REVIEW: “Black Panther”


Over the last several months my thoughts on “Black Panther” went from cautious to optimistic; lukewarm to generally excited. What nearly dampened my enthusiasm was the rabid, unbridled praise from early viewers who were quick to throw out words like “masterpiece” and “the greatest superhero movie ever made”. My personal favorite may be that the film will be “taught in school” and “debated among intellectuals”. Director Ryan Coogler has even been heralded as “the new Spielberg”.

All of this does more to fuel my skepticism than stoke excitement. After all, there are some legitimate reasons to want a film like this to succeed and it seems many are doing their part to ensure the hype is through the roof. But here’s the thing, I don’t need prodding in order to find reasons to be excited: Coogler is a fantastic young filmmaker. I absolutely love the cast. I couldn’t wait to see how cinematographer Rachel Morrison follows up her Oscar-nominated work in “Mudbound”. Ultimately all of the fawning puts undeserved pressure on “Black Panther” which when brought down to reality is an extraordinary genre picture that stands strong on its own merits.


With two feature films under his belt (the good “Fruitvale Station” and the even better “Creed”) Ryan Coogler has shown himself to be an astute director with a fresh cinematic perspective. He brings all of that to “Black Panther” which he also co-writes with Joe Robert Cole. His venture into the superhero genre feels epic in scale yet maintains an intimacy that some of Marvel’s other efforts lack. It’s a careful balance that helps the movie excel in a variety of ways.

The wonderfully cast Chadwick Boseman returns as T’Challa, a character first introduced in Marvel’s “Civil War”. In that film his father, the king of the small African country of Wakanda, is killed during a terrorist attack in Vienna. “Black Panther” begins shortly after with T’Challa set to take his father’s place as Wakanda’s king as well as its super-powered protector. He’s quickly faced with a host of challenges both from inside and outside of his nation’s secret borders.


Much like “Wonder Woman” a year ago, “Black Panther” reinvigorates its genre in a number of ways and the two movies share similarities. In that film it was the mythical island of Themyscira that remained hidden and untainted by the outside world. Here it’s Wakanda posing as a poor third-world country but actually rich in energy and technology thanks to a powerful alien mineral known as vibranium which they keep hidden from the rest of the world. Isolationism is one of the many subjects explored as the leaders of Wakanda’s five tribes debate their traditional stance versus a more open-world position. There is no easy answer as I’m sure the inevitable sequels will prove.

While T’Challa is the centerpiece you could say it’s the supporting characters who make this such a rich and full experience. First you have his allies, a delightful collection of powerful and personality-rich women. Lupita Nyong’o is fabulous as T’Challa’s principled ex-flame and Wakandan secret agent Nakia who’s guided by conscience over crown. Danai Gurira is lights-out as Okoye, leader of the female special forces unit known as the Dora Milaje. Letitia Wright plays T’Challa’s live-wire younger sister Shuri. She’s to her brother what Q is to James Bond. We also get great names like Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker.


In the bad guys corner is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who knows Wakanda’s big secret and has a sweet tooth for vibranium. There’s something I love about Serkis’ performance that I can’t quite put my finger on. Klaue is as bizarre as he is brutal and you can tell Serkis is having a ball portraying him.

But the name most people will be talking about (and rightly so) is Michael B. Jordan who plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. His story is setup in the film’s prologue and comes more into focus as the movie moves forward. As his name denotes, Killmonger has been raised in violence and therefore acts through violence. He is an essential piece to Coogler’s story and offers more complexity than the bulk of Marvel villains we’ve seen. In many ways Killmonger is the product of choices made by others and he is driven by a whirlwind of internal chaos, much of it aimed at Wakanda.

Jordan is an absolute scene-stealer and you get the sense Coogler wants him to be. The two have collaborated on both “Fruitvale” and “Creed” and they definitely operate on the same wavelength. Here the charismatic Jordan brings a swagger to Killmonger as well as a palpable rage which fuels his every move. Ultimately he is a misguided soul yet at the same time a sympathetic one with much more driving him than the generic quest for ‘world domination’.


