Hello, everybody. With today being Juneteenth, I thought that I would share a post that I wrote a little over two years ago on my personal blog. Whether we know it or not, Black culture influences a ton of mainstream pop culture, including (but not limited to) the music, comic books and movies that we all enjoy every day. As such, the February 2018 release of 'Black Panther' was a major moment in global pop culture, being the first superhero film to feature an almost completely black cast. I wrote a review of the film below and thought I would share it with a potentially larger audience today. You can read the original post here.
Black Panther: Protector of Wakanda and Future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Published 3-2-2018)
Hello, friends, and thank you all so much for visiting!
As you know, this blog is still very new and in this post I am making my first foray into film critique. This particular post took me a while to write, as I really devoted a great deal of thought towards it, so I hope you enjoy reading. ‘Black Panther,’ the newest addition to the remarkably successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), was released in theaters two weeks ago to critical acclaim. I myself have seen it twice already (admittedly the norm for me with most Marvel movies), and felt the need to compose my thoughts on the film as a whole. ‘Black Panther’ has quickly become one of my favorite standalone films in the MCU, but there were also some other points and themes unrelated to the grand scheme of Marvel’s story line that I really enjoyed and wanted to discuss. Let’s get started, shall we?
WARNING: this post is LONG – I just finished proofreading and I didn’t realize how much I rambled on, so please bear with me!
First and foremost, I would be remiss not to mention the incredible performance of this film at the box office, as ‘Black Panther’ smashed opening weekend projections; there are a lot of different figures out there, but the total gross was anywhere from $200-240 million, depending on where you look. Over its first two weeks at the box office, ‘Black Panther’ has reeled in more than $430 million domestically and $760 million worldwide, besting 2012’s ‘The Avengers,’ Marvel’s previous record holder. When its theatrical run comes to an end, it’s very possible that ‘Black Panther’ will be one of the most financially successful films of all-time. This movie’s immense success is another feather in the cap for rising directorial star Ryan Coogler, who, prior to ‘Black Panther,’ created an excellent film on a small budget with 2013’s ‘Fruitvale Station’ and resurrected a dormant Rocky film franchise with 2015’s ‘Creed.’
Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut came in 2013 with ‘Fruitvale Station’ He teamed up with Michael B. Jordan yet again in 2015 with ‘Creed’
If you haven’t seen ‘Black Panther’ already (uhh…why haven’t you?), here’s a very basic, non-spoiler summary of the film (we WILL discuss a few spoilers later in this post, you’ve been warned). ‘Black Panther’ begins immediately following the events of ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ as Prince T’Challa, still reeling from the death of his father, King T’Chaka, is headed back home to his homeland of Wakanda. T’Challa, having been first in line for the throne, has to quickly learn how to juggle the difficulties of being both sovereign ruler and also warrior protector of Wakanda, a place that the rest of the world has long assumed to be a third world country. When multiple threats to Wakanda’s future and overall way of life emerge, T’Challa must seek the help of his family and friends, along with an unlikely ally, to ensure the safety of both his people and the rest of the world. In doing so, T’Challa realizes that, as his father had forewarned him, "it is hard for a good man to be King."
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Black Panther’ has quickly become one of my favorite standalone MCU films, and I think one of the biggest reasons for that is the fact that it did not need to lean on or reference the ongoing interwoven Marvel story line in order to draw in the viewer. This film contained a captivating story in its own right, along with great characters that you could truly get behind and understand (we’ll expand on those different characters below). Regardless, the story of ‘Black Panther’ is very much part of that ongoing universe, and, in my opinion, a critical component of the MCU’s future.
There is no question that the main characters of the first wave of Marvel films (Iron Man, Captain America, possibly even Thor) are rapidly heading towards their departure; this mass exodus could even begin as soon as April’s ‘Infinity War.’ It would not surprise me in the least if, along with the recently rebooted Spider-Man, we see the likes of T’Challa, Shuri, Okoye, etc. as critical parts of the MCU moving forward. Overall, I would say that ‘Black Panther’ definitely ranks as one of the best films Marvel Studios has ever released; where exactly does it rank, you ask? Well, you’ll have to be patient – in the weeks leading up to ‘Infinity War,’ I will be ranking the existing 18 MCU films from worst to best and share my thoughts on each of them in depth. I can’t wait to share that list with all of you!
