Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther (2018) Cover

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Black Panther is an excellent film that does a great job at growing the Marvel universe while at the same time delighting audiences with thrilling action. A lot of people are calling this the best film in the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU), however, while there is a lot of merit to this point of view, Black Panther has some important flaws.

First, I want to start by discussing all of the things that Black Panther does better than any other film in the genre. From the beginning, it introduces fantastical science-fiction elements on Earth in ways that evolve the MCU. While both Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy explored parts of the universe with spacecraft and aliens, Black Panther brings those elements to Earth, and then it promises to let them bleed out into all the other movies. The fictional country of Wakanda is referred to literally as the city of gold and represents an almost Atlantian society of super advanced technology and it is just exciting to see.

I wish I could see a hundred different stories set in Wakanda, it is just such a beautiful and atmospheric setting. In addition to this, Black Panther is a technical advancement as we see large-scale choreographed combat normally reserved for Avengers movies. Graphically, it feels more grounded and less cartoony than Thor: Ragnarok, but it embraces a beautiful sense of foreign culture. The way that Black Panther borrows much of its visual style from African culture, as well as its musical themes, adds something special. We also get to spend some time in South Korea, and we get a few moments in the UK, however, they aren’t really enough to expand the palette of the experience.

This leads to the representation Black Panther offers to an underserved audience. It’s undeniable that this is important, especially to children, and there is a massive gaping hole in the superhero genre’s representation of people of color. I’m not going to make the bold statement that Black Panther is the first of anything, I mean, we have had Blade, Men in Black, and Hancock; however, these heroes are few and far between. I wholeheartedly feel that this is a great step forward, and that we need to see much more represenation in our action adventure films.

If any of those elements are the most important part of a movie to you, then it makes absolute sense for you to feel that Black Panther is the best movie we have gotten. And it is absolutely fair that on all of those levels, this movie is firing on all cylinders. There’s another element that I think will frequently be cited as a major plus, and that is the villain: Erik Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger makes him sympathetic while also terrifying in his ferocity. He is like the Joker in how he shines a bright spotlight on the flaws and failings of Wakanda as a whole as well as the Black Panther directly, highlighting how they have failed not just their own people, but the world at large.

Simply put, he is the best Marvel villain put to film. Unfortunately, he is so good at exposing the flaws in the protagonists that they almost feel unlikeable. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Black Panther never directly confronts Killmonger on a philosophical level, and by only conflicting with him physically it causes his victory to feel hollow. He uses the things he learns about Killmonger to grow, but this growth feels like it’s tangential to the very real and direct ways that he’s failed. The resolution to the conflict is just so blunt and dismissive of the flaws that lead to the problems in the world, it’s almost obtuse.

After the last three movies in the franchise, it feels like a step backward in storytelling. Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Thor: Ragnarok all told stories that had meaningful resolutions that evolved not just their characters, but Marvel’s storytelling as a whole. Tragically, it feels like the writers of Black Panther felt that they were pushing so many boundaries visually and artistically, that they played it too safe with the storytelling. It’s also possible that the questions they’re asking just didn’t have good enough answers.

Either way, despite all of its technical and artistic steps forward, Black Panther ends up feeling like Marvel film from mid-2015. And, that’s not a bad thing, this is a fantastic movie. It’s definitely worth your time and is absolutely a must see for all fans of the genre. I just can’t call it the best movie in the MCU, but it doesn’t have to be.

Final Verdict:An excellent film that excells technically as well as evolves the entire MCU.
Rating:B+