In each of his films Coogler has shown a big interest in his characters and it’s no different here. He also gives a lot of attention to visualizing Wakanda as a majestic place full of cultural beauty and aesthetic diversity. Production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter make the most with their chunk of the film’s $200 million budget. And it’s all captured through Rachel Morrison’s vibrant camera.

As much as I loved “Black Panther” it isn’t without a few nagging issues. There are plenty of action scenes, several of which are fabulous. But the ending is the only time the movie falls in with the traditional Marvel formula – a massive final battle with a ton of CGI. While some of it is exhilarating, the effects aren’t what you would expect and sometimes come off as a little cartoony. There are also a handful of unanswered questions and a couple of relationships that felt underserved. Minor quibbles in light of what all the movie manages to do right.


“Black Panther” is indeed a socially relevant movie as many have said and it is so without depending on obvious narrative crutches or hammer-to-the-head sermonizing. It’s socially relevant because it simply is. That may sound a bit tripe, but it’s the best way to state it. The film’s setting, its characters, its conflicts all feel natural and authentic within the world Coogler and company create. The story’s message and underlying themes are rooted in conviction and earnestly explored within the flow of the narrative itself. Really good filmmakers can do that.

In the end “Black Panther” is a rousing success not because critics propped it up or commentators screamed its importance. It’s a success because of the people who made it – immense talents in front and behind the camera who are hopefully opening the eyes of moviegoers and moviemakers. But “Black Panther” isn’t just a cultural statement. It’s a terrific film that energizes a genre as it has a community. Not many movies can say that.



50 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Black Panther”

  1. Interesting review . I haven’t seen it yet , going this weekend . This review was the only one I have read , because you shared my hesitancy swirling around this movie. Still a bit leary to be honest having seen some clips and found myself cringing at some dialogue but still hoping I like it .

    • I hopped back and forth between a 4.0 and a 4.5 score. Ultimately I stuck with the enthusiasm I had leaving the theater. I was impressed with how it didn’t feel like just another processed Marvel movie. And while some have heralded yet as a “political movie” (something I often cringe at), I would say it’s deeply thoughtful instead of overtly political.

      But to be honest, some of the high praise is definitely over-the-top. It’s not a masterpiece and it’s certainly not the best superhero movie ever made. But it’s a fun and fresh MCU installment that I’m anxious to see again.

  2. Everyone seems to have noticed that Michael B. Jordan is the charismatic center of the film. Boseman is playing it so low key for the first half of the movie that he almost loses the film to the antagonist. Once we get to the turn things pick up. I thought there were some problems with the culture story and some wobbly CGI in both action sequences and the backgrounds of Wakanda itself. Otherwise I mostly agree with your take on this.

    • I really like how Boseman played T’Challa. It gives room for the other characters to flourish but it also leads to the reason why he is the best fit to be king. He isn’t impulsive or overly-aggressive. He listens, is compassionate, humble, even forgiving. But he is also strong and I see him as the balance to everyone else’s passion and aggression.

      I do agree on the CGI especially in the finale. It isn’t nearly as good as you would expect from a $200 million movie.

  3. Great review! I loved this. I find it interesting that even though T’Challa was the lead, the supporting characters all seemed a bit more interesting. Not to knock him at all, but the writing for the rest of the cast was great.

    • That’s an interesting take on him and I have heard several others say the same thing. For me the other characters made the movie rich and full. But at the same time, I viewed T’Challa as the best person to lead. He is the perfect balance of all of their passions, aggressions, etc. He had compassion, strength, empathy, and forgiveness. That’s why he is the right king.

  4. Beautifully written my friend. You managed to say a lot of what I said–just better! HA I’m glad you enjoyed the film overall. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again Coogler is my favorite. He’s just got that “IT” factor that makes the great filmmakers great. Looking forward to what’s next for him!

