Review - Black Panther

Black Panther (2018), PG-13, 2h 14min - Until recently, I had very little working knowledge of Black Panther's comic book history.  I have always been aware of the character, but was not familiar with his non-Avengers exploits.  Considering his fifty two year history (created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), I have still only scratched the surface.  However, the material that I read leading up to this film's release is highly regarded - Christopher Priest's run from the late '90s and the beginning of Ta-Nahesi Coates' current run on the title (review to come) - both heavily influencing what we see on the big screen.  Despite my prior lack of familiarity with T'Challa's history, this film recently topped my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 list and it didn't disappoint!

We were first introduced to T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, when we learned the basics of the character: he is the King of a fictitious, technologically advanced, African nation called Wakanda and he also bears the mantle of Black Panther, the nation's protector.  In this, his first solo film, we witness not only great development for T'Challa himself, but for the entire Wakandan nation, from their customs and traditions to their own political turmoil. 

Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther takes place shortly after the events of Civil War, and sees T'Challa returning to Wakanda to officially take his place as King following his father T'Chaka's death.  After an opening scene that flashes back to early '90s Oakland, California with T'Chaka (John Kani) visiting his brother N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) - a nice set up for things to come - we see T'Challa arrive in present-day Wakanda where we're quickly introduced to T'Challa's mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Captain of the Dora Milaje, the King's personal security detail, and Zuri (Forest Whitaker), T'Chaka's most trusted adviser.  In Wakanda, ascension to the crown isn't a simple case of succession.  When a King passes, each tribal faction within Wakanda has the opportunity to make a claim to the throne through ritual combat, which can only end in either submission or death.  After successfully fighting off the challenge from M'Baku (Winston Duke) of the exiled Jabari tribe, T'Challa takes his rightful place as King of Wakanda.

The first thing that T'Challa faces as King is the apprehension of long time Wakandan enemy of the state Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), after he steals an ancient Vibranium-laced Wakandan artifact from a European museum.  Vibranium is a rare, vibration negating metal that is Wakanda's primary resource and the basis for the majority of their technological advances (it also happens to be what Captain America's shield is made of).  T'Challa takes Okoye and Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) - love interest and another of the Dora Milaje - to South Korea to apprehend Klaue.  In doing so, they cross paths with U.S. CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), whom T'Challa knows from the events of Civil War.  Despite disagreeing on who would take Klaue into custody, they are able to apprehend him.  That is until Klaue's accomplice in the heist, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) breaks him out.  Unknown to Klaue, Killmonger has deep ties to Wakanda and a differing agenda, which leads to the meat of this film's plot. 

The cast is wonderful, with Boseman and Jordan leading the way.  Jordan's Killmonger is easily one of the best villains that we've seen in the MCU to date.  Another important character that I have neglected to mention before now is W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), T'Challa's confidant, Okoye's lover, a farmer, and head of security for the Border Tribe, Wakanda's first line of defense. Despite the large number of characters, Coogler gives each their own voice and their own time to shine, and he navigates their complex relationships - both personal and political - masterfully.  Black Panther has always been political in nature, as one would expect from a character who doubles as the King of a nation.  While the film definitely has some political notes to it, they are handled well and never overshadow the fun and excitement of the story being told.   

I haven't had a chance to give it a second viewing yet so I'm not ready to solidify a rank compared to the other films of the MCU (can you believe that this was the eighteenth!?) but I can safely say that I really, really enjoyed it and it will likely land near the top of my personal MCU favorites.  Black Panther has already broken all sorts of box office records, and it is already Marvel's highest grossing film over its initial week of release, which is pretty spectacular.  If you're looking for a fun, action packed film with a lot of heart, do yourself a favor and give Black Panther a watch (although based off of box office numbers, you probably have already)!


- As has long been routine for MCU films, there are two post film scenes.  One takes place mid-credits and shows T'Challa addressing the United Nations, announcing the new technology outreach programs that Wakanda will be implementing.  The second takes place at the very end of the credits and shows Bucky (Sebastian Stan) recovered (after being left with T'Challa in Wakanda at the end of Civil War).  Shuri refers to him as 'White Wolf', which was the title of T'Challa's secret police in the comics.  We've seen Bucky in action in the Infinity War trailer, so we'll see how closely he ends up working with T'Challa specifically.  

- Stan Lee's obligatory cameo takes place in the South Korean casino, where he slips in and grabs the chips that T'Challa leaves on the table after first talking to Ross.

- Everett K. Ross gets a bit of a boost in the MCU.  In the comics, he is a low level official, the Chief of Protocol for the U.S. State Department, and an overall sorry individual.  In the films, he's a CIA agent with a background as a pilot and member of a Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force.  However, he does still fill the roll of token white guy, who is completely out of his element when he is the minority.

- When T'Challa brings Ross to Shuri to be healed, she makes a comment about having 'another white guy to put back together' - a reference to Bucky having been left in Wakanda to recover after the events of Civil War.

- I love that the worked M'Baku into the film, staying true to the character while dropping the highly offensive moniker 'Man-Ape' that he was known as in the comics.  I felt like Winston Duke was one of the strongest parts of the film in his limited time on screen.

- I really enjoyed both Klaue and Killmonger as villains in this film.  I just wish that Marvel would stop killing off villains in the same films they are introduced in.  Both of these characters have a history of returning repeatedly in the comics, but that has yet to be demonstrated in the films outside of 'fake out' deaths like T'Challa's early in this film.  The Klaue death does set him up for the potential to take full advantage of Andy Serkis' motion-capture wizardry (as a sentient being made of sound), so we'll see what happens going forward.

- Speculation: I think that Marvel has set up Black Panther to take over Iron Man's role in the MCU post-Infinity War.  He's a character with state of the art tech and the resources to match.  It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he is at the center of Marvel's next couple of film phases.  

- I really liked the changes made to the Dora Milaje for the film.  In the comics, they weren't just T'Challa's personal security force, but they were also ceremonially appointed to that position with he King.  Each represented a different Wakandan Tribe and were potential wives in waiting for the King, with each being in their teens.  In the film, they were adult women, but did not have the socio-political tie to the King.  I felt like the film did an excellent job of fleshing out a number of cultural ceremonies and rituals without having to employ that very outdated aspect.

- The change in the Dora Milaje in the film also altered the nature of the relationship between T'Challa and Nakia from that depicted in the comics.  I really liked how they still had a complex relationship, but for differing, far less psychologically traumatic reasons.

- This film was heavily influenced by Christopher Priest's (1998) and Ta-Nehesi Coates' (current) runs from the comics.  From the story of political upheaval, to the Kimoyo beads and the Djalia (plane of ancient memory), where T'Challa interacts with his father's spirit.  The Kimoyo beads are actually Coates' more modern upgrade to Priest's Kimoyo Card, which was a business card sized, personal interactive device.  


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