A groundbreaking superhero romp with all the action, humor, and heart you’d expect from a Marvel film.
SPOILER WARNING: There are a few major spoilers ahead in this review, as I wanted to talk about some character arcs and plot points as in depth as possible. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want spoilers, please go watch it before reading this review!
I have to admit, I had my doubts about this film. When something gets this much hype, when people are calling it the best Marvel film ever made (or maybe even the best film ever made) and when it carried a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, if only for a little while, that’s an awful lot to live up to. But I understood the hype, and I hoped that this film would live up to most of it, because here’s the thing: Besides Angie Thomas’s fabulous novel, The Hate U Give, I cannot remember the last book I read or movie I watched that had a black protagonist, much less an almost entirely black cast. And I’m certainly not saying that it’s bad to have a white protagonist; not at all. But there are so many awesome white protagonists and not nearly enough awesome black protagonists, especially not in more mainstream media, and so I totally understand the hype for this movie, and I was hoping against hope that people weren’t exaggerating, and that Black Panther would be a genuinely good film.
Marvel took a risk with this film, because many big studios in Hollywood won’t make films with POC or female leads, as they think those films won’t make enough money at the box office. But, obviously, that risk paid off: as of this writing, Black Panther has earned over $404 million dollars worldwide, breaking multiple box office records, including becoming the highest grossing film with a predominantly black cast ever.
The numbers don’t lie. But what about the reviews? I personally try not to judge films off of popularity, or how much money they make, or other peoples opinions. And so I was very eager to see this film for myself and find out whether or not all the hype was warranted.
So let’s dive into the review.
First of all, Black Panther is visually stunning. Much of the film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, and the landscapes shown in the film are gorgeous and utterly unlike anything I’ve ever seen onscreen. We all know the standard fantasy/sci-fi locations, which have all been done and done to death: the forest, the fields, the mountains, the futuristic city. But Black Panther‘s African-inspired fantasy/sci-fi world breaths new life into these tired settings, by transporting us straight into Africa itself. I’ve seen so much sci-fi and fantasy set in America or Europe, or American-like and Europe-like worlds, and it is so refreshing to see what a high-tech, futuristic African city would look like, or to watch T’Challa, the Black Panther himself, fight his rival for the right to the throne on a sheer rock ledge beneath a waterfall, while his people cheer him on.
It was endlessly cool to see an entire fictional culture inspired by Africa on the big screen. From the colors and cut of the clothes to the design of the city and the flying ships that transport T’Challa and his friends, to the technology created by T’Challa’s genius sister Shuri, everything just felt so fresh and new and exciting and, yes, groundbreaking.
In another reversal of what you so often see in mainstream media, the only white characters in the film are villainous Ulysses Klaw (played by Andy Serkis) and the bumbling General Ross (played by Martin Freeman), who acts as a foil to the main characters. I found myself laughing right along with T’Challa and co. at Ross’s total confusion in the face of this highly advanced but hidden African society.
But the film itself, the story, the characters, the ideas; are they any good? This film has been touted as such a huge leap towards diversity in storytelling, and especially in big budget films, and that is certainly the case. But does Black Panther also stand on its own merits?
I would have to say yes. Well it may not be the best film ever made, Black Panther gets a lot of things right when it comes to storytelling, plot, action, and character development. It is actually one of the few Marvel films to have a well developed villain: Erik Killmonger, an exile and heir to the Wakandan throne who returns to his country to claim his rights and remove T’Challa from power. Erik’s father had left Wakanda to live in America with his son, but when he turned out to be a traitor, he was killed, leaving Erik all alone with only the tales his father had told him of his native country. When Erik returns to claim the throne, he brings with him an agenda: he resents how Wakanda has hidden their strength for so long, and wants the country to use its wealth and military might to stop the oppression of black people all over the world, by force.
While Killmonger brings up valid points about oppression and the need for action, I appreciate that the filmmakers do show his viewpoint —that violence can and should be used to end oppression— to be wrong, and that T’Challa decides in the end to use the wealth and strength of his country to help others peacefully. Sometimes, I almost found myself cheering for Killmonger, because the filmmakers do such a good job of developing him into a well rounded, flawed-but-nevertheless-admirable human being. He’s such a well developed character, and it’s almost a shame that T’Challa isn’t quite as well developed in the film. He is still a good hero, but I wish the filmmakers had spent just a little more time on developing a better story arc for him.
The other major characters in this film —namely Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest, and Okoye, the general of an all-female group of Wakandan warriors— are all brilliantly played and fantastically developed characters. I love Shuri and T’Challa’s sibling relationship; it’s super authentic and very funny, as Shuri teases and makes fun of her brother even as she’s helping him catch the thieving Klaw. Nakia also gets tons of moments in the spotlight, not just as T’Challa’s love interest (although they are adorable and very, very shipable ❤ ) but also as a magnificent warrior, and a kindhearted, caring woman who’s greatest wish is to help those less fortunate than herself.
The story itself is very coherent and well plotted, and could pretty much stand on its own even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie, which is nice after such a long line of sequels and sequels of sequels. The visual effects and action scenes are well done, as is all of the acting, and I just really enjoyed this film. It ranks very high on my personal list of ‘best Marvel films’. It just seemed to have a bit more heart than some more recent Marvel flicks, specifically Thor: Ragnarok, which was a very funny and well made film, but somehow seemed to lack any real emotional depth. Is Black Panther somehow going to fix every racial or social problem ever, as some people seem to think? Probably not, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Heyo! I hope you enjoyed my review of Black Panther. Have you seen the film yet? Did you enjoy it? What do you think of T’Challa’s character development (or lack thereof?) I’m curious! Let me know in the comments.
See you again soon!