Black Panther (2018) by Ryan Coogler
Review by Courtney Anderson
I’ve been waiting to see Black Panther since after the first time I watched Captain America: Civil War.
Objectively speaking, T’Challa was the coolest character in Civil War. A refined, intelligent, super-powered African prince who was seeking vengeance for his father’s murder, T’Challa instantly stood out amongst the rest of the Avengers.
T’Challa also had the most interesting character arc, going from someone focused on vengeance to realizing that the desire for vengeance ultimately poisons you. By the end of the film, T’Challa is becoming someone who wants to help bring peace. His story in Civil War laid the groundwork for a solo film that was sure to be exciting.
In the months leading up to the world premiere of Black Panther, I watched the anticipation surrounding the movie reach astronomical levels. I had never seen so much hype for a film in my entire life. There were hashtags, pictures of fan art, costume designs, fundraisers for private screenings. The cast were on the covers of every major magazine.
It was astonishing to see so many people be so excited for a movie. After a while, I started to get nervous for the film. I’ve seen how Twitter reacts when something fails to rise to the occasion. I thought there was no way it could live up to the hype.
But it did. Black Panther definitely lived up to the hype.
Black Panther is unlike any other Marvel movie I’ve seen (and, for the record, I’ve seen 13 of the 18 Marvel movies.) Director Ryan Coogler and his team used visual and audio magic to help create an Afro-futuristic film that boasts complex and fascinating characters.
On a superficial level, the movie is gorgeous. The nation of Wakanda is full of vibrant red, golds, blues, greens and purples. Each tribe of Wakanda is decked out clothes inspired by African tribes, borrowing colors, makeup, and jewelry to craft the stunning culture of Wakanda. Black Panther forgoes the muted color-grading that a lot of other Marvel movies tend to use. Everyone’s skin tones look amazing as well; no one is washed out or dull, and their skin color pops against the backgrounds.
The movie also sounds super cool. Except for a hiccup at the very beginning of the movie, the sound is mixed very well, creating a smooth line of music and sound effects that helps immerse you in the experience. Ludwig Göransson’s score tells the story of Wakanda and its citizens, providing every intense, sentimental or exhilarating moment with its sound.
The characters have their own themes, as well; the music is one of the tools the filmmakers use to sculpt realistic, complex, human characters for this story.
There is no one wasted in this movie: every actor has something to dig their teeth into. Every character has their own motivation and purpose for being in the story, and they all contribute to the rise and fall and re-rise of Wakanda.
Even the villain is a complex human, which doesn’t really happen with Marvel villains. With a few notable exceptions (Loki, Vulture and Hela being the exceptions,) Marvel villains have always been very flat characters with overly-complicated plans and very murky motives. They usually only show up to talk in proclamations, make an attempt at world domination and offer no emotionality or intrigue to the story.
Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is not flat in the slightest. He’s a villain through and through, committing horrific acts whenever he feels the need to. But he also has a story that the audience can understand. Without giving out too much, I can say the movie definitely shows you how exactly Erik ended up the way he is, and that how it could’ve potentially been avoided. Erik was the perfect villain for T’Challa. He was the chaos that T’Challa ultimately needed to become king.
But, to be honest, both Erik and T’Challa were dwarfed by the all the other characters, particularly the women of Wakanda. Danai Gurira’s Okoye is a refreshing take on the stoic warrior, offering vulnerability, humor, and grace at every turn. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is truly a revolutionary character, both in her ideas about how the world should be run, and in her role as a love interest for the king. Angela Bassett is playing a queen, which the role she should’ve been playing for her entire career. Newcomer/my new best friend in my head Letitia Wright lights up the screen as 16-year-old super genius Shuri. Letitia’s acting draws your eye in very scene she’s in; sometimes, it feels like Black Panther belongs to her and her alone.
And when the women aren’t stealing the show from Chadwick Boseman, there’s M’Baku, the lord of the mountain-dwelling Jabari tribe. Played by Winston Duke and standing at 6 feet-5-inches tall, he literally dwarfs both Erik and T’Challa. M’Baku surprised me. First of all, I hadn’t seen Winston Duke in anything before, and I hadn’t seen him in many promotional interviews, so I didn’t know he’d be that damn handsome. Second of all, his character defies all expected tropes, proving himself to be a secret sweetheart who makes corny jokes. M’Baku’s one of the many refreshing things about Black Panther, and I can’t wait to see him again.
All in all, I find Black Panther to be a very special movie. It’s not everyday that you have a multi-million-dollar movie starring an array of Black actors playing complex Black characters. It’s even more rare that the movie has as many relevant themes as Black Panther does. Institutional racism, global welfare, imperialism, family drama, technological innovation. It’s all there. Black Panther is sprawling movie that satisfies in a way a lot of superhero movies don’t. It’s one that requires multiple viewings (at the time of writing this, I will have seen it three times. I feel no shame.)
So, even if you could care less about the Avengers or whatever the Guardians of the Galaxy are up to, you should go see this movie. You should go see if you’re not Black. No matter who or what you are, you should go see Black Panther. Because it has something in there for you, too.