By Dorian Grayson
“Black Panther” is a triumph of a film. Ryan Coogler, the director, didn’t receive enough critical recognition for “Creed” in 2015, and now, he and Michael B. Jordan, the movie’s villain, are back to earn the widespread acclaim that has now taken over the popular zeitgeist. I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you that “Black Panther” is great and I hope I’m not the last.
What’s surprising about “Black Panther” is how misleading the title is; “Black Panther” rejects the model of “Iron Man” for the ensemble cast of “Captain America: Civil War,” but with refreshingly new solo characters and a detailed setting. The typical Marvel solo movies are usually about fleshing out the main character so people are excited when they show up in the next Avengers movie or cameo in a less-popular hero’s film. The Marvel formula dictates the movie must show the title character’s journey to become selfless and defeat an evil mirror of themselves, which “Black Panther” fits. However, the typical formula is deviated from, as “Black Panther” doesn’t forget to support its setting or side characters.
For as much as I love “Thor,” Asgard never felt like a place, only scene dressing. “Black Panther” manages to make Wakanda feel real, alive and magical. Part of this is accomplished by the contrast with other locations in the film. The story’s beginning in Oakland, California and act two’s digression to Busan, South Korea have very different tones and music, which helps to flesh out Wakanda by contrast.
“Black Panther” also misleads you by being about so much more than the titular T’Challa himself. The movie is truly about an ensemble and act five’s big battle is about many more characters than T’Challa. Unlike “Iron Man,” where the whole movie is about making one character cool, “Black Panther” has cool to go around. Many side characters in “Black Panther” would be breakout fan favorites in any other film, but here serve as a textured patchwork of excellence.
Chadwick Boseman gives an amazing performance as T’Challa, seeming much more comfortable in the character than in “Captain America: Civil War.” Michael B. Jordan does a great job with Killmonger, who is the best Marvel villain since Loki, with much more to say than the trickster god did. Shuri, T’Challa’s sister played by Letita Wright, was my personal favourite and expertly balances the comedy and seriousness of her character, which was difficult since they gave her the brunt of the comedy. I’d love to list every person who worked on the movie because there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch (with the exception of Andy Serkis’s occasional overacting as Klaue), but I don’t have space. Everyone turns in great work here.
Despite coming from very different artists, Kendrick Lamar’s original songs and Ludwig Goransson’s score are expertly handled throughout the movie, never bleeding into the background or standing out too much. A lot of credit has to go to the editors, Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver, for how well this movie’s sound is handled.
A major aspect of why this movie is excellent is how unapologetic the entire cast and crew are in the film’s blackness and political relevance. What in other films would be sanded off by test audiences and left to subtext is explicit text in “Black Panther.” The movie begins and ends with scenes of black children being inspired by Wakandan technology and T’Challa, which is clearly its aim. There’s a reason churches and other youth groups have been organizing to get kids into the theaters for this movie.
“Black Panther” is such an accomplishment it makes me feel less bad about capitalism. Despite being yet another injection of cash into one of the biggest entertainment monopolies, “Black Panther” is explicitly political and fantastic. It seems Ryan Coogler, like James Gunn, understands how to work within the system and deliver an incredible film at the same time, which is all we can ask for if Disney doesn’t lose its status as a monolith.
I have seen “Black Panther” three times already and intend to go a fourth. It is the best solo Marvel movie. I highly recommend seeing it, although box office numbers indicate you probably already have.