Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Prolonged Sequences of Action Violence, and a brief Rude Gesture
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
(based on the BLACK PANTHER comics by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker & Andy Serkis
BLACK PANTHER is the eighteenth(!) entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and final installment before the hotly anticipated INFINITY WAR hits in May. Superhero fans previously got a glimpse of Black Panther a couple of years ago when he showed up in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (which is easily in the top 5 best MCU films). Now, Black Panther has finally received an origin film…sort of? I mean, he was already Black Panther in CIVIL WAR, but he really becomes Black Panther in this film I think. It’s hard to explain, because even though BLACK PANTHER isn’t technically another Marvel superhero origin film…it certainly has the feeling of one. That’s not necessarily a compliment either.
In the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda (which is highly advanced thanks to an endless mine of vibranium – the strongest metal on earth), warrior T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has returned to take his rightful place on his deceased father’s throne. However, T’Challa/Black Panther also finds himself hot on the trail of international terrorist Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). T’Challa’s problems don’t stop there, because the newly crowned king encounters leadership difficulties and uncovers long-hidden secrets. To boot, a mysterious violent-prone villain Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) has somehow made his way into the Wakanda and intends to take it over. Things are hitting the fan and it’s up to Black Panther to save the day!
Even though it suffers from a motherload of superhero clichés, BLACK PANTHER benefits from an imaginative setting and really cool action scenes. Aside from a couple of baffling bits of shaky-cam (which seems to be a recurring issue in pretty much every Marvel film), BLACK PANTHER’s action sequences are terrifically exciting. My favorite scene is easily a car chase through the streets of South Korea and that’s preceded by a series of violent confrontations in an underground casino. One-on-one fights are also well choreographed, while an inevitable climactic showdown/battle nails its spectacle in crowd-pleasing ways.
Though he was a small part of CIVIL WAR, Chadwick Boseman really gets to shine as Black Panther here. Boseman’s protagonist is given some development and has a natural arc to follow. There is effort put into scenes that portray him speaking with his ancestors. The film does something similar to a lesser effect with the villain Killmonger. Although some people have praised Killmonger as one of the best Marvel villains so far, I’m a bit baffled by this reaction towards him. I felt like Killmonger could have been an awesome villain, but he just wasn’t given enough time to make a strong impression. His motives are sympathetic and his methods are monstrous. However, he only really gets 10 minutes of remarkable screen time in a movie that runs over two hours. I actually thought that Andy Serkis’s one-armed Klaue left more of an impression.
BLACK PANTHER contains a fair share of strong supporting characters with big talent backing them up. Angela Bassett, Forrest Whitaker, and Martin Freeman all have roles to fill. Freeman reprises his CIA agent from CIVIL WAR, but gets more to do in this outing. Meanwhile, Letitia Wright serves as hit-or-miss comic relief. Some of her jokes earn laughs and other bits feel like she’s just referencing memes for the sake of referencing memes (including a cringy “what are those!?!” line). Lupita Nyong’o fills the role of obligatory love-interest/former flame. However, Danai Gurira is a complete bad-ass as the head of an all-female secret service and is a definite highlight of the action scenes.
Not all is good in BLACK PANTHER though. I already mentioned the forgettable villain, who felt like the victim of wasted potential. However, BLACK PANTHER’s story is very basic for lack of a better word. If you’ve seen five superhero films (it doesn’t matter which five), you’ll likely be able to predict every single scene, revelation, and beat of the film before it happens. The script sloppily sets up obvious plot points and feels like it’s spoon-feeding the viewer. In other words, it’s treating the audience like a bunch of morons. This is especially true of a 20-minute chunk where Black Panther takes a backseat in his own movie, while the supporting characters drive the film forward. This reminded me of how Ultron was railroaded for about half of his AGE in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At the end of the day, the mind-blowing amount of critical acclaim for BLACK PANTHER seems unwarranted. There are positive qualities. Chadwick Boseman and most of the cast put in strong performances. The action scenes are mostly fantastic, with some annoying shaky-cam aside. The villain has a cool backstory and motivation, but unfortunately feels underdeveloped and wasted. Mostly, BLACK PANTHER suffers from being too damn predictable and generic. This is an entertaining movie, but you’ve seen this plot many times before. BLACK PANTHER Is a fun superhero story, but let’s hope that Marvel does better in their upcoming entries.