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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

 

Here we are, nearly 10 years after the release of Iron Man, and 18 films deep into one of the greatest TV shows ever made: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Up until this point, Marvel Studios has done an admirable job of keeping the quality of these films high, but most importantly, they’ve managed to keep these movies from feeling too similar to one another. Just when you start to feel like you have these Marvel movies down, they throw you another curveball like Black Panther, and on the heels of the extremely goofy Thor: Ragnarok, it’s about as different as you can get.

Black Panther picks up one week after the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa’s father T’Chaka has only just been killed, and the prince of Wakanda now has to take the throne of the technologically-advanced, isolationist country. But, of course, things are never this easy. While Wakanda is incredibly progressive and advanced, not everyone agrees with the direction things are going. Some think they are moving too quickly to merge with the rest of the world, and some don’t think they’re moving nearly fast enough — especially when neighboring countries of Africa live in poverty. Now, with the new king wet behind the ears, and the country in a transitional period, it’s the perfect time to upheave things.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I’ve discussed many a time just how important a film like Black Panther is. Never in the history of film has a non-white cast been given so much money to work with. Therefore, for the first time, we’re getting another perspective on what a big-budget film could be. Though while it is important from a progressive standpoint, when all said and done, what really counts is whether or not the film stands on its own merits. As such, I’ll be judging the film solely on that aspect going forward.

Now let’s dive into it with that in mind.

So how does Black Panther hold up as a narrative, and how does it hold up in the grand scheme of things in the MCU as a whole? I’ll start by saying this: While I’m not sure this one would crack the top five of my favorite Marvel Cinematic, it’s definitely up in that range, and upon repeated viewings, it may inch its way even closer to the top.

Let’s start with the characters. We got a taste of T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, and in Black Panther, they really take what is great about him in that film and build on it for this one. T’Challa is smart, kind, charismatic, and above all else, badass. We’re thrown into his plight as audience members from the get-go, allowing us to fully empathize with his loss, the mammoth task ahead of him, and struggles he faces. Actor Chadwick Boseman continues to fully embody the character, and with the tons of extra screen time given, is able to make a fully realized vision of the king of Wakanda. While I could understand some finding his character a bit boring — especially when compared to the colorful supporting cast — he’s everything you’d ever want or expect from Black Panther himself.

And speaking of supporting cast, perhaps more than any other MCU film to date, Black Panther also has a huge number of supporting cast members. There’s no less than 10 important characters that surround T’Challa in this flick, and I’m not talking about characters with little one-off moments, but characters with opinions, motivations, goals, and actual arcs of their own. Many of these characters would actually be intriguing leads of films of their own, and the movie is all the stronger for it. Never before has a world or cast of characters felt so well-rounded in one of these films, as Marvel is usually incredibly lead-centric in their movies, and it makes me all the more excited to dive back into Wakanda in the future.

Some of the highlights for me include T’Challa’s sister Shuri, the Jabari Tribe leader M’Baku, and the main villain of the film, Killmonger.

Yes, it’s time to talk about the villain. Marvel Studios gets a bad rap for their villains. With films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World having such embarrassing antagonists like Ronan the Accuser and Malekith the Accursed, it became en vogue to bag on these so-called obstacles to our heroes. However, during the entirety of Phase 3, the studio has made great strides in their villains, making them more sympathetic and entertaining. For me, it goes without saying that Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is Phase 3’s greatest villain.

Like Baron Zemo before him, you really understand where Killmonger is coming from, and in some respects, you may even agree with his motives. However, in addition to being sympathetic, he’s intelligent, entertaining to watch, and altogether terrifying as a baddie. While Loki may still take the cake as the MCU’s best villain, Killmonger is in a close second for me.

Let’s move on to the world of Wakanda. Marvel Studios has had to make other worlds in the past — films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor had to create whole other planets. However, never before have they really had to create another entire civilization on Earth, and here they succeed. Going into this, I worried that they’d rush through all the world-building aspects just to get to the action, but that was never the case. They really allow audiences to let the culture and technology of Wakanda sink in, and while that’s great from a world-building standpoint, may have even been to the film’s slight detriment, at least for me.

It’s here where I’ll get into the film’s biggest weakness…it’s a bit of a slow burn. Yes, there are action set pieces near the beginning, and yes, the plot moves forward at a reasonable pace, but it really took me a while to really sink my teeth into what was going on. It wasn’t until maybe one-third or halfway through the film that I really started to get invested in what was going on. Throughout the first half, I found myself going, “Okay, where is this going?” Now, it’s possible that this is more of an indicator of my short-ass attention span, but I’ll get into why I think that may not be the case in a bit.

