by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
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.
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.
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.
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.