Black Panther kicks off the back half of Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an impressive start.
Director Ryan Coogler has been known for successfully weaving social and cultural issues into his two previous films, especially Fruitvale Station. With Black Panther he’s able to not only deliver a solid superhero story but also take that message to a much broader level.
Let’s get the comic book stuff out of the way first. While there are sequences in this film that probably could have been shot better (guy in a black superhero suit fighting in dark areas make it hard to see what they’re doing) and one particular portion looked to have some painfully unfinished CGI work (“Let the challenge begin!”) the overall arc to this film is well done.
There are references to the previous Captain America movie, Civil War in which T’Challa’s father is killed and he assumes the mantle of king of Wakanda, but outside of that, Black Panther is a very self-contained film that could essentially pass as a one-shot if not for the end credit scene. (There are two end credit scenes in this film.)
In fact, aside from the brief end credit, there is no direct lead in to Avengers: Infinity War, the next film in Marvel’s slate of Phase Three films.
What makes Black Panther even more of a joy to watch are the trio of female supporting performances. Danai Gurira, Lupita N’yongo, and Letitia Wright all give fantastic performances that at times outshine Chadwick Boseman as the title character.
If there is one negative thing to note about Black Panther, it’s the villains.
Andy Serkis returns as Ulysses Klaue (pronounced Claw) and carries pretty much the first half of the film before we transition over to Michael B. Jordan‘s aptly named Erik Killmonger. While Serkis gives a good performance, Jordan’s Killmonger ends up being the true “bad guy “in the film… sort of.
True, he kills people with a deeply-seeded rage born from his childhood, but Coogler paints Killmonger as a militant looking to even the playing field for his race. Basically, his intentions are good but the methods he uses to achieve those means are what make him the opposite of T’Challa.
The beauty with Black Panther is that neither the hero nor the villain are truly that which they are labeled. T’Challa’s intentions are good but does he do more harm by following tradition? Killmonger seeks to even the playing field socially, economically, and culturally but are his methods just? Both characters live in a very interesting gray zone.
Black Panther has seen a phenomenal response in advanced ticket sales with the film looking to cash in north of $190 million during the President’s Day weekend. It’s one of the first films in recent memory in which large congregations and churches have rented out theaters to screen the film and hold discussions afterward.
Black Panther is a must-see in theaters and definitely worth a follow-up screening or two.