In Black Panther, T’Challa (Chadewick Boseman) takes his rightful place on the throne as the king of Wakanda, following the death of his father during the events of Captain America: Civil War. However, some people, particularly a man by the name of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), seeks to challenge this crowning.
The film is the latest in the increasingly robust Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the first of three in 2018. And, of the 18 MCU films, it may be in the top tier.
Essentially each formal piece of Black Panther works wonderfully. The acting, the cinematography, the costume design, the stunt choreography. It is all fantastic. These aspects keep this from being merely another Marvel film.
Boseman is the obvious standout on the acting front. But he is also surrounded by immense talent. His foil, Michael B. Jordan, is arguably the most compelling performance in the film. He uses energy and malicious charm to elevate his already well-drawn character, making Killmonger one of the best villains in the Marvel universe.
The film is also aided by appearances by Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira (who was also great in last years Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me), Winston Duke, and Daniel Kaluuya.
The only downside with this great ensemble cast is that each member draws our eyes to his or her respective character. When the character then disappears and gets little to do, it becomes a disappointment. Sterling K. Brown gets one passionate, teary-eyed scene at the opening of the film, and then he is gone. Veterans Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are sidelined almost entirely. And Kaluuya’s character might as well be mute with the amount of lines he has.
Not to mention that some of these characters have fairly important subplots. There is a romance between two characters that is introduced in the first act with one line, and then is brought back in the climax to serve as a pivotal turning point in said climax. Because these are supporting characters, there is no time to actually develop this relationship, so the decision made as a result does not feel earned.
These nit-picks about character aside, it is surprising how much character work this movie packs in, not only because it is a super hero movie, but also because there are so many characters. The cluttered nature of the cast does mean that characters and actors you like are going to fade in and out of focus, but each character has a clear and present motivation for their actions. What results from this is a political coup that is utterly compelling, because each character reacts to the coup in a different way.
What doesn’t work as well in Black Panther is the CG work in certain key instances, the pacing of certain late-film sequences, and the aforementioned character work in the supporting cast of characters.
The CG is a minor issue. There are fight sequences involving the Black Panther costume that don’t look quite right. There are also larger-scale shots involving groups of people in Wakanda, both in and out of fighting, that appear awkward.
For long stretches of this two-hour movie, the editing and plotting keep the tempo snappy. But there is a moment in the film where characters return to Wakanda, and another character shows up. From this point, plot points get repeated with a twist. The twist just isn’t enough to justify replaying the beats. With this pacing lag in the third act, the climax becomes more of a struggle to sit through than it otherwise would.
Black Panther is perhaps the most anticipated Marvel film since The Avengers, and the hype is not without its merit. Ryan Coogler stepped into the shoes of the other Marvel directors before him and succeeded in creating an impassioned film that can stand on its own. That said, the film keeps some of the bloat and pacing concerns that hamper the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Panther: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)