Review: Ryan Coogler's 'Black Panther' Sets a New High-Bar in the MCU
by Jeremy Kirk
February 16, 2018
Meanwhile, back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Ryan Coogler is schooling everyone on how it's supposed to be done. The Oakland-born filmmaker made waves, huge waves, right out of the gate with his feature debut, Fruitvale Station (2013), and then again with the Rocky spin-off, Creed (2015). There's a natural apprehension anytime an up-and-coming filmmaker steps in to take on a blockbuster project, but Black Panther, Coogler's first endeavor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, defiantly puts any doubts to rest. The film successfully sets a new bar for not only comic book movies, but also action movies as a whole. Smart, stylish, and with a ton at work under the surface, Black Panther is an exhilarating addition to the MCU and one more indication that Coogler is a filmmaker worth taking note of.
Set directly following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther quickly drops us into the world of Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), heir to the throne of the African nation of Wakanda. The country, hidden away deep in the vast continent, is home to a precious metal, vibranium, which many will remember has a strong presence elsewhere in the MCU. Wakanda has vibranium in abundance and utilizes the alien metal to create a highly advanced civilization, but the people of the country, uneasy of the world outside their own borders, keep the metal and its possible uses to themselves. After T'Challa's father, King T'Chaka (John Kani), perishes during the events of Civil War, it is up to T'Challa to take his father's throne as well as his moniker of Black Panther, protector of the proud nation of Wakanda.
The world outside is growing aware of what T'Challa's country has to offer, though, and there are those who will stop at nothing to obtain the vibranium deposits for their own uses. Enter Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan, also seen in Creed), a forgotten son of Wakanda who believes himself to be the rightful ruler of the powerful nation. With the help of nefarious arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), Killmonger makes his presence and intentions known to the world, and it falls on T'Challa and the people of Wakanda to stop the villains from succeeding in their diabolical plot.
It's taken a number of years for a Black Panther film to come to fruition, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows the long history of the character even getting his own comic book line. Nonetheless, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, with whom Coogler co-wrote the screenplay, bring the character to cinematic life with an ease rarely seen with this type of film. More so than the Black Panther character, Coogler and Cole utilize the idea of Wakanda and its use of vibranium to create a fantastic and beautiful world. The nation is a highly advanced one, and the resulting technology and styles give the film a sci-fi edge over the other Earth-based films in the MCU.
Black Panther's suit, weapons, and gear are all vibranium-based, and the gadgets give the character more than a little spark of James Bond. It doesn't hurt that T'Challa is surrounded by strong and dangerous women: Letitia Wright as Shuri, T'Challa's younger sister and designer of his gadgets who shares more than a few similarities to James Bond's Q; Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, head of Wakanda's all-female special forces and private security; and Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, a spy for the nation who has a long and close history with T'Challa. The women in Black Panther are all impressively realized and suitably badass, one more indication of the film's advanced level of storytelling.
Black Panther is not all just impressive gadgets and kick ass characters, though. Coogler and Cole's desire to create something more than a standard, comic book movie comes to light in nearly every aspect of the film. The most remarkable of these is in the story of the antagonist, Killmonger. He is the primary antagonist of the film due to his butting of heads with T'Challa, the film's hero, but you would be hard-pressed to consider Killmonger an out-and-out villain. Coogler and Cole take the character's motivations and run with them, ultimately creating an antagonist with whom you not only understand and agree with, you begin to find yourself rooting for him.
It helps that the character is brought to life by an actor as gifted as Michael B. Jordan, who has collaborated with Coogler on all three of his films with outstanding results. Boseman is commendable as the film's titular hero, but Jordan steals every scene in which he finds himself, never going over the top but always in complete command of his presence. I would say Jordan steals the whole show were it not for the presence of Gurira and her security guard character of Okoye. She gives every last action sequence an added level of excitement, particularly a heart-stopping chase scene through Busan, South Korea that marks an impressive feat by everyone involved.
Add to the mix an outstanding soundtrack headed by Kendrick Lamar and Black Panther ends up being a remarkable accomplishment in modern-day filmmaking. Coogler has already been a talented filmmaker who impresses, but, with three works of art already under his belt, you would be hard-pressed to remember another director who came onto the scene this quickly with as much effortless talent as this. With the idea of isolationism and the prejudices of the modern world well in mind, Black Panther is not only an outstanding work in comic book filmmaking. It is an important film with undeniable messages well in hand. Like the nation of Wakanda itself, Black Panther is working on a whole new level and marks a new standard when it comes to Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thanks for the review. I am super pumped. And the soundtrack is amazing!!~
DAVIDPD on Feb 17, 2018
Lives up to the hype. Culturally significant and wonderfully acted. My only complaint is the difficult to follow action scenes. Much of them were poorly lit and almost incoherent. Other than that it's a must see.
