Black Panther Review: 9 Ups & 1 Down

Though Black Panther always seemed destined to score strong reviews from critics, did anyone really expect it to score this well?

At present, Ryan Coogler’s superhero epic is the best reviewed film in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and more often than not actually lives up to the immense hype that this implies.

While the film perhaps doesn’t quite reach the dizzying, novel heights of, say, 2012’s The Avengers, it’s certainly in the same ballpark, delivering the thrills and laughs audiences expect from the MCU, but shot through a distinctly different lens.

Much like last year’s Wonder Woman, it’s an easy film to root for, championing diversity and inclusion as it does, and the fact it’s genuinely great in its own right only makes it that much easier to like.

Between the film’s rave reviews and tracking suggesting it’s going to massively over-perform initial expectations at the box office, Hollywood desperately needs to take note. Black stories have a huge audience, and it’s about time we got more of them, especially at this price point…

Downs…

1. The Third Act Succumbs To CGI Overload

Black Panther Final Battle
Marvel Studios

As is a pretty common criticism of just about every $200 million superhero movie these days, Black Panther sure does overdo it a bit with the CGI nonsense in its third act.

Though plenty of the action remains thoroughly entertaining no matter what, the quality of the visual effects clearly begins to suffer with some of the more challenging images Ryan Coogler is attempting to realise on-screen later on.

The magnetic bullet-train battle between T’Challa and Erik Killmonger is especially troubled by unconvincing effects work: it’s abundantly clear we’re watching two animated renders fighting one another for much of the battle, which just feels totally unnecessary.

The other egregious CGI sequence is a spoiler so won’t be mentioned in specifics, but ultimately it doesn’t add a whole lot to the film, so again feels like a moment of superhero excess that the movie’s first 90 minutes mostly skirt clear of.

But with the movie’s single major issue dealt with, let’s dig into what makes Black Panther so damn great…

Ups

9. It’s Got The MCU’s Best World-Building To Date

Black Panther Poster
Marvel Studios

If you were worried that Black Panther would offer only a surface-deep exploration of Wakanda, fear not, because the African nation is given its full, firm due here, effectively becoming a character in of itself.

The script does a splendid job delving into the country’s tribal social structure, the benefits their technological advances grant them and how they choose to hide this from the rest of the world, and above all else, what it means to be Wakandan.

This wouldn’t amount to a whole lot without some fantastic visuals, though, and thanks to outstanding production design, visual effects and costume work, Wakanda truly feels like a living, breathing nation put on screen, rather than some fictional land cobbled together in a computer.

There’s a real sense of wonder and fascination that’s going to undeniably have fans desperate to see more in the inevitable sequels that will follow, not to mention Avengers: Infinity War.

8. Erik Killmonger Is A Surprisingly Excellent Villain

WKabi Black Panther
Marvel Studios

The marketing sadly didn’t do a great job selling Michael B. Jordan’s antagonist Erik Killmonger as anything more than another generic Marvel baddie who functions as a cliched mirror-image of the hero, but in reality, that’s not the case at all.

Though Jordan’s screen time is more scant than you might be expecting, the second half of the film in particular does a marvelous job digging into his past and providing some extremely compelling, plausible motivations for his actions.

Jordan’s physical intensity speaks for itself, helping create a righteously angry character who is far more ambiguous and sympathetic than you might initially expect.

While Killmonger doesn’t quite reach the deliciously entertaining heights of Loki’s cheeky villainy, he arguably does one better by becoming a more relatable and grounded baddie, if still misguided in his deeds.

7. It’s Funny…But Not Too Funny

Black Panther T Challa
Marvel Studios

A common criticism of MCU movies is that they’re often too funny for their own good, breathlessly vomiting quips and witty one-liners at the audience to the extent that it detracts from any palpable sense of tension.

Black Panther is no such movie, thankfully. Now, be clear, this is a devilishly funny film at times, but the tone is more akin to the Russo Brothers’ Captain America movies: it takes itself and its world seriously, but finds fun in smaller, more human character beats rather than the all-round zanier shenanigans of, say, Thor: Ragnarok.

The tone should satisfy those who complain about the MCU often prioritising laughs over dramatic stakes, but at the same time, there’s also a healthy doling-out of hilarious one-liners to ensure it’s anything but a self-serious, mirthless affair.

