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Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is a episode 5 of my video blog, Go Game, Young Man. Today I am going to review Black Panther, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
No spoilers! Well, there will be some minor spoilers. If you want to know absolutely nothing about the film, stop the video now.
Black Panther LOOKS every bit as good as the trailers. Better, actually. Costuming, sets, cinematography...they all pop. The “nation” of Wakanda itself is interesting, a mix of a futuristic city (that is, essentially, the entire nation) mixed with tribal farmlands that protect the illusion that Wakanda is a third-world country. This gives the director, Ryan Coogler, all kinds of things to play with, especially in the final battle which looks like something out of a Tarzan movie mixed with a battle scene from Star Wars. It’s a heady concoction that really works and gives Black Panther a very distinct aesthetic in the Marvel universe.
Unfortunately, underneath all the glitz there isn’t much of a movie. The plot boils down to a documentary of an election campaign...a campaign for kingship and settled not by votes but by ritual combat. And it’s very difficult to root for either candidate: one is an ultra-isolationist and the other is a radical revolutionary. Neither is particularly sympathetic.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, comes across especially poorly, which is unfortunate since he is the titular Black Panther and hero of the story. Boseman can’t quite escape the cardboard cutout that is his character.
Michael B. Jordan fares much better as radical revolutionary, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. He chews scenery like most Marvel villains, but, also like most Marvel villains, his entire story arc is a plot to take over the world.
In one of the film’s trailers, T’Challa says, “What happens here determines what happens in the rest of the world.” I’m pretty sure they cut that line from the movie, which is good. I suppose you can argue that Killmonger’s plan would have changed the world, but his entire plan is based on a pipe dream. Both T’Challa and Killmonger are constrained by the plot’s attempt to play at identity politics. But its politics are heavy-handed, and overly broad. Everything in the movie is based on an assumption that every black person in the world is oppressed, except for the Wakandans...
Suspending disbelief for futuristic flying ships that work on thought, or hovercraft Land Rovers, or energy bazooka spears is one thing. Suspending disbelief to buy into the fact the world is a caricature of reality isn’t as easy. Not that I disliked the caricature, I just found it lazy and rather bland. That is, ultimately, the problem with Black Panther. Underneath the visual sizzle, it’s just very bland. Again, we’re essentially watching a documentary on an election-year campaign. It’s kind of hard to make that very exciting.
And, those “elections” happen by ritual combat. And combat is another thing Ryan Coogler does not do well. The fights have way too many jump cuts. Cuts that are so jarring, the fight scenes are almost enough to nauseate you. They’re just...really bad. The lone exception is the final battle scene, which, as I said earlier, looks like a cross between Tarzan and Star Wars. There’s enough...cool stuff happening there (yes, mostly CGI) to outweigh the choppiness of the editing. I really enjoyed that scene, I wanted to close my eyes during most of the rest of the action sequences.
On the plus side, our two uninteresting male leads are counterbalanced by, perhaps, the best trio of ladies in any superhero film. Maybe any film. Nakia, a Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend; Okoye, general of the Dora Milaje, personal bodyguards of the Wakandan king; and, Shuri, T’Challa’s little sister and inventor/doctor/technician extraordinaire are all brilliant characters.
As my wife and daughter said, Black Panther is a movie with girl power. And it is. But it’s not shoved in our faces. It’s just a fact. Those three women are powerful (not super-powerful, but powerful), good at what they do, and willing to do it. The fact they’re women isn’t an issue.
Danai Gurira’s Okoye is, by far, my favorite character in this film and easily top five in the entire MCU. She’s fierce and fiercely loyal to the Wakandan throne. There is a scene in the final battle that steals all of the Panther’s thunder. It’s brief. It’s powerful. And Gurira’s acting is superb. You’ll know it when you see it. Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s “Q” is everyone’s favorite kid sister. She’s brilliant and energetic and just seems to be having a whole lot of fun. She’s basically Tony Stark without the alcoholism or grumpiness. I hope she gets to put him in his place some day. Make this happen, Marvel. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is a bit more restrained than Okoye or Shuri, but is still presented as competent and caring. She is the early driving force behind T’Challa’s journey in the film, and can handle her own in a fight, when necessary.
Winston Duke’s M’Baku provides a bit of comic relief, but also a credible threat. You want to laugh at his jokes, but you’re afraid he might beat you up. Duke pulls off his one-liners and threats with equal versatility. Martin Freeman had a larger part than I expected, and I think we’ll be seeing more of him in the overall MCU. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker were fine, though their parts are small. Andy Serkis steals every scene he’s in as Klaue. He doesn’t just chew scenery, he giggles as he does it...you just kind of want to like him, even though he is overtly evil.
Marvel has got a formula. And it works so well, they’ve begun to give filmmakers more leeway and their continued financial success--which, in case you’ve missed the news, Black Panther is a massive success--gives them the opportunity to try something different. Black Panther is...something different. It brings a freshness and vibrancy that keeps the formula from getting stale.
I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of Black Panther in future MCU films. I’m hoping we get to see more of Okoye and Shuri, those two would make any film they’re in better. Black Panther is definitely worth a look, in the theater. Trust me, you need to see Wakanda and that final battle on the big screen.
Thanks for listening. Be sure to hit that Like button and the Subscribe button below. Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, links in the video description. Next week...I haven’t decided the topic yet, but until then, go game, young man.