Jon Odishaw on Feb 17, 2018
*Mild Spoilers Ahead* Saw it Thursday night and enjoyed it. It's not one of the "top" Marvel films for me, but is a very fun ride full of tension (some a bit cliched) and positive messages. Honestly it didn't feel too much like a comic book film...it was more of a political thriller (much like Winter Soldier in that regard). It was very much a family "war" movie...almost mafia-like. The thing most disappointing for me was it seemed to lack a lot of connective tissue to the MCU. It obviously is in the MCU, and we all know who Black Panther is, but it seemed like they went out of their way to not mention Ultron, or Sokovia, (they spend a lot of time talking about Klaue's theft of Vibranium, but then never mention it's ultimate end in producing Ultron or the destruction of a nation state in Europe), or anything about what T'Challa's character learned in Civil War about revenge (they don't really even mention Civil War other than a flashback of his Father in the Sokovia Accords explosion or a random TV screen with a news item about it). That lack of connection to other MCU events (at one point a friend turned to me and said "they aren't even *mentioning* Sokovia here?") seemed to weaken the overall impact of the movie for me. As important as T'Challa was in Civil War, they didn't seem to leverage anything from that movie to further the MCU "lore" or his character for that matter. Perhaps we're to "infer" his actions are in part based on events of Civil War...maybe in deleted scenes! Effects...amazing. Will not disappoint...although I will say if you are one of those people that watches all trailers and tv spots, reset your expectations because you've seen the money shots (WHY!?). Locations, acting, etc. were great and Bozeman once again was fantastic, although I don't think his character moved the needle very much. I kind of got the sense that his final actions/decisions of the movie were the same he would have come to anyway even if none of the movie happened (maybe in part because of Civil War events?). MBJ's portrayal of Killmonger was incredibly good...and you really rooted for him to go down. I think his star in Hollywood will continue to rise. And T'Challa's sister Shuri (Wright) was my favorite character in the movie (probably will be a common sentiment). Andy Serkis was underused. Martin Freeman was funny and I liked his arc in the movie as well. Overall a fun film, but left me wanting more MCU stuff...this close to Infinity War I was hoping for some real groundwork to be laid...a few items to really get the anticipation up and tighten the throat a bit for the impending conflict. Unfortunately, there's none of that. Sadly, I think you could *not* watch Black Panther and it would have very little impact on your enjoyment of Infinity War. I don't think there was anything revealed or setup that we don't already know. The only caveat to that statement would be the two after credits scenes. They are both good (no Howard the Duck nonsense that doesn't progress the story line). The first one is likely a partial setup for Wakanda's "role", as far as the global community is concerned, in Infinity War (so a little groundwork there). The second is the most MCU thing in the movie and does progress the MCU lore ever-so-slightly forward. Unfortunately it's at the end of 14 minutes of credits and only lasts a few moments (and makes you say "good grief, about time"!)
BigNate BoxOfficer on Feb 17, 2018
Thor was similar in their films
Kapow1234 on Feb 18, 2018
In what way similar do you refer? Not trying to be a jerk, just don't know to which point I made you are comparing Thor.
BigNate BoxOfficer on Feb 18, 2018
If I may interpret .. the difference between Thor on Earth , where he falls in love and learns some humanity / nobleness of purpose . Vs the Thor on Asgard who is supposed to be taking over for Odin , and isn't ready .
Dominic on Feb 27, 2018
Yep I could've used more of the connecting tissue you pointed, in a way it helped more that it didn't connect than if it did. The film stood on it's own, that's what it needed. x Is it bad I loved T'Challa more in Civil War than his own movie lol? I think the tone in Civil War called for a different feeling of him, but seeing him under his own light was refreshing but he wasn't that standout character.
Brandon Cole on Feb 21, 2018
Never ceases to amaze me how you reviewers continue to cherry pick your movies. I am not saying Black Panther was bad, mind you. I really liked it. Another great Marvel outing. But it had its share of plot and cgi problems and WTF moments just like every superhero movie. But, because it’s the “first black superhero movie” (which it’s not even) and more importantly, has a hidden agenda that goes against the grain, it will be endlessly praised and all faults completely forgiven. Meanwhile you will want the rest of us to feel foolish for seeing movies you don’t approve of. Which we won’t. Not least of which because the opinions of movie reviewers rank right up there with astrology. Still, I look forward to more of T’Challa. I figure he and Dr Strange will spearhead the Avengers when Cap and Stark are gone.
Jimmy Hauser on Feb 17, 2018
LOL so what's this supposed " hidden agenda that goes against the grain " ?? Don't hide it yourself , or talk in code . Speak the F up , if you've got some nutty conspiracy theory ... And NOBODY here tells you to feel foolish for supporting ANY movie . That's you , speaking like your delusions are fact ... That being said , critics are often wrong , but only because they judge movies more seriously , and more TECHNICALLY , than the avg. filmgoer .Some just want to be entertained . But a critic holds movies to a higher standard . if you feel foolish for going against a critic's beliefs , that's YOUR problem not his ....
Dominic on Feb 27, 2018
Just got back from seeing the film. I really liked it, solid A in my book. The audience seemed to really like it too, and shouted little things out here and there. The celebration of black women presented as both beautiful and formidable stuck me as very appealing, and the audience seemed to react the same way. Chadwick to me is completely underrated in this role, people are talking way too much about every performance other than his. They were all great, but his humanity really was the glue that holds the whole thing together. Overall really loved it, and I'm proud to live in a time where a movie event like this is possible.
Mark on Feb 19, 2018
My favorite movie of all time. I like to watch it using my boxxy software and found more and more movies like this. I’am happy because I have access to all movies ever made
Andre Alonso on Aug 4, 2018
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