Black Panther Review

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Black Panther has been my most anticipated Marvel film ever since it’s announcement. Marvel Studios is on top of the world right now. The proof is in the money. But, not only are they on top, they’re still working hard to stay on top. Each movie seems to be increasing in quality, and they’re allowing directors to inject their own vision into these films now. That’s evident with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor Ragnarok. Black Panther is a step above everything though. Why? Well, there are a myriad of reasons, but the main one is representation. Never has a black film been attached to a brand this big. Marvel Studios is the biggest movie franchise ever and one of the biggest brands in the world right now. Some may argue that last point, but it’d be tough. This film isn’t the first to invite fans into the black experience, because technically every black film does, but this is the first time where white people around the world were truly intrigued by the idea of the black experience. Sure, most will say they only care about the superhero aspect or maybe the action. But the fact is that if you sat down to watch this film, you’re interested in black voices somewhat. Whether you respect them or not is another matter. The buzz around this film was unlike any before it. Marvel marketed the hell out of it, and every media outlet was talking about it. As I sat down in the theater, I couldn’t help but smile with joy. Ryan Coogler, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, and so many more talented people were a part of this film. Safe to say my expectations were extremely high. And they were exceeded in ways I never thought they could be.

 

NEGATIVES

Let’s get this out of the way. First off, there isn’t much wrong with this film. It’s visually stunning, has a tight story, heavy themes, and not one person is wasted in the film. The one thing this film could have done better was be a bit longer. I know that’s a bit nitpicky, but this film could have easily been three hours long and I think it needed to be. Some scenes were edited a bit weird and didn’t have enough time to breathe. I would have loved to spend more time with the main villain, Killmonger. And at the beginning, the ritual fight could have been a bit longer, and just some other moments felt a bit rushed. This doesn’t take away from the film really at all, just something I noticed. I had to think of something I didn’t like, but honestly there isn’t much.

WAKANDA FOREVER

The film revolves around this idea of tradition vs. innovation. Wakanda is in a transition phase when this film starts. Both literally and figuratively. In Civil War, T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, became the Black Panther when his father died at the hands of Zemo. Now, he must officially become the king of the great nation of Wakanda, the most advanced civilization on Earth. The opening of the film talks about how Wakanda was formed and why they hide from the rest of the world. We learn about the powerful element vibranium and how it helped Wakanda become technologically superior to other nations. Then, we see a flashback to 1992 where King T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father, confronts his brother N’Jobu for helping an outsider steal from Wakanda. His brother has been a spy in America and has witnessed firsthand the mistreatment of black people in the states. He wants to use Wakanda’s resources to help the rest of the world, but T’Chaka says no. This opening scene was perfect because it establishes the theme of the movie instantly.

The rest of the first act can only be described with one word. Magical. Wakanda is a beautiful country and Coogler and his team put in a tremendous amount of effort into making Wakanda look just as majestic as it sounds. We’re introduced to Shuri, Ramonda, Nakia, and Okoye as well. The women in this movie steal the show. Okoye is the general of the Dora Milaje, bodyguards of the king and protectors of Wakanda. Nakia is spy who operates outside of her country. She holds rigid values about freedom and equality and she intend on making a difference outside of Wakanda. Ramonda is T’Challa’s mother and Shuri is his baby sister. Her energy is infectious and the chemistry between her and T’Challa is undeniable. There’s a scene where they are together in her lab, and it’s just laugh after laugh. This film balanced that well. There weren’t too many jokes, but the ones that showed up were funny. During the first act, we’re also introduced to M’Baku who is from a distant tribe in Wakanda known as the Jabari. He challenges T’Challa for the throne but is defeated. Still, his presence on screen is undeniable and he later ends up being one of the best parts of the film. As I said, this first act does an amazing job of establishing Wakanda, but also letting you know what this story is really about by showing you the scene in Oakland.

The next part of the film sees the plot progress towards the main villain’s involvement. T’Challa is the king but he now has to rule. Ulysses Klaue is played by Andy Serkis and has been a thorn in Wakanda’s side for a long time now. This film did a great job balancing everything and the car chase scene in Korea was a great example of that. My favorite part of this scene was seeing Nakia and Okoye shine. Okoye handled her golden staff with such grace in this film and I was damn near jumping out of my seat as she was beating up Klaue’s goons. This scene was also cool because of Shuri’s involvement. I mentioned earlier that her energy is infectious, and this scene was no different. The visuals were nice during this scene as well. Everything was well lit, and Korea felt unique within the Marvel Universe. Overall, this film had great action but that’s not why it was good. This film has one of the best comic book villains to date in Erik Killmonger. His story is a personal one for me, and I’m sure most black men related to it as well. But, his story is directly tied to the failures of Wakanda as a nation and anyone, no matter your race, can identify with feeling like your country has let you down.

