in the world (Navy Seals). This movie was pretty good though. I definitely enjoyed it. Kind of felt like a live action Lion King to be honest. I’d rank this movie about 6 in the Marvel universe behind Winter Soldier, Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and Iron Man.

      • Buntconch70

        Phil, you thought The Last Jedi was great……so yeah. Sorry Killmonger was not on the level of Loki…not even close. Heck, even Vulture had a better backstory!

          • James

            Are you kidding me right now? What was in Buntconch70’s remark that invited you to suggest he only preferred Vulture’s backstory because it was “whiter”? Is there something in his comment history that invited that reproach? Because if not, you made quite an obnoxious leap right there, and are representative of a huge problem.

            (But if there is something I’m missing to justify it, I’ll gladly withdraw my vitriol).

          • Timcharger

            Phil, Vulture had “whiter backstory”? Having a Black wife and mixed race daughter, is that what u meant? Vulture was a pretty progressive Whitey, I’d say.

          • Timcharger

            “Is there something in his comment history that invited that reproach? Because if not, you made quite an obnoxious leap…”

            You didn’t see how he prefaced his comment?! Never ever, EVER disparage Phil’s love of the Last Jedi.

  6. Timcharger

    Josh, did the board have this list of ideas for the review’s subtitle?

    To legit to quit
    This is how we(you) do it
    Straight outta Wakanda
    Nuthin’ but a MCU thang
    Big pimpin’ panther
    Wakanda-tang Clan
    Sucker MCU’s

    Glad you went with the least cringing. Credit/blame goes to you or Phil?

      • cardpetree

        Wait, was the title of the review a play on words for the Montell Jordan – This Is How We Do It, song? Because now I read that title in the tune of “This is How We Do It.” If so, absolutely brilliant and slightly racist at the same time.

          • Timcharger

            “The song lyric is “This is how we do it,” not “This is how you do it.” I think this is all in Tim’s head.”

            Well, Phil can’t say “we,” cuz he (or HDD) can’t take ownership to how well the film was made. Phil can come clean. Phil, you DIDN’T make a reference to an influential hip-hop song?

      • Timcharger

        Saying “this is how you do it” WITHOUT making reference to the hip-hop song, would suggest that the last MCU films weren’t financially or critically successful.
        Phil: “Hey, Taika Waititi, you sucked, This Is How You Do It. See Ryan Coogler.” Perhaps?

        • Except, as has already been stated, the hip-hop song you’re thinking of does not have the lyric “This is how YOU do it.” That is not how that song goes.

          Let this go, Tim. You’re way out on a limb here.

          • Timcharger

            Okay Josh, you’re right. When you change a single word, that’s not making a reference anymore.

            These aren’t word plays either; they aren’t verbatim:
            Straight outta Wakanda
            Nuthin’ but a MCU thang
            Big pimpin’ panther
            Wakanda-tang Clan
            Sucker MCU’s

            Google: “this is how you do it”
            Let’s let the collective internet mind-hive see what result shows up:
            http://lmgtfy.com/?q=this+is+how+you+do+it

          • Timcharger

            And as I’ve expressed, it aint no bad thang (to make a reference to a popular hip-hop song).

            I would amend cardpetree’s line:
            “If so, absolutely brilliant and slightly racist at the same time.”
            To:
            “If so, absolutely brilliant and cringey at the same time.

  7. Boston007

    Even though I am getting tired of comic movies I AM looking forward to Black Panther. I think he’s an awesome character with a great story background

  8. I’ll be seeing Black Panther this weekend. I’m excited about it, but I probably wouldn’t be going to theaters to see it if not for the fact that I know I’ll be seeing Infinity Wars in theaters, and want to see this first.

  9. Guy

    That this movie exists at all is indeed as important a cultural event as the media coverage says, but that’s separate from the movie itself. In the context of the MCU, Black Panther feels analogous to Doctor Strange to me: an okay enough movie with nothing going seriously awry, but it could and should have been better given the pieces in play.

