Monday, February 19, 2018

Reserved Seating: BLACK PANTHER

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who will fight each other for the throne but no hits to the face.

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: It’s Marvel time again, kids! Picking up where Captain America: Civil War left off, Black Panther finds Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returning to the African nation of Wakanda to be crowned king after the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani). Though he’s excited to take over the mantle of king and defend his nation as the legendary Black Panther, T’Challa worries that he will not live up to his father’s legacy. Meanwhile, an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is stealing stores of Vibranium — the precious metal with which Wakanda has built its considerable wealth and technological wonders — threatening to expose the isolationist nation to the world. T’Challa and his team (Danai Gurira as General Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as master spy Nakia, and Letitia Wright as Wakandan princess/gadgeteer Shuri) track Klaue to South Korea, where CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) helps expose the real threat: American-born Wakandan royalty Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), who plans to overthrow T’Challa and use Wakanda’s untapped power to bring the world to its knees.

It’s impossible to have a conversation about Black Panther without acknowledging and embracing the massive cultural impact it’s having only days after release. It’s a landmark for representation in blockbuster filmmaking — a deftly-directed, inclusive, and confident effort from Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) that unabashedly celebrates Afrofuturistic design and presents some of the most textured and powerful female and minority characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For that alone, I recommend the film. Wakanda is a fantastic addition to the greater MCU that creates all kinds of new possibilities going forward (judging by the first trailer, it seems to play a significant role in Infinity War). I genuinely love that Black Panther exists. I love that it’s kicking ass at the box office. I love what that means for franchise filmmaking overall.
And now, it’s time to pull of the band-aid: While Black Panther is a very good Marvel movie, it has the same ratio of strengths and weaknesses as nearly every other. While I found T’Challa himself a bit dull, Letitia Wright steals the show as Shuri. While I found the third act battle a bit underwhelming, I was captivated by the moral and political questions presented by the bruised and angry Killmonger. While I found the tone, costume design, and soundtrack to be first-rate, I thought that some of Coogler’s strengths as a director were muddled by the rounded edges of tentpole filmmaking, especially in some of the editing and special effects. Adam, what did you think of Black Panther?

Adam: These Marvel movies are tough to review because people hold them so dear. Keeping that mind, I’m just going to list the pros and keep most of the cons brief.


1. Representation - I love that the movie visually says how inspiring it can be for African-American children of both genders to have heroes represented on film. I get that, because it’s how I felt as a Jewish man when I saw Munich. There’s a certain level of pride there when you see a person of the same race, gender or religion as you represented on screen in a cool or powerful way.

2. It’s exciting to see the still young Ryan Coogler excel on a big stage again and in a very different movie than Creed or Fruitvale Station. I read on Twitter someone say it’s like we might be watching a young Steven Spielberg again and it made sense to me. If Ryan Coogler is this assured and talented in his early thirties, who knows what heights his career might reach? Maybe he can toggle between franchise/genre/blockbusters and mid-level dramas like Steven Spielberg?

3. The subtext of the movie is interesting. I read a lot into how fragile democracy can be in what happens with Wakanda in Black Panther. I also think the movie has a lot to say about a person wanting to tear down a legacy because they’re mad and have the means to do so.

4. The cast is terrific. I am a huge Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan fan, but I was pleasantly surprised that the foursome of Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett were the center of so much of the action and story development. It’s a great ensemble. My favorite performances wound up being two actors I didn’t even know before Black Panther: Wright and Winston Duke as M’Baku, one of the leaders of the Wakandan warrior groups.

5. I agree it has some Marvel beats, but the movie doesn’t feel (for me at least) like all the other Marvel movies. It does something different but just doesn’t always succeed at what it’s trying to do. You know, just like most movies.

1. This isn’t really a con, but more of a personal observation. Most of my appreciation for Black Panther is intellectual and theoretical, where in my gut I know I just kinda liked the movie but didn’t have a strong emotional reaction to it.

2. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Michael B. Jordan in the film even though I like the actor. I felt he was trying too hard to be villainous.

3. Chadwick Boseman kind of gets lost in the shuffle a bit.

4. I think the second half of the movie is much stronger than the first half.

5. The hand-to-hand fighting scenes are so good it made me want more one-on-ones and less CGI battles.

Overall, I liked Black Panther but I cannot pretend to love it because that would be disingenuous. I hope Hollywood makes a lot more movies like it and I hope I enjoy the sequel as much or more than this one.

Rob: Agreed on Coogler (my deep and abiding love for Creed is well documented). He’s only a few months older than I am, and he’s already one of the most important voices in American filmmaking. That makes me feel...shame, I guess? Creeping self doubt? Anyway, I actually loved the Bond sequence in South Korea. I thought the street chase was the film’s strongest blend of character, worldbuilding, and action, which made the Wakandan subway brawl in the end feel all the more uninspired. I honestly thought that whole sequence felt too small, as if a Wakandan civil war would have a few more moving pieces. Most of the action scenes really suffered from that “rounded-edge,” pre-visualized factor I talked about earlier. Scale is a factor, of course, and I’m not taking anything away from what must have been a daunting and complex task, but the action in Black Panther is really missing the distinct voice of the boxing sequences in Creed, for example.
I’ve read a lot about how Erik Killmonger is a game-changer for Marvel villains (we seem to have that “Marvel Finally Gave Us A Good Villain” thinkpiece after every new film). Michael B. Jordan is good — I especially liked how his American swagger contrasted with the more austere Wakandan culture — but I felt that his moral complexity was more informed than demonstrated. He’s got that one great scene (I won’t spoil it, but you know the one), but aside from that, he’s reduced to a bad guy who wants power until his final moments. I thought his dialogue was clunky and, as you said, he seemed to be pushing himself to make the character more sinister than he had to be. His point of view is totally sympathetic (oppressed people must stand up and confront their oppressors, and those who withhold the power to support them in that endeavor are just as responsible for oppression as the oppressors), and his radicalization of his father’s position also gives us a ton to chew on thematically, but T’Challa isn’t really forced to articulate a contrasting point of view in an effective way. His own battle with tradition and legacy (and the lies that built that legacy) never felt like a strong enough contrast. Film Crit Hulk recently called the film “Do The Right Thing on a blockbuster scale,” and I think you’d really have to dig to find that. It might be there, don’t get me wrong, but I wish that conflict was more pronounced in the final act.