But first let’s talk about the flipside to this weakness. In taking the time it needs to build the world, it really allows itself to lay the groundwork for the more political aspects of the story. More than any other Marvel Studios film before it, Black Panther is super political. It spends the first half the film setting up a lot of great things that pay off later, and while those scenes may have felt like a bit of a chore early on, I can’t deny their overall importance to the complex and political landscape of Wakanda. In setting the foundation, they really let things build, and the end result is a second half of the film that doesn’t let up, and feels incredibly earned and rewarding from an audience perspective.

With that in mind, how do I still consider its slower pacing upfront a weakness? Here’s my theory. Because I found many of aspects of it to be absolutely necessary to the story, I was adamant about figuring out what parts didn’t grab my interest. After looking it over, I think it lied in the action. There are a good number of set pieces in this film — don’t worry. While it is political, it is still a Marvel film, so there are plenty of explosions to go around. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of how these scenes were done. Unlike the final action set pieces in the film, I wasn’t as emotionally invested in these scenes from the first half, and as a result, the need for these scenes to be well-crafted was all the more important to hold my interest.

Now, they weren’t bad — not by any stretch of the imagination. They were hard-hitting and well-choreographed, but I had a difficult time following them. Like The Bourne Supremacy, they utilized a lot of quick pans and shaky-cam stuff, which is never my favorite. Plus, a lot of the “whys” behind the fight scenes early on weren’t really enough to engage me on an emotional level. Near the end, that approach didn’t bother me as much, as I was emotionally invested in the political struggles that had been laid out, but early on, when I’m still trying to get a grasp of who these characters are and what the stakes are, it didn’t hold up. The result was a first half that felt a bit wanting.

But, I’m really nitpicking here. When all said and done, Black Panther is still an excellent film, and a worthy entry in the MCU canon. I honestly have a hard time believing anyone would dislike this movie, and feel like it’s just a matter of how much someone will like it. Based on your own personal tastes, your mileage may vary, but I think this is one of the strongest entries to date, and will be throwing down my hard-earned cash to see it again this weekend.

Grade: B+

Are you excited to see Black Panther in theaters? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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  • SeanDon

    I’ll be seeing it next weekend, and I have a feeling I’ll be walking away with a similar rating (although mine might be due to regular humans doing physically impossible stunts during fight scenes). I’ll then hear about how it’s the greatest super hero movie ever (step aside Wonder Woman) and getting scoffs from people when I attempt to bring up any flaw I had with the movie. At least that was my experience with Wonder Woman, a good movie that was made out to be flawless.

    • Moby85

      What scares me in Jammer’s review is quick-cut, shaky cam action. I hate that style.

      • SeanDon

        So do I. Shaky cam is one thing, it’s another when it’s so close you can’t even make out characters, just blurs of colors. I also wonder how realistic the fights will be; the clip of him jumping off the car, running along the side of a building then jumping back on a car had me a little unimpressed.

  • Moby85

    Really well-done review Jammer you put some good insight into this. When you say the movie is slow burn due to it being very “political” does that mean political drama in the film, or are you meaning 4th wall breaking social commentary on the real world political?

    • SeanDon

      I’ve heard a good amount of 4th wall breaking social commentary occurs, but whether that’s true or people saw more than was there to support some article topic I’m unsure.

      • Moby85

        My problem with the social commentary is that it removes me from the immersion of the film. That’s a big strike against a film for me. I’m not hypocritical in that I dislike when a film virtue signals for something I agree with as well. I go to movies to escape the real world’s issues, not be reminded of them.

        • SeanDon

          To me it just depends how much it’s banged over your head or whether cheesy lines that don’t fit the tone are added simply for commentary.

    • Joseph Jammer Medina

      I appreciate it. I’d say it has both political drama and social commentary. That being said, I never felt like the commentary was shoving it down my throat and telling me what to think. It was all in service of the characters and their motivations. But that just may be me. I can see it potentially turning off some viewers who like zero social commentary in their films.

      • SeanDon

        That’s good to hear. Movies with political undertones or character based motivations don’t bother me in the slightest. If there’s a line like “What kind of a country builds a wall, and doesn’t welcome outsiders?!?” then I may kinda roll my eyes, otherwise, meh.

        Before I saw it I saw everyone talking about Get Out’s commentary on racial issues today and I thought that while there (especially if you focus on it) it didn’t drive the movie, or take you out of it. Expect something similar here.

        • SC Polt

          Are there any lines like: “That’s how we’re gonna win, not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love”?

          • Suprememayo

            That line killed the entire movie.

          • SC Polt

            The movie was already dead, but then Rose beat it again by trying to stop Finn from killing himself and saving the Resistance….by running her ship into his which almost assuredly should’ve killed him. HISHE nails this perfectly, btw.