    The action is shockingly weak for a blockbuster of its caliber, the plot goes the exact places you think it’s going if you know the name Killmonger ahead of time and the trailers (of which I only watched the first two) showed way too much of what could have been surprising late-movie reveals. If, like Phil, you didn’t know where the movie was going from the opening flashback scene onward, your experience was vastly different from mine and I acknowledge that.

    The big, huge positive is that the protagonist characters and the quieter or humorous moments with them are great throughout. I had a good time with these people even when I wasn’t invested in what was going on around them. That keeps this movie from feeling like a dud and makes me look forward to the Wakandan parts of Infinity War as well as the inevitable Black Panther sequel. It was worth seeing, but I don’t know how much it’ll ever be worth rewatching.

    • James

      This was pretty much where I was. Some of the chase sequences were as close to thrilling as the action ever got. The individual fight scenes and the open field battles were mind-numbingly boring. I know there are only so many ways you can make one guy punch and kick another guy and then try to hit him with a stick. But you have to do better than The Black Panther did. Add some eccentricity in either the camera work, the reactions of those standing by, the soundscape of the fight, the music, the weaponry, SOMETHING. Set up an expectation and then do something else. There wasn’t a single beat of any of the fight scenes that offered a visceral shock.

  10. James

    “This isn’t just going to be the best superhero movie of 2018”

    Oooookay … with Infinity War still due out, I can begin to see the sort of thing that’s happening here. I feel a little dumb for wasting my time here now.

  11. It’s nice to see a Marvel movie with some substance and real “stakes” again – other than Spider-Man: Homecoming, the MCU movies have been hitting a lot of singles than home runs lately (Thor 3, Guardians 2, Dr. Strange, and Ant-Man). Black Panther is one of the better ones, and a movie I’m anxious to see a sequel for. If they were looking for an actor with enough on-screen heft to replace Robert Downey, Jr for the next generation of Marvel heroes, they may have just found their man in Chadwick Boseman.

    • Chaz Dumbaugh

      Home runs in Thor 3 and Guardians 2 for me, Dr. Strange was up there and Ant-Man was a great departure for a fun different movie on a smaller scale, they all have their strengths and I really love all of Marvel’s movies to a certain extent, I’m just a fan in general, but Thor 3 was definitely a home run, something completely different IMO

  12. William Henley

    I’m going to wait to Redbox this one. I know nothing about the source material, I have a couple of other MCU movies I haven’t seen yet, and and I got a great home theater

  13. The Box office for Black Panther is ridiculous. A month ago it was projected to open at $80-$85M, and now Sunday’s estimates said $192M for the three day weekend. Today, that’s been upped to $202M. Add $33M from today, and the four day estimate sits at $235M! Absolutely insane.

      • I like that it tied to the larger MCU, without having to have seen those movies to understand the character development and motivations of the characters. With anything involving Captain American or Iron Man, you really need to see all movies involving those characters to get the proper impact of their films (especially Civil War).

  14. NJScorpio

    Wow…

    I just saw this (IMAX), so I have yet to read the review above. I wanted to post my quick thoughts, before they are really influenced by anything else I read…

    What a great movie. The infusion of African style/art/music all throughout was consistantly enjoyable, and very refreshing. There was NOTHING in my opinion that pushed any sort of real world political or cultural agenda. The concerns voiced for black people in this movie could have been voiced decades ago (sadly).

    The story was fairly straight forward for a movie as long as it is, but this allows for some very good character development. I hope to see more from these characters we’ve gotten to know elsehwere in the MCU. The actions scenes were fun, a few memorable bits, but the fight sequences were not shot as cleanly as something like Winter Soldier. I can see this being in people’s top 5 MCU movies. I have to rewatch this, and Ragnarok, to really know where it would rank for me (probably 7th for me). Of course, Infinity War is around the corner.

    I mean this with the highest praise…the setting, the plot, the music, visuals…this is Marvel’s The Lion King.

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