Following the death of his father, T’Challa ascended to the throne
In addition to being an incredibly entertaining movie, I thought that ‘Black Panther’ contained some metaphors and parallels to some of the real world issues impacting our society today. On multiple occasions in the early stages of the film, T’Challa is advised to share Wakanda’s vast resources with the rest of the world, to "emerge from the shadows" and do its part to help improve the rest of the world. Until this point, Wakanda has existed as somewhat of a utopia; its technology is more advanced than that of any other country and it has not been colonized by any outside refugees, only native Wakandans. It may have been difficult to even imagine such a place prior to this film, but ‘Black Panther’ gives us a firsthand glimpse of what a country might look like without outside interference, or without refugees "bringing their problems with them" as W’Kabi put it when T’Challa broached the possibility of Wakanda opening up its borders.
Without getting too political (I hate talking politics on the internet), I’ll just say that this theme is rather relevant to what’s going on in our country today. The United States is blessed with countless resources and exceptional technology, and the concept of the "American Dream" is as prevalent as ever; countless immigrants yearn to make their way to the U.S. in search of a better life for themselves and for their families. What would the U.S. be like today if these people had no means to enter our country? What if we did not engage in any international trade or offer foreign aid? Would we be better or worse off than we are right now? ‘Black Panther,’ in one of its post credit scenes (mild spoiler ahead), offers a very insightful and compelling quote from T’Challa to the United Nations: "In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe."
In this instance, T’Challa was referring to the collective sharing of knowledge and resources for the betterment of mankind; one might also hear such a line and think of the Trump administration’s current initiatives to build a border wall, as well as limit travel into the U.S. from citizens of select countries. An argument can be made that this quote by T’Challa raises the question whether the U.S. would be better off extending olive branches and building bridges right now, rather than closing itself off to the rest of the world and putting up barriers. This is certainly a mentality that T’Challa embraces as he becomes more acclimated with sovereign rule; conversely, his father T’Chaka felt that the opposite was necessary when considering the best interests of his people.
This may very well have been what T’Chaka meant when he told his son that it was "hard for a good man to be King" – there are always difficult decisions to be made when you are responsible for the collective well being of an entire nation.
T’Challa addressing the United Nations following the events of ‘Black Panther’
Anyways, let’s get back to the film itself, as there’s still a great deal to unpack there. I’d like to touch on some specific strengths of ‘Black Panther’ and discuss what worked; in short: pretty much everything worked, but let’s get into some specifics. While many of the acting performances stood out to me, I think it’s important to single out Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger, the film’s main antagonist. Despite the vast success of the MCU, its films has lacked great villains; even in a smash hit like ‘Civil War,’ the main story line was our favorite heroes infighting against themselves, rather than taking on some devious criminal mastermind or otherworldly threat. Killmonger, on the other hand, commands attention every time he’s on screen, and in my opinion, is one of the best villains Marvel has trotted out since they first introduced us to Loki. Killmonger’s arrival in Wakanda is what really accelerates the entire plot, and even if you don’t agree with his plan, you can completely understand his motivation to act the way he does.
Another significant strength of ‘Black Panther’ was the presence of incredibly strong female characters, especially Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Danai Gurira’s Okoye. Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and Princess of Wakanda, plays a pivotal role in this film, as we find out early on that she is quite possibly one of the most intelligent minds on the planet, let alone her home country. Shuri oversees all of Wakanda’s science and technology, and under her watch the country’s infrastructure has experienced unprecedented advancements; Wakanda is thriving because of her influence. It is no accident that ‘Black Panther’ emphasized Shuri’s technological genius the way it did – I would not be surprised in the slightest if she becomes the resident tech mastermind for the entire MCU, not just Wakanda, upon Tony Stark’s departure.
Although the Black Panther has been the protector of Wakanda for generations, a single warrior cannot take on an entire army. Enter the Dora Milaje: the country’s fierce military group made up exclusively of women, and another incredible strength of this film. The Dora Milaje is led by Okoye, who we find out early on in ‘Black Panther’ should NOT be trifled with, as she is a cunning and ruthless warrior who will stop at nothing to protect Wakanda. Okoye, Nakia and Shuri prove throughout the course of the film to be T’Challa’s most trusted confidants and strongest assets as he seeks to protect and serve his people. As mighty a warrior as the Black Panther is, he is nothing without the support and contributions of these unbelievable women; this cannot and should not go unnoticed. To be perfectly honest, virtually every performance in ‘Black Panther’ was top notch and I could go on all day about each of them; this cast was just tremendous and I really look forward to seeing them together again on the big screen soon.
Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, always has T’Challa’s back
To be a proper movie critic (or an amateur one like myself), you do need to touch on a film’s weaknesses as well, because as much as I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Black Panther,’ there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work. Admittedly, these “weaknesses” could be viewed as nitpicking and are easy for me to overlook or ignore because they did not take away from my enjoyment of the film, but let’s discuss them anyway. Something that I picked up on (and I don’t think I’m alone) was the sub-par CGI in the film; specifically, there’s a scene when T’Challa is crowned King where they show the people of Wakanda standing up on some cliffs…and it’s REALLY easy to tell that those aren’t real people. That wasn’t even something you had to search hard to find, it was just painfully obvious. The CGI issues also showed up in some of the action scenes, especially the final battle between T’Challa and Killmonger (won’t even classify that as a spoiler, if you didn’t think there’d be a final battle between a film’s hero and its main villain, you must not watch too many movies); again, though, not something we should focus too heavily on.
Another minor annoyance that I had with ‘Black Panther’ was the significant gap between the first and second time we see our main antagonist, Killmonger, on screen. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that we meet adult Killmonger in one of the first few scenes of the film and get a pretty good idea of what he’s all about and what he’s planning. We then have to wait a good 30 or 40 minutes before we see him on screen again to start putting that plan in motion. Again, this, along with the CGI issues, is something that you can easily overlook, because there is a lot of cool stuff unfolding with the rest of the story while he’s off-screen. I do, however, remember thinking to myself at one point during my first viewing ‘hey, are we ever going to see Killmonger again?’
Finally, I just have to say it…I’m a big Forest Whitaker fan, but his attempt at a South African accent almost seemed like a gag at times. It was actually making me laugh! The accents used by the other actors and actresses in the film all sounded so natural, but poor Forest sounded like he was cast into his role about five minutes before it started filming. “And now…deh King will have deh stremf of deh Bleck Penthah…stripped aweh.” If you saw the movie already, you know exactly what I’m talking about; I’m giggling again right now as I type this sentence. I don’t want to pile on my man Forest too much, though, because like I said, I’m a big fan of his. Other than those pretty minor details, that’s…kind of it? I really had to nitpick here to find weaknesses with ‘Black Panther’ – it was not a perfect film by any means, but the flaws are pretty insignificant and don’t detract whatsoever from the viewing experience.
Many great moments in this film came with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger (left) on screen
We’re almost finished, I promise – thanks so very much if you’re still reading at this point! So, the only real thing to discuss at this point to wrap this post up is…where do we go from here? As mentioned earlier, the MCU is at a bit of a crossroads right now; the actors from the original films (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, etc.) are all nearing the end of their contracts and it’s not really a question of if they’ll depart this super successful franchise, but how — and when. We could see their farewell as soon as ‘Infinity War,’ but if not, it won’t be too long after that. This is why the success of Marvel’s recent standalone films, such as ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming,’ is so important: they’re setting up the next generation of heroes to captivate us on the big screen. Make no mistake, the future of the MCU is most likely in the hands of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, along with T’Challa and Shuri – maybe even Scarlet Witch. Marvel has essentially created a succession plan for all of its original Avengers before our very eyes, so get your goodbyes ready.
As it specifically relates to aforementioned ‘Infinity War,’ we get a pretty juicy Easter Egg at the end of ‘Black Panther.’ *OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING* In the second post credit scene of the film, we get an appearance from none other than…Bucky Barnes! If you recall, we saw Steve Rogers and Bucky turn up in Wakanda in one of the post credit scenes following ‘Civil War’ (turns out that this scene may have actually taken place at some point during the events of ‘Black Panther,’ albeit off-screen), where Bucky decides to go back into cryo-freeze until someone can figure out how to remove whatever triggers Hydra had planted in his mind that made him the Winter Solider. Given what we saw Shuri do to heal a bullet wound to Everett Ross’ spine earlier in ‘Black Panther,’ it’s safe to assume she could probably reverse some sinister brainwashing just as easily.
So, depending on the timing of this particular post credit scene (you can never be too sure with Marvel films), it appears that Bucky and Steve are still in Wakanda at the start of ‘Infinity War.’ I guess we’ll find out for sure on April 27th though, won’t we?
A thawed out Bucky speaks with Shuri after the events of ‘Black Panther’
We are entering ‘Infinity War’ with a lot of different story lines going on simultaneously, but this isn’t the time to discuss those. Along with my countdown of the ‘worst to best’ MCU films, I’ll also prepare a preview of ‘Infinity War’ in the coming weeks to give you all an exact idea of what to look for heading into what’s sure to be an absolute blockbuster. That will pretty much do it for this post, though! As you can gather, I absolutely loved ‘Black Panther,’ and I can’t wait to see these characters back on screen kicking ass in April. How did you feel about the movie if you’ve seen it already? If you haven’t, are you more likely to see it now after reading? Let me know in the comments, let’s start a discussion!
Mark’s Official Score for Black Panther: A-