Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Joe Robert Cole, Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Runtime: 135 min
Black Panther is the last Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) entry before the highly expected Avengers: Infinity War and it tells the story of T'Challa's (Chadwick Boseman) rise to become King of Wakanda.
Right after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther returns to the isolated nation of Wakanda, but an old enemy reappears and the King's throne is put to the test. A conflict ensues and the fate of the whole world becomes in danger.
Black Panther is one of my most anticipated films of this year (you can check the list HERE) and I couldn't wait to watch it on an IMAX theater. I loved Boseman's presence in Civil War and his action sequences were amazing, so I was super excited to see what his origin movie could bring to the MCU.
Well, it is undoubtedly one of the best in the franchise and its place on the top one-third of the MCU is certainly guaranteed. It has a very heartfelt and culturally significant screenplay. This carries an even bigger weight than Wonder Woman did because for the first time in the cinema history, a film with not only a black lead superhero but with a 95% black cast (only two white characters), shines through with an emotional story.
The script is remarkably well-written. It has a lot of references to the real world but in the opposite way: Wakanda is more technologically advanced than the rest of the world and for once, black people are not the ones falling behind. I love this aspect of the movie, Ryan Coogler cleverly portrays a world where things are not as everyone thinks they are. This film is demonstrative of how to flawlessly build a world in a cinematic universe.
Also an example of perfection, the casting is phenomenal! Marvel never fails in getting the absolute best actors and actresses to portray their respective roles, either these being the lead hero or a secondary character. Everyone has terrific performances, but some are worth mentioning in detail.
I will not even start with Boseman. Firstly, I have to write about Michael B. Jordan and his interpretation of the villain, Erik Killmonger. Jordan is incredible, there isn't a single scene where he doesn't shine and he elevates his character. That said, Killmonger is by far the best villain since the beginning of everything (Iron Man (2008)).
His compelling journey makes the audience care for him and his beliefs are very true to his heart. He is what he thinks the people need him to be in order for everyone to be able to live freely and protected from the "bad guys" running the world. His backstory is very tragic and it sets up a dilemma between him and T'Challa. Erik is notably well-developed and Coogler does a wonderful job co-writing him with Joe Robert Cole.
Chadwick Boseman is right up there as well. He fully embodies his character, nailing the accent and making every interaction that he shares with his family or his close friends feel so realistic and full of emotion. T'Challa is an exceptional protagonist, it is easy to stand behind him since his motivations are genuine and passionate. He wants the best for his people and he wants to be an even better King than his father, by trying to correct his past mistakes.
I don't even consider T'Challa and Killmonger as the hero and the villain, respectively. Each character has their own perspective and their reasons are both solid, so when the time for their head-to-head comes, I can't really choose a side. Coogler and Cole brilliantly write the characters' script and each one has their own reasons to support either Boseman or Jordan's characters. This is why this movie probably has the best characters in the whole MCU.
Lupita Nyong'o beautifully portrays Nakia, a warrior that doesn't rely on tradition that much as she also wants to see the poor people around the world with a better quality of life. Danai Gurira (Okoye) is a badass and her character is also very well-developed, plus she has some cool action sequences. I also would like to congratulate Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue) for his excellent over-the-top performance, as well as Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi), Letitia Wright (super funny as Shuri) and Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross).
Actually, Ross was one of the characters that I left the theater wondering if he was really necessary. Being the only white person in Wakanda, I took a while to fully understand his role. Truthfully, he doesn't introduce or helps to develop any other character and he only has one or two scenes to shine. However, he is important to the cultural value of the film! He is the personification of the rest of the world, he thinks he is several steps ahead of T'Challa and his people, but Freeman ends up being the ignorant of Wakanda's greatness.
Like I wrote earlier, this is one of the best installments of the MCU. Culturally, it means a lot and the story has a lot of substance. The cinematography looks gorgeous, the nation of Wakanda is very well designed through CGI and the editing is great throughout the whole runtime. The epic score is one of the highlights. A lot of praise has been given to Kendrick Lamar for the rap vibe that he implements in the movie, but nothing beats the African traditional sounds that elevate not only the action scenes but every single moment.
Nevertheless, this film is not perfect. While its tone is well-balanced, its pacing not so much. The first act drags too much and it feels that some scenes could have been left out. From the first ritual battle onwards, the movie starts getting its pace right and the entertainment level gets higher. However, the plot follows a predictable path and it ends up on a disappointing note ... Coogler doesn't do good directing the most important action scene.
The CGI might be very good and it is indeed well-controlled during the film, but it is misused in the climactic fight at the end. I mean, the first ritual battle between T'Challa and (at the time) a random character is way more exciting and better filmed (good handling of the shaky cam and the water splashes effects are pretty cool) than the supposedly epic showdown with Killmonger. Leaving the theater disappointed with the fight is never a good sign, especially when there are so many awesome action moments during the film. Apart from this, a couple of exposition scenes could have been told in a better way, but these are all minor issues that I have with one of the best superhero movies in the most recent years.
All in all, Black Panther lives up to the hype and it does not fail. With an extraordinary cast, Boseman and Jordan lead a very heartfelt and emotional story, filled with fantastic characters and beautiful world-building. Killmonger is the absolute standout as the best villain of the entire MCU, the script is on-point for every character and the plot is very well-written, even if it becomes predictable. Technically great, but not flawless. While the cinematography, the editing and mainly the score elevate the film, the first act's slow pacing and the extremely disappointing climactic battle between the two leads bring down the movie, ending it on a bittersweet note. Still, this is surely in the top one-third of the MCU and I can't wait for Avengers: Infinity War!