A lot of people are going to read this as a negative review, and I want to be clear that I liked Black Panther. The two contrasting trips to the “dream realm” were haunting and beautiful. The cast is outstanding, as you said. I can’t wait for Letitia Wright’s Baby Sister Q to meet Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Danai Gurira is poised and powerful in a completely effortless way, and her delivery of “Without question!” near the end made me want to cheer. The closing scene in Oakland is the real MCU game-changer, presenting a crazy new wrinkle to every other film going forward. Black Panther is a Mark Ahn for me, and my few reservations stem from simply wanting a good movie to be great.
Adam: Yeah, that final bit in Oakland is probably my favorite part of the movie. It’s a great touch. I think the opposites dynamic between Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan would have been better if they shared more screen time together and had more dialogue, similar to a Professor X and Magneto dynamic. As for the Do The Right Thing comparison, I dunno. It’s the same thing as how The Dark Knight became “The Godfather of comic book movies.” It’s not. Both are good but there’s only one The Godfather or Do the Right Thing. Just like there’s one The Dark Knight or Black Panther. But now I’m preaching. Anyways, I’m voting Mark Ahn as well. I think Blank Panther is a good movie. I just don’t want anyone to be upset that I don’t think it’s a great movie.

BTW...have you ever seen Never Back Down? I’m watching it on cable right now. Pretty enjoyable junk food.

Rob: I haven’t, but I do like junk food. Does it have a sassy Q character? Any film without a sassy Q character is now unacceptable.

Adam: No, but it has Cam Gigandet. What’s on tap for next time? Anything 1989 on your mind?

Rob: I mean, we already did Sea of Love, so what else could be worthy?

Adam: The Karate Kid Part III.

Rob: There’d better be a sassy Q. Until next time…

Adam: Wakanda/Gigandet forever.


  1. First off, I really liked the movie and I'm pretty much totally on board with your review.

    Also, did anyone else notice how similar it was to Thor: Ragnarok in plot? The hero is cast out of the kingdom by an estranged family member who takes over the kingdom and along the way the hero learns about how the sins of the past leadership are holding the nation back. Very interesting.

  2. Good read, I came out feeling the same way. The colors were vibrant, the cast had a great swagger, and the cultural touches in relation to the importance of storytelling were well done. I wish the narrative was better, as it seemed to consist of just saying “Vibranium” over and over again. I’d be interested in a Vibranium count, similar to a profanity counter in a Tarantino film.

    1. haha Someone should do the same thing with "Infinity Stone" in the upcoming Avengers 3.

    2. Have you ever taken a scoop of Vibranium and mixed it with a scoop of Unobtanium?

    3. I bartered them down to $18 million a kilo.

  3. Film Crit Hulk recently called the film “Do The Right Thing on a blockbuster scale”

    i feel he's saying that because both are about black people

    1. Feel free to contact him directly if you want to go there

    2. I'm wary of film fans who make frequent pronouncements.

    3. I do tend to do that on forums, but i swear i'm better in real live conversations

    4. That wasn't directed at you btw

    5. ah, thanks

      english is my second language, so i miss these things sometimes

      was this the article you were refering to?

    6. It was more of a general statement. I wasn't calling out Film Crit Hulk or anything.

    7. There was that scene in the middle when Nick Fury broke in with, "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup! All of y'all fighting over this vibranium is gonna get somebody killed! And that's the double truth, Ruth!"

  4. I'd highly recommend reading the full article he wrote about Black Panther as he greatly clarifies his statement. He doesn't think the movie is perfect either:

    1. He raises good points. I think he didn't do himself any favors with the hyperbole of his pre-article tweet. Good on him for clarifying it though. Many people wouldn't have done that.

    2. Yeah, I read the article and enjoyed it. I actually love how hyperbolic and overexcited Hulk gets about movies when he first sees them. My comment wasn't a slight against him; I was more bringing it up as a discussion point and something that I was thinking about when trying to decide how I felt about the themes of the film. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I felt like "its fine" coming out. I think this character and world however can only get better now, like Cap's movies. With all the groundwork this movie did, the potential for greatness is definitely there.

    Just a nitpick, kinda, I thought the 1st end credits scene should've actually been the ending to the movie, and the real ending should've been moved to the end credits. That decision ties up the impetus of the whole movie and leaves us with a better question than the question of the the (real) end leaves us with. Plus people were saying "amen" and "preach" and "right on brotha" during T'Challa's speech at the UN. It ruled.

    1. I agree with you Ben, I'm getting kind of tired with end credit scenes in Marvel movies.