Review Of Black Panther

Black Panther from Marvel Studios reviewed by Sean Robert Lay

“Irresponsible man-child is forced into growing up, putting selfish needs aside, learning a lesson about power and responsibility and coming to terms with the hero he needs to be”

Sound familiar? If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it should. Going back to Iron Man, moving on to Thor, Antman, Doctor Strange…they’re all interchangeable characters in the same plot. Selfish, but good-hearted man gains powers. Shirks responsibility. Some devastating event occurs and he learns the true meaning of being a hero just in time to stop whatever generic villain Marvel didn’t mind completely wasting while you’re too busy paying attention to the hero’s journey.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It may seem that I didn’t like those movies. Not true. I loved every minute of all of them. Because, whereas the story may be the same, the characters themselves have enough uniqueness and differences to their personas that I can enjoy them despite their similarities.

It would have been very easy for Black Panther to fall into this same trope. T’Challa, crown prince of Wakanda, lives in leisure, never really considering that someday he’ll have to lead his people and be the King and hero that they need to continue thrive.

This isn’t that movie.

Black Panther

This is a story of a man, who fully realizes his duty and carries it not as a burden, but as a badge of honor. A man who, while knowing that taking over the throne of his country would mean the devastating loss of his father, is also pragmatic enough to understand that life goes on, and steps up ready and willing to that challenge when the time comes.

When you boil it down to a sentence, that’s really what this movie is about. Fathers and sons. The outset is set up for you at the beginning of Captain America: Civil War. T’Chaka, King of Wakanada, killed during the bombing of the Sokovia Accords summit in Vienna. His son, T’Challa, who is already the Black Panther by this time due to age and rights of passage, embarks on a mission to avenge his father’s death, before returning to his homeland to comfort his family and claim his throne, and that’s where our movie begins

T’Challa is not a selfish child. He’s not lazy. Has no arrogance about him. His only fault is his faith. Faith in what he has been taught. In his belief that the good of his people is greater than the good of the world. Faith that his father was infallible. His journey leads him to learning the hard lesson that many times faith does not equal truth.

Meanwhile, his long-lost cousin, N’Jadaka (aka Eric Stevens), is on a journey of his own to gain the acknowledgement he lost as a young boy from a father that was lead astray. Who grapples his entire life knowing what could have been and what his life would have been like if he hadn’t been forgotten and cast aside by the community that he longed to be part of, instead of growing up alone and impoverished.

Chadwick Boseman (42, Marshall) as the Black Panther, and Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) both bring such depth and emotion to their characters, that you forget you’re watching a “Super Hero” movie and instead feel as if you’re watching a deep character study of two young men who must come to terms of who they are, where they came from and their undying trust in the men who raised them.

Jordan steals every single scene he’s in, and nearly pulls off the feat of making you wish that the villain had won by the end of the show. You fully begin to understand his motive behind his actions, while not agreeing with his tactics.

Couple those performances with the strongest cast of supporting characters seen yet in an MCU movie. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) and a host of others step into the side story of this small African nation, the most technologically advanced in the world due to ancient happenstance, that has separated itself from the rest of civilization to protect its peoples from a world that they assume would strip it bare of its resources and leave nothing but ash behind.

On the heels of Creed, Ryan Coogler has cemented himself as one of the finest up and coming directors of this generation. Much like Creed, you can feel his sense of filmmaking by way of old school vibes with new school twists.

Mash all those things together and you get, possibly, the best comic book movie ever made, not directed by a guy named Nolan.

Sure, it had its faults. The CGI and set design was a bit suspect. This is not a movie that will look great 10 years from now. As it is, it was very easy to pinpoint the real from the fake and can be downright distracting at times.

And, personally, even at a 2 hour and 15 minute runtime, it left me wanting more. I could have stood for maybe another 15-20 minutes to really flush out some of the background characters and give credence to their actions instead of very quick, single sentences to justify their actions that have immense ramifications thru the film.

But the sum outweighs its parts. I can easily forgive what minor faults I found with it when the rest of the story, plot and otherwise, is so richly appealing and artfully accomplished.

With the social ramifications of this film, the debate if the world was ready for its first black super hero film…if it even was the first black super hero film…the racists who tried to purposefully bring down its rating without ever seeing the movie and who edited fake news films together showing fictitious black one white crime happening at its premieres across the nation, I feel its one of the most important films of this time. Able to show the injustices of the world, the fear and trepidation that is felt by an entire race of people just living their day to day lives, while doing so in an easy to swallow pill that I think will make many people step back and take some time to think about its message when they’re done.

The Hollywood hype machine has been strong for this film, and as it built steam a few months back I remember having a conversation with an African American friend about it. I told him that I felt as if, with the importance of this film to him and his community, that I needed to give this one time. Not rush out opening day and take a seat or two away from someone who deserved it more than me. I said to him “This movie is for you. Its for your community to relish and process before I should be allowed to enjoy it.” And he said back to me, perhaps the single most important sentence that could be said about this film in the times we live in, and climate of our surroundings.

“No, Sean. This film is for us all”