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KILLMONGER

In truth, this film is more about Killmonger than it is T’Challa. Killmonger is played by Michael B. Jordan in this film. T’Challa, as a character has been through a lot when we first see him in Civil War. He’s been training for the role of Black Panther, he’s been learning everything he can, and he’s already a mature man when we meet him. But, something that Civil War and this film have in common, as it relates to T’Challa’s character? His father. T’Challa’s main arc in both films has been about overcoming the death of his father. In Civil War, we saw a man who was filled with rage and anger. If he decided to kill Bucky or Zemo, no one in Wakanda would’ve cared. They would have considered it a fair trade for the death of their king. However, he decided to not let vengeance determine how he ruled as king. It was a bold move and produced one of the coolest moments in the MCU. In this film, he’s a lot more grounded and still struggles with avenging his father. Okoye reminds him of his status during the Korea scene, and it was one of many times, where the women in this film showed such great inner strength and resolve. This film is about T’Challa overcoming his father’s death emotionally. When he is made king, he visits his father in the ancestral plane and almost breaks down. The pain of not having his father is too much. It’s something anyone would feel if they lost a father at an older age, and it doesn’t help that T’Challa had his father on a pedestal, ethically speaking.

Opposite of T’Challa is Killmonger. Originally Erik Stevens. Erik in this film is the son of N’Jobu. Midway through the film, we find out that N’Jobu was killed by T’Chaka when he tried to pull a gun on his brother instead of going back to Wakanda to stand trial. That by itself is a questionable decision, but T’Chaka makes one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen next. Erik was young when his father was killed. T’Chaka chose to leave Erik in America with no one to raise him. No money, no family, nothing. This leads Erik down a vengeful path, and his life is dedicated to getting revenge on Wakanda but also carrying out his father’s dream, but in a much more radical way. This alone makes for a good character, but where this character becomes personal for me is the way Ryan Coogler portrays Killmonger. He’s educated, well spoken, and highly intelligent. And not only that, his views aren’t 100 percent wrong. Wakanda, as a nation, has failed black people around the world. They had their reasons of course, but over time, they decided to stick with their old ways instead of helping the world. N’Jobu obviously didn’t like that, and he was killed for it. Killmonger was raised in a rough neighborhood in Oakland, California. As a black man in America, it’s hard enough growing up anywhere, but Killmonger was raised in the hood and was aware the entire time. That’s hard to go through. I’ve gone through that exact thing in my life.

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At about 12 or 13 years old, I began to question things in society such as race, politics, and what not, and at about 18 or so I started to really understand my place in this country and society. I’m a person first, and I respect myself for that reason alone, but the rest of the country and the world sometimes doesn’t see it that way. That’s a fact. My identity is rooted in stereotypes and pain to some people. It’s a hard thing to accept. It’s hard to accept that you may walk into a job interview and not get it because of your skin color. It’s hard accepting you might not even get a call back because of your name. Racism in America isn’t a simple thing to understand. It takes time, patience, and a lot of self-understanding. The beautiful part about Killmonger’s character is that he had all of this. He was “woke” as the kids like to say. But where Killmonger lost that balance was not having a father. Because educating yourself on racism and who you are simply isn’t enough. That’s because the more you understand racism and how deep it goes, it tends to make you angry. And that’s a natural feeling, to be honest. It’s okay too. No one should tell you not to be angry about these things, because anger can lead to positive action. What you do need though is someone helping you along the way to help keep that anger in check. Killmonger never had that. He was a tragic character in that he realized his full potential as a scholar, warrior, and intellectual, but he never had a father to help him along the way. And for black men, that means everything. Growing up I too struggled with anger. And I really liked Star Wars. I remember that I got into a fight with a white kid at school who was saying racist stuff and my dad would remind me to try and be more of a Jedi and not a Sith, in times like that. Cheesy, I know but man that little bit helped me because I realized how I could fight racism with my mind and words, rather than my fists, even though sometimes, violence is inevitable.

I know I rambled a bit there, but this is important to understanding why this film is different. No superhero film has had these types of themes before, and not only that, they’re right there to be seen. N’Jobu clearly states his problems with Wakanda and so does Killmonger. When Killmonger shows up to declare the throne his, the room is tense. The second ritual fight compared to the second one is much darker. Only a handful of people are there to witness it, the sun is setting, and the overall tone during this scene is sadness. As Killmonger is removing his shirt for the fight, he’s talking about all that he’s done to get here. He’s killed, lied, stole, and has given into anger more times than he can count. The fight is brutal and ends with T’Challa being thrown off a waterfall, with Killmonger becoming the new king. A powerful scene and one of my favorites in the film.

Some superhero films struggle with their third act, but I don’t think this one did. A heartbreaking scene happens right after Killmonger becomes king. Just like T’Challa he goes to the ancestral plane to speak with his father. But they’re in his old apartment and Killmonger turns into the boy he was when his father died. I have to commend Sterling K. Brown here. He played N’Jobu and his emotion during this scene had me sobbing like a baby. Killmonger is a boy because this is the moment in his life where his innocence was lost, but also because it’s how his father remembered him. Killmonger is crying because he misses his father. N’Jobu is crying because he misses his son yes, but also because he knows who his son is now. He knows that he has failed his son as a father by not being there for him when he needed him most. And you can see the pain and shame on Brown’s face as he puts his head down and continues to cry.

