So things have changed a bit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Black Panther was released. Avengers: Infinity War came out and completely changed the shape of the universe. And recently Ant-Man and the Wasp came out in America and I’m sure that was a fun movie. It hasn’t come out in the UK yet because they are terrified of the World Cup. But despite that, the movie’s impact on pop culture remains and plenty of people still rave about the country of Wakanda even though only the geekiest of geeks had heard of it just a few years to go. But does Black Panther live up to the hype?
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 42) takes the throne of Wakanda following the death of his father. While he wrestles with how he takes the secretive nation forward, Wakanda exhile Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Creed) returns to take the throne for himself.
What is perhaps the most shocking about this movie is that it actually tackles race issues. I know this might sound daft considering that this is a movie with a majority black cast but with Wakanda being so out of this world in the source material, I didn’t think it would be something that would come up in this movie. But it’s not just something on the side, the way black people are treat in the world is a primary theme. The villain’s motivation is that he is angry that a technoligically advanced country ran by black people is not doing anything to help all the other black people who are being mistreat by their governments. It’s actually a smart way to bring these extremely relevant issues in and make the villain’s motivations understandable though of course his methods are obviously the thing that make him evil compared to T’Challa.
Of course this leads to Killmonger being a very good villain. Michael B Jordan is a star and he is once again brilliant here, though I imagine I like him for different reasons than the girl who clenched her teeth so hard she broke her braces. He is such a charismatic actor and it works so well for him as a villain, something I’ve not seen him play yet, as he just manages to ooze this unlikable energy which makes you turn against him in the first few minutes of seeing him. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, the fact his motivations make sense help him be more compelling than many villains and he even gets a chance to win which does seem to be reoccuring theme in many of these recent Marvel movies. Maybe that’s why we don’t have the reviewing cliché of ‘Marvel films are great but the villains are crap’ anymore.
Because of the focus on Killmonger, and also secondary villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes), there is a bit less time on T’Challa than I’d like but he is still a wonderful character. Many of the Marvel heroes are very exuberant people and they feel like they have to be the centre of every scene. Even Captain America, one of the more reserved heroes, feels like a bit of an alpha-male where every scene sees him proving himself to someone. T’Challa is not like that. Boseman carries a quiet confidence in the role where despite the character’s anxieties about how to rule Wakanda, he still feels like he knows he could take pretty much everyone in the room. I like having this different sort of hero in the universe and we’ve seen in both Civil War and in Infinity War that this does mesh well with the other characters.
What is most fun is the action, mainly the hand to hand combat. Because of how sci-fi the universe has got, and even this movie when we get to the final big action scene, we don’t get to see two men just go at it anymore. But here we do and probably because of director Ryan Coogler’s (Creed) experience of directing Rocky sequel/spin-off Creed, they are fantastic. There’s something very basically fun by seeing two guys fight with everything on the line. Of course when the movie decides to go to the massive fights with what are basically space ships and giant armies clashing with each other at the end that is fun too, but the thing I enjoyed the most were these duels which decided who was going to be the King of Wakanda because not only were these well done and brutal but there was also some great character work in them which enhanced the movie as a whole.
My only issue is that the pacing of the movie feels off for a while. This film takes a while to set up all the pieces it needs to so that the second half can happen as intended. They need Killmonger to rise and be in a situation where he can take the throne of Wakanda and it does take a while for them to do this. You feel this time because there is very little for T’Challa to do during this time but to walk around his kingdom and consider what he is going now that he is the ruler of his land. Because T’Challa and his family are good characters you don’t feel this as badly as you would have done in other movies but you are itching for something to happen for a while. But then again when something does happen, boy do you enjoy it.
Black Panther is a great movie and continues Marvel’s fantastic streak of movies. It has a lot of great characters and has a surprising amount of cultural depth for a blockbuster superhero movie. And because of that, it has had a lasting culturual impact which is still going even though Infinity War had about a million different memes which would have drowned a lesser movie. The pacing is not the best but because it happens at the start, it’s easy to forget after the thrilling way it ends. This is a wonderful movie but I probably didn’t need to tell you that.