Let me start out this review by saying, I am not judging it by the cultural impact it has. I am judging it by its quality as a film. A film can be culturally important, and still, have issues as a film. So any flaws I point out in Black Panther is not an indictment of how important it is, but just a critique of it as a movie.
I very much enjoyed Black Panther. It is yet another fun Marvel movie. I will give it credit for spending more time developing its villain than most Marvel movies do. Most Marvel Villians get too little development. Their motives are unclear, and some have little to no weight in the movie. But Killmonger had clear and understandable motives. It takes a little while to get there, but they at least build up to it. Maybe his skill set is a bit too similar to Black Panther. I mean in almost ever Origin movie, the hero just fights an evil version of themselves. Iron Man fought a dude in a mech suit. Dr. Strange went up against a magic user, Ant-Man went up against someone in the same suit, and Black Panther went up against a warrior, with the same powers, in the same suit. But again, the difference this time is they go more into the backstory of why he is this way. We can emphasize with Killmonger. I didn’t care about Obadiah Stane’s goals in Iron Man. I cared nothing about Ronan’s anger in Guardians of the Galaxy because we didn’t really learn why he hated Xandarr, other than for very vague explanations. But Killmonger got a full backstory and development, so he worked so much better than most Marvel villains.
Like in most Marvel movies, it had a great soundtrack that fit the film perfectly.
Wakanda looked great. They put effort into making this fictional advanced nation, and it showed. Maybe they leaned on the crutch that is Vibranium too much. I can understand the technological advancement, but they never really explained how the nation can keep everyone feed, with clean water, despite no trade. But this is such a small issue so I won’t knock the movie too much. Overall, the effort put into creating Wakanda, with their technology and culture, was impressive.
It did approach some interesting concepts. Does Wakanda have the responsibility to help the world? Wakanda became this advanced because they are sitting on an extremely large supply of Vibranium. They horde the Vibranium, and hide from the world. Some characters think Wakanda has to help the world, others think they need to protect themselves. Both sides make good points. The Villian himself thinks Wakanda has a duty to help, but his way of helping is to wage war on those in power throughout the world. T’Challa struggles with this throughout the movie. He has his duty to protect the people of Wakanda, but the moral side of him does want to help people.
The acting was good, with no weak links I noticed. Lupita Nyong’o, as expected, is the standout. Lupita continues to prove she is one of the best actresses. Whether she is in blockbusters like Black Panther or The Last Jedi, or a more artistic movie like 12 Years a Slave, she is constantly the standout performer. Chadwick Boseman was great as well. Andy Serkis as always is a joy to watch. They put together an All-Star cast, so it should be no surprise to anyone that the performances were great from the main characters to the villains, and to the supporting characters.
More than ever, it felt like the supporting characters were important to the film. Lupita’s Nakia was not just the romantic interest, but an integral part of the story, and a capable warrior herself. Black Panther would have failed without her. Too often in Superhero movies, the romantic interest only serves to be a damsel in distress. Hell in all three Iron Man’s, he had to save Pepper Potts. Spider-Man had to save Liz Allen, and she really had no role in the movie other than being Peter’s romantic interest. But Nakia is front and center. As are all the other supporting characters. Black Panther’s three most important allies are women in fact, which is refreshing. Danai Gurira’s character Okoyo was just as capable of a fighter as T’Challa. And they do not just say it but show it. Letitia Wright’s character Shuri is entertaining, and the smartest character on screen. This movie takes your Bechdel test and knocks it out of the park. Strong, powerful, and smart female characters are showcased in the movie as equals to the title character.
When they brought Martin’ Freeman’s Everet Ross back to Wakanda, I was concerned he was just going to be in the background and be forgotten, but he as well served a purpose. Not only to provide moments of humor, but also his character was able to use his skills to help the story. Every character had something to do, and they accomplished this without taking time away from Black Panther himself. Hopefully, it will start a trend of background characters in all Marvel movies being help up. Too many times the villains and supporting characters fall to the side because they are too busy propping up the hero.
But it has its flaws. Some are problems every Marvel movie has. For example, the generic plot. If you have seen a movie before, you can see the way the plot is unraveling. Now being predictable isn’t always a bad thing, but the movie is being credited as being super original when it isn’t that different than other Marvels movies.
Also, like many Marvel movies, the cinematography was standard and safe. There was nothing wrong with it, but also very little special. There were only a few instances where the camera work was anything other than the standard cut back and forth style camera work. It is what Marvel wants. Marvel doesn’t want exceptional, they want standard. So this is less a criticism of the movie, and more just a statement on how Marvel Movie studios operate. They have carefully curated a formula for making their cinematic universe, and very rarely do they stray from that.
There were multiple times where the CGI looked fake. Which is surprising because Marvel usually knocks the CGI aspect out of the park. There are two scenes in particular where this was the case. In the car chase in Korea, when he flips over the SUV, and during the fight in the Vibranium Mine on the train tracks. In the former example, it looked bad in the trailer, and they never fixed it. The latter example was not shown in the trailer, but it stuck out to me while watching it. The rest of the CGI seemed fine, it was only a problem when they had to use CGI to make Black Panther do ridiculous acrobatics. Not exactly sure what went wrong, and it is not a huge issue, but it is more than fair to point out without flawless the CGI has been in other Marvel movies.
Also, I found it frustrating how they disneyfied the violence. People had their throats slit, were stabbed with spears, etc, yet no blood. Now I understand why there was no blood. Disney wants kids to be able to see their movies. But why even have the throat slit then? If they want to make the movie accessible to children, fine, but don’t try to have your cake and eat it too. Maybe it is just me, but seeing the throat slit, and yet no blood, just killed the immersion for me.
Also, as a side note, the “What are Those?” joke was awful. It was forced, unnecessary, and just so cringeworthy. References are not jokes. Simply saying “What are those?” and referencing the unfunny vine, is not making a joke.
Overall though, it is one of the better Marvel movies. If you like other MCU Films, you will love this. Despite the flaws I pointed out, I still very much enjoyed it. I do not know where I would rank it but is probably near the top 5, if not in the top 5. I have seen most of the other Marvel films more times, so I will need to wait to see Black Panther again to really know where it ranks, but it is near the top at least. Black Panther is as good as it can be, without straying from the formula and standard Marvel Studios has created. I do not think we will ever see a masterpiece in the MCU, they just do not give filmmakers enough wiggle room to make a masterpiece.
I understand why many people love it, it is very important from a cultural standpoint. But as a film, it is not Marvel’s best. Many of the effects look fake, and I hate how it panders for the pg 13 rating. But, I do still enjoy it, and of all the Marvel movies it has done the best job of handling its female characters.