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Black Panther Movie Review

Black Panther (2018) movie poster Black Panther

Theatrical Release: February 16, 2018 / Running Time: 134 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Ryan Coogler / Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole (screenplay); Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (Marvel comic book)

Cast: Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa/Black Panther), Michael B. Jordan (N'Jadka/Erik "Killmonger" Stevens), Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M'Baku), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue), John Kani (T'Chaka), Florence Kasumba (Ayo), Atandwa Kani (Young T'Chaka), Sterling K. Brown (N'Jobu), Stan Lee (Casino Patron - uncredited), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes - uncredited)


Last year, the world embraced a female superhero in Wonder Woman. This year, people are likely to do the same for Black Panther, the first superhero of color to carry a big budgeted film. Maybe Wonder Woman seemed like kind of a gamble given
DC and Warner's spotty track record with critics in recent years. But Black Panther is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a force that has been running smoothly for ten years now and which has continued to flourish while expanding.

Black Panther was introduced to moviegoers two years ago in Captain America: Civil War, a film chockfull of heroes who clashed amidst ideological divide. That same film introduced the new Spider-Man, which on paper sounded premature, but he went on to headline his own film in last year's crowd-pleasing and commercially formidable Spider-Man: Homecoming. You expect Black Panther, played once again by Chadwick Boseman, to do the same in what is the first highly-anticipated release of 2018.

Adding excitement to the project beyond all the thinkpieces the media can run about what this means for diversity in cinema is the fact that Black Panther is written and directed by Ryan Coogler, a young filmmaker who followed his acclaimed debut Fruitvale Station with a successful studio film in the endearing Creed. Now Coogler moves from the comfortable mid-range budget of that Rocky reboot to the nine-figure realm of comic book action, a genre that has given Hollywood many of its biggest blockbusters over the past two decades.

Chadwick Boseman reprises his role of T'Challa in "Black Panther", where he is joined by the forgettable characters of Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Shuri (Letitia Wright).

The film builds upon ideas presented in Civil War and in comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dating back to 1966. We open in Oakland in 1992 with a betrayal and death that will make sense later. Our focus is then turned to T'Challa (Boseman), the prince of Africa's Wakanda who is to inherit the nation's throne after his father was assassinated in the United Nations bombing depicted in Civil War. T'Challa assumes the position with pomp and circumstance, as his Black Panther powers are drained and he is challenged.

Meanwhile, we find our antagonists in South African black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (a flavorful Andy Serkis) and, more significantly, his American associate Erik Stevens (Coogler's good luck charm, Michael B. Jordan). The two are seen stealing a Wakandan artifact from a London museum believed to contain vibranium, the substance that fuels the secret innovation of the nation that is only posing to be a Third World country.

Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger, wants to be Wakanda's king and he has more of a claim to the throne than you might expect. He challenges T'Challa and seems to have what it takes to take over.

Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) surprises T'Challa and other leaders with his seemingly well-founded claim to Wakanda's throne.

Black Panther deserves credit for being different. It's not an origin story or another case of Avengers teaming up. There's no threat of generic world domination and our hero doesn't have standard issue mentor, love interest,
and adversary boxes to check off. The talented Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole ("American Crime Story") are better than that and that's good because superhero movie fatigue should be a very real thing these days.

Black Panther is well-made. It looks nice and it boasts a cast rich in talent. But it does not reach the heights of Marvel's best movies. To compare it to the studio's best movies of last year, it lacks the humor of Thor: Ragnarok and sheer exuberance of Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's more on the order of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, an enjoyable time that neither subverts nor shatters your expectations.

Part of it may be that Coogler and company aren't able to just make a fun piece of most-ages entertainment. They've all got some duty to make this movie a model for positive representation for people of color. African culture is respected and honored and there is even an attempt to incorporate the plight of blacks in America into the screenplay via Jordan's character. All of that is admirable and it is refreshing to see a movie with a predominantly black cast that isn't made by Tyler Perry or being treated as some niche production. At the same time, none of that helps Black Panther be a really fun adventure. It's long and it's populated by many characters, few of whom manage to make any significant mark.

In the pantheon of Avengers, no hero is as humorless as this one. And while superhero movies don't always need to take a comic approach (see The Dark Knight), it definitely lightens the proceedings in an agreeable way. Black Panther rarely even tries for laughs and when it does, it is pretty ineffective, like turning American CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) into the token white guy comic relief. Veterans like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett play characters I can't even describe to you. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o has a lot of screentime without us warming to her character. Get Out Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya has less screentime and even less effect as a vengeful Wakandan who sympathizes with Killmonger.

Critics are almost universally praising the film for its ideas, its timeliness, and its progressive nature. But do people look to Marvel movies for any of that? Or do they watch them to be entertained by colorful characters and appealing worlds? Because while there is much to praise about the fact that Black Panther exists, the results are pretty much mid-level Marvel, which is to say better than most mainstream studio movies but not really deserving awards consideration outside of technical categories. And with two more MCU movies, a Star Wars spin-off, and Incredibles 2 to come, it seems unlikely that Black Panther can even crack those technical categories nearly a year from now.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: A Wrinkle in Time Red Sparrow Game Night The 15:17 to Paris 12 Strong
Recent Superhero Movies: Thor: Ragnarok Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 The Lego Batman Movie Logan Wonder Woman Spider-Man: Homecoming
Captain America: Civil War
Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler: Creed Fruitvale Station
Chadwick Boseman: 42 Gods of Egypt Draft Day | Michael B. Jordan: Chronicle Fantastic Four (2015)
Lupita Nyong'o: Queen of Katwe The Jungle Book (2017) | Daniel Kaluuya: Get Out

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Reviewed March 12, 2018 / February 14, 2018.

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