Just a few months ahead of the purported Marvel superhero bash of the decade in Avengers: Infinity War, we have just one more relatively new (to most casual viewers) comic book property that needs to be introduced to the world before Thanos comes to blow it all straight to hell; and that new environment comes in the form of Black Panther and the city of Wakanda. Arguably most noteworthy for being among the first major superhero outings as of late to be led by an African American leading man – though let’s not totally forget about Blade in this regard – Black Panther also hopes to launch a brand new era of superheros into the public consciousness, along with a vibrant array of side characters, some of whom might even steal the show from out titular figure. Add to that this being only the third(!) film in the career of director Ryan Coogler, fresh off the surprisingly great Creed and his immensely moving debut feature Fruitvale Station, and you’ve hopefully got a recipe for a smash hit on your hands.
Our story takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and sees Prince T’Challa of Wakanda (marvelously brought to life once again by Chadwick Boseman) now taking up the mantle of King after the death of his father T’Chaka during the events of Civil War. Once he’s finally sitting on the coveted throne, a entire web spun from espionage, intrigue, and past betrayals suddenly comes to the surface, and the Black Panther is suddenly forced to question not only himself and his abilities in the present time, but he must also face the past misgivings of the previous bloodlines that have led to his claim to all the power he’s now in command of. And in true Marvel fashion, it all leads to a giant all-out battle at the end of the day, because if a narrative formula has proven itself to be successful after a decade of global domination, why change things up now?
For weeks ahead of its initial release, Black Panther was receiving extraordinary amounts of hype and praise for many things, but two consistent appraisals stood out most: the ensemble cast of characters, and the setting and environment of Wakanda. I can happily report that on both of these fronts, the film delivers in spades. Particularly with the setting of Wakanda, Marvel Studios has produced yet another wholly original and vibrantly realized world that feels at once completely believable and tangible, while also maintain a sense of the fantastical. But this would all be for nothing if the environment’s inhabitants weren’t worth a damn, and fortunately Black Panther also contains a very memorable and likable set of cast members, all of whom serve themselves and are fully realized individuals, rather than merely being there to bolster the central figure. Much has been said regarding Michael B Jordan’s antagonist Killmonger, and while the current pool of Marvel villains is awash with forgettable, world-domination hungry aliens and weirdos, here we have a completely human and in some cases oddly relatable opposing force that stands out just as much as any other comic book villain we’ve seen recently.
“Look at this miserable excuse for a shit-hole country!” – our ‘alleged’ President.
The tired Marvel origin formula is alive and well in Black Panther, unfortunately. Despite all of the creativity and well earned pathos contained in this film, it regrettably can’t seem to shake its slavish devotion to the same old MCU structure that was employed in the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange. Tell me if any of these elements sound familiar: we center on an extraordinarily gifted but overly cocky central hero who eventually learns a lesson about teamwork and pigheadedness, and who also faces off against a main villain who is essentially just an evil version of the hero who feels entitled to the hero’s unique abilities and power, and there’s also a mentor figure with a personal connection to the villain who may or may not make it out of the film alive.
Yes, no matter how fresh and innovative the setting and characters in Black Panther feel, there’s just no escaping the sensation that most of this plot really comes across as been-there-done-that for the majority of it. In addition to that, a lot of the visual effects look curiously unfinished and rubbery, especially with some appallingly fake looking green screens towards the final act. Maybe Marvel Studios is just saving all their money and the big effects work for Infinity War, and was forced to rely on smaller, less professional-looking effects companies for this one. But it doesn’t change the fact that the lack of solid-looking effects work is a hindrance. I guess that’s just one of the risks you run when a studio churns out two to three identical looking, feeling, and sounding products every single year, like an assembly line in a factory, but that’s a whole other topic for another day.
Insert pun about these two being the “Tolkein white guys”
If you have any affinity or fondness for the currently running Marvel universe whatsoever, then Black Panther is a must see for you. Despite a healthy dose of token Marvel formula holding it back from being truly great, this is at the very least a solidly entertaining sueperhero action romp, but at most is a long overdue cultural milestone in our modern pop culture landscape. Typically I’d recommend this purely on its own merits, but considering that if this turns out to be a gigantic hit (which it almost assuredly will be), all of the Trump-loving, basement dwelling, pearl-clutching fuckboys who complained about women taking over Star Wars or whatever will collectively have a complete and utter meltdown at the prospect of a primarily African American cast film from an African American director that’s also being released by the world’s largest film studio, my new recommendation is that everyone buys out entire auditoriums and ensures this puppy makes all the money in the world during its theatrical run.
Black Panther (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for every Marvel Cinematic Universe Easter-egg.
Do another Shot: each time you notice a piece of unfinished-looking CGI effects.
Shotgun a Beer: every time Black Panther himself is upstaged by one of the supporting players.
Start on a Brand New Six Pack: whenever someone says “Wakanda forever!”