6. The Tight, Visually Dynamic Action Sequences

Black Panther Car Chase
Marvel Studios

Aside from the aforementioned CGI issues, Black Panther is packed with thrilling action sequences, most memorably the frantic South Korea car chase featured extensively in the film’s trailers.

Considering how brilliantly Ryan Coogler directed the fight sequences in Creed, it’s little surprise he keeps things visually diverse throughout, even when the fight in question might be nothing more than two men slugging each other with the most basic weaponry.

Elsewhere, he does fine work exploiting the more outlandish, futuristic tech possessed by the Wakandans, delivering gorgeous, over-the-top spectacle, which again confirms that auteur filmmakers can bring artistic flair to Marvel’s superhero movie conveyor-belt.

5. It’s Superbly Paced

Black Panther T Challa
Marvel Studios

Black Panther clocks in at 134 minutes, and that time absolutely races by. While a lot of MCU movies end up padding their run-times out with a few bloated scenes too many, Coogler has a fine handle on tempo and constantly switches-up between the riveting action sequences and the more compelling drama.

Nothing feels perfunctory or forgettable here: practically every beat moves the plot or characters on in a worthy way, but with the film having such a huge world to establish, it’s also impressive that it doesn’t feel remotely rushed.

More than anything, when you remember that most MCU movies feature almost 15 minutes of credits, you’ve basically got a tight, two-hour romp here with virtually no fat on its body.

4. The Fantastic Ensemble Cast

Black Panther Angela Bassett
Marvel Studios

This film has unquestionably one of the most celebrated casts of any MCU film to date, beginning with Chadwick Boseman, who continues to be a casting masterstroke for the mighty, conflicted King T’Challa.

Elsewhere, the clear stand-outs are Michael B. Jordan as the ferocious Erik Killmonger, Danai Gurira as T’Challa’s chief bodyguard Okoye and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister Shuri, while Andy Serkis hams it up for the cheap seats as secondary villain Ulysses Klaue, Lupita Nyong’o brings plenty of gravitas to T’Challa’s love interest Nakia, and Martin Freeman is hilariously incredulous as Everett Ross.

Also of surprising note is Winston Duke, who steals several scenes in the role of M’Baku, the leader of Wakanda’s mountain tribe. He’s in the movie for just a few minutes, but he gets some savage one-liners, and Duke knocks them out of the park.

3. It Fully Engages With Real-World History & Politics

Black Panther Ulyesses Klaue Erik Killmonger
Marvel Studios

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Black Panther is just how willfully it addresses the inequality that has been faced by black people since time began.

There are literally dozens of barbed lines about the history of “colonials” taking away what belongs to ancient black civilisation and appropriating it as their own, which in large part accounts for why Wakanda remains a hidden nation.

It doesn’t stop there, though, also firmly and bluntly addressing the continued ill treatment of black people in the present day. It may not be subtle, but sometimes subtlety isn’t needed, and if you look at the major racial issues prevalent in the U.S. alone today, this is clearly a case where a sledgehammer is the best weapon for the job.

That a $200 million superhero tentpole can broach such social issues and do it in a way that’s at once angry, hilarious and ultimately even quite sweet and affecting, is no easy feat. Bravo.

2. The Post-Credits Scene Is Awesome

Black Panther
Disney

No spoilers here of course, but no matter how badly your bladder might be ready to burst, you absolutely shouldn’t leave until you’ve seen Black Panther’s post-credits scene.

Following on from a fairly inconsequential – perhaps even disappointing – mid-credits scene, the post-credits tag delivers a fantastically crowd-pleasing surprise that makes an entertaining nod to an upcoming MCU film.

At once answering some questions and asking at least a few more, it’s a post-credits scene that really means something, and will no doubt leave fans chomping at the bit to see what’s served up next.

1. It Feels Totally Different To The Rest Of The MCU

Black Panther T Challa
Marvel Studios

Above all of this, Black Panther really does feel like a wildly different beast to anything else in the MCU. From the heightened look of the film to the intensity of the performances and the deep dive into a wholly unique culture, it’s absolutely not just another enjoyable yet forgettable MCU romp.

This is exactly the sort of movie the character deserved: it is a center-piece effort for the franchise overall, with there being nothing else remotely like it in the franchise.

If you were worried that the trailers were just presenting shiny window dressing and the final product would be a more reined-in, conventional superhero movie to appeal to mainstream white people, fear not. This feels like a “black movie”, if you like, in every sense, and hasn’t made any cynical compromises along the way.

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