  • So basically the only thing wrong with this movie is that it’s too sophisticated to satisfy your need for explosions every minute, and you think that’s the movie’s problem, not yours.

    • Joseph Jammer Medina

      I fully acknowledge that it could be a me problem. That’s why I got to great lengths to tell you where I’m coming from. My goal here isn’t to tell you what you should think about the movie, but to tell you what I think and where I’m coming from. If you fancy yourself a more sophisticated viewer, then feel free to ignore that aspect of the review, as it may not apply to you.

    • Ryan Johnson

      Don’t come here expecting good taste. Jammer loved Justice League and BVS.

      • Joseph Jammer Medina

        I LIKED Justice League and loved THE ULTIMATE CUT of BvS. Get your facts straight, yo! 😉 That being said, I’ve never once claimed to be an arbiter of good taste.

      • Food4Thought

        Had he began with that I’d totally understand his wishy washy review.

    • Food4Thought

      Exactly.

      • Joseph Jammer Medina

        Or maybe the stuff mentioned was enough to lower it from an A to a B+. At least for me.

        • Food4Thought

          Keep telling yourself that Bub

          • Joseph Jammer Medina

            Given the anger behind your comment, you’d think I gave the film a D.

    • axebox

      Actually, Medina’s criticisms were in the pacing, exposition and lack of character pathos.

  • Napa

    Guys this is a really good movie but the review is correct In that it is a good movie where some will love it more than others. I personally loved it and along with winter soldier are the only mcu films where the movie was still on my mind 2 days later. Can’t wait to see it again. It definitely has some issues but the good so outweighs the bad.

  • Victor Roa

    sounds cool. I’m kinda sitting here listening to the soundtrack have no real idea if the film is good or not. I’m eager to see it, but like how you handled the review.

  • Mad Barchetta

    I feel like my response to this is going to be a big call-back to my response to the Netflix Shows in Trouble article.

    Just got back from seeing it. This for me was a really good movie with a lot of emotional resonance and thought behind it. Easily one of the most intelligent MCU films, challenging the second two Captain America films in terms of depth. There’s so much going on.

    When I started to hear all these hyperbolic reviewer quotes about “never seen anything like it” and “miletsone”, I started to worry that the hype was starting to overreach, just as with Wonder Woman. I really enjoyed WW. WW wishes it was Black Panther. BP is much closer to matching the hyperbole. That being said…I still am not thinking Oscar nominations. Which is fine. I hate most of the arty shit that wins Oscars anyway.

    Black Panther was never a character I had been interested in during my comics days, and I realize now that much of that might have been a lack of knowledge about the character. However Boseman’s portayal for me is just so spot on, with his charisma, quiet strength, and confidence. He is easily as perfect a casting choice as RDJ, Evans and Hemsworth. I don’t know how Marvel does it, but folks in Casting need a raise. And I completely agree with Medina about the cast. There really are NO throwaway characters in this movie. (Excluding obligatory Stan Lee cameo) And Killmonger is probably the most sympathetic (mostly) villain in the MCU.

    Now…the callback portion. Here I am again, saying that the pacing, if comparatively slow, was no problem for me. Just as I am cool with 13 episodes because I like to savor my viewing experience, I was quite fine with the leisurely pace at the beginning. It really helped us to understand Wakanda and to build some sense of affection for these characters. I think the third act is much more resonant for the time spent.

    And, the other part of the callback…Ok, I will also agree that for this film, I think some of the action scenes did get a bit too shaky and would have benefited from pulling back and being steady. For me, probably my favorite example of fight choreography in the MCU was CA:TWS. When I think back to that movie, I still believe it is the most perfect example of how to show Cap as a complete badass, and I remember that the cameras were steady, tended to be wider and allowed us to see exactly what was happening and to really FEEL the hits. To me, that’s how you do action and it seems a lot of directors don’t seem to get that. Maybe close up and shaky is used to hide sloppy fights, or maybe they just don’t get it. Dunno. (Kozlowski will correct me, if I’m wrong here. I’ve admitted to my lack of knowledge on this topic.)

    So, I came away thinking this movie was damn good, well worth the time, and continues Marvel’s current streak of stepping up their game. It’s quite deserving of all the praise.

  • Danny B

    A solid, entertaining and visually beautiful entry into the Marvel catalog. However i did a few parts left me scratching my head – Really! that much tech advancement and the rest of the planet didn’t know? Not even Ultron when he went everywhere… And just how quickly the rival tribes in this ‘paradise’ started killing each other…..

  • Just watched it. I think this is a fair rating. Very good film…just not as good as critics are saying…but still excellent. Enjoy as always!

    Can’t wait for April!!! 😊

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.