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The last part of the film is where M’Baku steals the show and it’s the first part where we start to see Wakanda become united. M’Baku’s speech during the first ritual showed how displeased he was with T’Challa as king and Wakanda in general. He’s a traditionalist who lives in the mountains with his tribe away from the city. But, Ramonda, Nakia, Shuri, and Agent Ross need his help to dethrone Killmonger. Instead of taking the herb and having the power for himself, he shows them T’Challa’s body, which he found in the river. Not only is this scene shot well, but M’Baku’s personality is on display here too. It was a cool moment that showed how mature he was, and how important a united Wakanda was to him. After this, we’re treated to a very fun battle between W’Kabi’s tribe and the Dora Milaje. T’Challa reappears and fights with Killmonger, who actually kills a member of the Dora Milaje during the fight. Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye once again are the best things about this fight. Each one has a different style and are very entertaining to watch. The fight with Killmonger and T’Challa takes them down into the vibranium mines where eventually T’Challa fatally stabs Erik in the stomach. I do wish that this fight was a bit longer because I enjoyed it.

The end of the fight sees W’Kabi surrender (thanks to some help from M’Baku. What a scene that was!) and T’Challa taking Killmonger outside to witness a sunset over the mountains. When Killmonger was stabbed, the emotions came pouring out of him. He knew he was going to die, and immediately he starts crying and thinking of everything he missed out on in life. When they go outside, a powerful moment happened as T’Challa says to Erik clearly, “We can heal you.” Obviously, he meant physically, but the way he said it, I thought he meant emotionally. One of the best things about T’Challa’s character is the growth he goes through in this film. By the end of this movie, he’s his own man. Not defined by his father’s mistakes or the mistakes of kings before him.

“Why did you leave the boy?” Those were the first words T’Challa spoke to his father when he saw him in the ancestral plane a second time. Clearly, T’Challa’s heart hurt for Erik. But the sad thing about this scene is that even if T’Challa meant heal him emotionally, Killmonger wouldn’t know sincerity if it slapped him in the face. His life has been filled with so much pain, struggle, and racism, that he trusts no one. As he pulls the knife from his stomach, he alludes to his ancestors jumping from the ships, saying that death is better than bondage. A part of me wanted Killmonger to stay alive, but I know that his death helped the story in so many ways. His death helped T’Challa move forward as king and it helped Wakanda move forward as a nation. More importantly, it showed that while Killmonger’s cause was rooted in nobility, ultimately, he was fueled by anger, and that will always lead to your destruction. He and Nakia are two sides of the same coin and that’s an important message because they’re levels to people you may consider a revolutionary.  This country tends to think that every black person who’s “angry” with the system is Killmonger. I’m telling you right now, that the majority of us are Nakia. Angry but calculated. In the end though, T’Challa ends up showing the world the real power of Wakanda and creates an outreach program in America. The last scene of the film is a flabbergasted kid staring at T’Challa in awe, and you can see the cycle being broken in some way. T’Challa can’t father every boy in Oakland or the world, but he can inspire one to strive to be a king. That’s all that matters.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I can’t even talk about everything I liked in this film. I’d be writing all day. Marvel Studios did a great job with this film. They took their time with it, got the right people behind it, and it showed in the final product. Ryan Coogler said in an interview that he wanted black people to walk away from this film not afraid to embrace their African side. This film embraces African culture completely from the costume design, the score, and even the way it’s shot. Coogler also did a great job showcasing the women in this film too. Okoye was my favorite, but each woman represented a part of Wakanda. The queen, the general, the scientist, and the spy. Each has different roles, but when they are working in unison, nothing can stop them. T’Challa looked to them more than once in the film, whether it was for wisdom, knowledge, or love and their relationship with him felt respectful. I think it’s important for films to continue to do this because women need more representation in superhero films. Seeing women be so diverse and strong in this movie should pave the way for more women in the future. There’s so much I didn’t talk about including Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Martin Freeman who all gave solid performances in their roles. This film is about a lot of things, and that’s awesome. Whatever you take away from this film, just remember that this is only the beginning of representation on the grand scale. The impact this film has had on the world can’t be overstated either. Communities came together so children could see the film, it’s on track to make one billion dollars at the box office, and Disney even donated one million dollars to help fund STEM centers in Oakland. Black people haven’t been able to celebrate themselves so openly before with a film and every minority group deserves this. And I think we’re starting to see these cultural films of celebration take place more often with films like Black Panther and Coco. Overall though, this film is fantastic, and I really wouldn’t change much. A relatable villain, great visuals, and an authenticity that won’t be replicated any time soon.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thanks for staying with me during this long-winded review. This film meant so much to me and I’m glad it’s finally out. If you enjoyed this review, please follow me on Twitter @peacelovecomics for my thoughts on everything going on in the comic book world. Until next time, everyone!

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