I need to preface this because it’s hard to be a critic and critique a movie that means so much to people. That means that this movie might be your favorite Marvel movie yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s without flaws. Below I’m going to talk about Black Panther as a film and any critiques on the film aren’t meant to dissuade you from absolutely loving this movie, because many of you will.
This is the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We follow the soon-to-be king of an African nation called Wakanda, named T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). In Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa’s father was killed and now it’s time for his reign to begin. He returns to Wakanda and reunites with an old flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). The general of his female bodyguard force Okoye (Danai Gurira) assists T’Challa in tracking down a long-time enemy of Wakanda, a black market arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Turns out there’s another villain in the making though, a mysterious man named Eric “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) who has a plan to usurp the throne of Wakanda.
We also have Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Letitia Wright, and Martin Freeman.
This movie is incredibly special, especially in the lineup of the other MCU films. It manages to create a world that is absolutely alive and Wakanda feels like a real place, much more so than other locations like Asgard from Thor have been. The world is alive, the colors are vibrant, and the music is perfect. The setting for this film is the star and it absolutely takes your breath away.
The living and breathing people in the movie also do an excellent job. We’ve seen Boseman do T’Challa before but his supporting characters are all fantastic as well, including Letitia Wright as his youthful and exuberant younger sister, who is also a genius. Danai Gurira (from The Walking Dead) has the best fight scenes in the whole movie, while Lupita Nyong’o manages to balance being a love interest but also a strong and independent character. All of these women are nuanced and complicated and interesting.
We have three core villains over the course of the movie and they all deliver in different ways. The most minor of them is Winston Duke as M’Baku, the leader of a rival tribe. He’s charismatic and threatening and brings to life a character that begun in the comics as a very problematic stereotype (with the name “Man-Ape,” though that name is never uttered here). Andy Serkis returns as Ulysses Klaue, after last appearing in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s maniacal and a loose canyon and you can tell he’s having a blast playing this role. It all leads up to Michael B. Jordan though, who some people are calling Marvel’s best villain since Loki. I loved his performance here and throughout most of the movie you actually understand his motivations and might even agree with his methods. However he’s a tad underused, disappearing for a huge chunk of the movie and his absence was noticed.
In a nutshell, this movie succeeds because of its people, its setting, and its message. It’s relateable, even if the world seems so futuristic. It showcases different African cultures in a way that is celebratory and interesting and complicated, in all the right ways. In the light of our real-world struggles, its timing is perfect.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks that keep Black Panther from succeeding across the board.
The most obviously apparent one is the lackluster visual effects. T’Challa spends a lot of time in his new high-tech suit and it looks horrible most of the time, like something straight from a video game. It looks unnatural when he leaps and flies across the screen. In Civil War, he had weight and presence and his fight scenes felt real. Here, his fight scenes are jumbled and full of quick cuts and toss him around like a rag doll, the whole time looking fake and distracting.
Because of this, the big climactic battle is underwhelming and disappointing, so the movie ends and we’re left with a bit of a shrug. There are fight scenes where T’Challa is not in the suit and those scenes were much much better in quality.
Black Panther has so many strengths that it is understandable why so many people might claim this as their new favorite Marvel film. But as a critic, I can’t ignore some major visual effects hiccups and an underwhelming finish. It’s still very good but I wouldn’t rank it among the greats of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.