Sunday, February 18, 2018


Culturally significant films come along every so often, and these tend to be the types of films that keep people talking long after their release.  But it’s rare to find such a film within the superhero genre, yet Marvel Studios has managed to do just that with the latest addition to their decade-long running cinematic universe, Black Panther.  This is a film that not only speaks to people of color, but to film lovers alike.

Before I go into detail about my thoughts on the film itself, I want to take a minute to talk about my theater experience seeing Black Panther.  Now, I don’t normally go to Thursday premieres anymore.  I tend to prefer a less crowded theater where I don’t have to worry about finding a good seat or sitting near someone who will disrupt my viewing.  And when I went to the theater, I had no intention of buying a ticket for Black Panther yet.  But when I got there, what I saw was something amazing.

I’ve been to plenty of premieres in the past, and I even managed a movie theater for a while, so I’ve seen plenty of big films come and go.  But when I walked into my theater, what I saw was something that I hadn’t seen before.  There was a sea of sharply dressed men and women, of all colors, waiting to purchase tickets to this see this film.  It’s as if they were there for the red carpet premiere.  It was so jarring that it honestly made me feel severely under dressed for this event.  Everyone there was beaming with excitement.  You could feel it in the room, like electricity running through the air.  It was intoxicating.  

So, when I noticed that the theater had scheduled a few additional screenings, I decided to join the crowd.  What I didn’t know was that this screening would be a perfect little gem, an unnoticed time frame amongst the dozen screens showing the film.  Even though there were hundred of people there to see the film, there were only about 30 people in this particular screening, which was perfect.  It was enough to enjoy a communal experience, but small enough to where I was able to get the best seat possible, and had no one right near me.  It was sublime.  This experience helped make the film that much more enjoyable.

And speaking of the film, going in I tried to keep my expectations tempered, but this is difficult when there’s so much excitement in the air.  Marvel movies have always entertained me, but lately, they haven’t really wowed me, not even Captain America: Civil War, which is great and is touted by many as one of Marvel’s best films yet.  It just didn’t hit me the way Black Panther did.  

Black Panther takes place one week after the events of Captain America: Civil War.  T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to take his rightful place on the throne after the death of his father, King T’Chaka.  Then a powerful enemy turns up, hellbent on taking the throne for himself and using Wakanda to dominate the rest of the world.  It seems like a simple story, but what unfolds is far deeper than that.  It’s a story about becoming who you choose to be, not who you were meant to be. 

The power of this film comes, mainly, from the incredible director, Ryan Coogler.  You may know him from his previous films Fruitvale Station and Creed, two extremely powerful films that center on a black lead.  So, it should come as no surprise that he was able to knock it out of the park with this film.  He was able to assemble a stellar cast of almost all black actors, something you don’t see very often in Hollywood, and they felt like real characters, not caricatures.  But there is one man in particular that made this a believable character study, and that was Chadwick Boseman, The Black Panther himself.  

First brought into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, Boseman made it clear that he was here to make some noise, as Black Panther was one of the highlights of that film.  He showed us all the stern, serious side of Prince T’Challa, the one who would do anything to protect and avenge his family, but in Black Panther we get to see a different side of him, one that jokes with his friends and family, and is in love.  Boseman plays this part perfectly, and his chemistry with those around him is palpable, especially Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright, who play Nakia and Shuri, respectively. And speaking of Letitia Wright, she was a definite highlight in this film.  Her energy and performance took her scenes to a whole different level.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what she does next.

This was a huge cast full of amazing actors, from veterans like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett to more recent stars like Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya.  But there was another who stood out, giving one of the best villain portrayals I have ever seen, and that was the very talented Michael B. Jordan.  His role as Killmonger absolutely blew me away.  Not only was his performance spot on, but he managed to evoke a powerful sense of emotion, making the audience sympathize with his character’s plight.  This is something you rarely see in villains, especially villains in comic book movies.  I personally have only seen the MCU do this two other times, with Loki and The Vulture.  Out of 18 films, it’s wild to think that only THREE villains have been able to really make a mark the way these three have, and personally, I enjoyed Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger far more than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Michael Keaton’s The Vulture, both of whom I love.  

And I can’t talk about the villains without mentioning Ulysses Klaue, played by the wonderful Andy Serkis.  This was a character I was very excited to see more of after his small stint in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I knew he was leading toward Black Panther, and I really wanted to see Serkis get the chance to spread his wings outside of a CG character, something we don’t see very often, and I wasn’t disappointed.  He was great!  His chemistry with Jordan was amazing and he managed to steal the show every time he was on screen.  One of my only “negative” points (it’s in quotation marks because I don’t really consider it a true negative) is that he was killed off so early.  I loved his character and wanted to see more, but I totally understand and agree with the reasoning for his death.  It truly helped push the story to where it needed to go, and keeping him around would have just hindered that.

Other than the superb acting and directing in this film, another thing that really stood out to me was the cinematography.  This was an absolutely gorgeous film in every sense of the word.  From the vibrant color palette to the beautiful landscapes, everything about Black Panther was stunning.  This is in thanks to the film’s brilliant cinematographer, Rachel Morrison.  This wasn’t the first time she worked with Coogler, as she also worked on his gripping 2013 drama, Fruitvale Station.  She also worked on last year’s critically acclaimed film Mudbound, and has been nominated for an Academy Award for that work.

Of all the superhero films that have come out over the years, not just Marvel related, this is, hands down, one of the best I have ever seen.  It’s gripping and tense, emotional with just the right amount of humor, and never lags, not even for a moment.  And as with last year’s Wonder Woman, Black Panther will stand as a cultural milestone in cinematic history.  This is a film that people of every color need to celebrate, and it’s films like this that will bring Hollywood into a new era, a better era.  So with that, I leave you with two final words – WAKANDA FOREVER!!!

The Merc’s Score: 10/10

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