    • Thank you so much! I’m with you on Coogler. He is such an exciting young filmmaker and he definitely has “it”. For me it’s his skill in handling character that is so effective. Whether its in a docudrama (“Fruitvale”), a Rocky spin-off (“Creed”) or a huge budget Marvel movie, Coogler knows how to develop characters. And it doesn’t hurt having an absolute stellar cast, right?

    • Hope so too. One thing is for sure though, if you can’t this weekend it will definitely be around for a while. This one is going to have some legs at the theaters.

  5. I like the way you address the absolutely insane praise that this film is getting. Yeah it is a good film, thrilling in places, but I just can’t get behind some of the rave reviews. Its reaching a zenith of overcompensatory white guilt to me.

    • 100% agree. And I may be wrong, but I feel that takes away from the those who made the movie. Just let it stand on its own, strengths and flaws. I really had fun with the movie, but let’s be realistic. It’s not a “masterpiece”. But it’s such a step up from the last few MCU movies.

    • Another thing, while I really appreciate its cultural significance, did you feel the movie transcends the MCU (strictly from a cinematic perspective)? I didn’t. I don’t see someone who dislikes these Marvel movies really loving this one.

      • Absolutely not. I think my dad, this being his first MCU experience and all, was a perfect litmus test. He didn’t think much of the story, the characters and all the gadgetry. He isn’t in to these types of movies of course, but if it were a transcendental film, I feel like it would be able to get people like him on board. Maybe not.

        The villain, however, felt more nuanced. His motives were powerfully communicated. His death actually touched me. That was a really memorable death.

      • YES. “Black Panther” manages something the majority of MCU films don’t – a compelling villain. I really went for Killmonger and Jordan portrayed him well. Dude has the swagger.

  6. Like you, the early hyperbole made me more sceptical than excited but it would appear from your glowing review that high expectations are served in Black Panther.

    • They really are. The crazy thing is the movie doesn’t need to be propped up by unrealistic praise. It fully stands on its own merit. The craft behind it, the good storytelling, the wonderful performances – those are the things that make it such a good movie.

      Will you be seeing it soon?

    • It’s really good. And hats off to Marvel for giving Coogler the room to make it his own. You don’t feel any Marvel meddling. Now are you ready for him to return in Infinity War? Looks like Wakanda will play a significant role.

  7. Nice review Keith. Looking forward to catching this soon. A few friends of mine actually did a double screening of this with Space is the Place, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it. Would be interested in comparing this with some other Afrofuturist films.

    • It’s a good one. To be perfectly honest It is probably more of a 4 star for me, but the sheer enjoyment I had ended up making it a touch higher. And they finally give us another compelling villain. Marvel has seriously fallen short in that area. Not here. I also enjoyed the fact that if feels fresh. As I recall you have had superhero fatigue for a while, right? I was feeling it too so this (much like Wonder Woman) was a breath of fresh air. Not a masterpiece, but a really good genre flick.

      • You definitely see Coolger’s filmmaking talents at work in Black Panther. It does become a full-fledged .Marvel movie’ at the end, but still a really fun ride.

  8. Great review!!! I saw the movie myself this past weekend. I went in with only one expectation, or rather one hope, and that was for it to be praise worthy. It was indeed. I felt as though they played it very well without going over the top. Such a great movie.

    • Thanks so much! I’m with you. I left the theater on such a high and any skepticism I had was gone. I’m really hoping they can convince Coogler to come back for at least one more. He’s started something pretty special for Marvel.

  9. Great review! Some very good points in here 🙂 To be honest, I like seeing huge battles as a climax in blockbusters… but I agree it’s pretty cool when films go for a smaller scale ending that’s less epic and more personal. Civil War is a good example of that 🙂

    • That’s a really good example. And to be honest I’m not against the big finales. I think it’s the overload of CGI that often does them in for me. But some of it is exhilarating.

      • It was definitely the biggest battle and quite fun. But in Civil War my favorite continues to be Cap and Bucky fighting soldiers in the apartment building which then amped up more when Panther shows up and chases them through the tunnel. Sooo good.

  10. Great review Keith!! Glad you ended up loving this film as much as I did. I agree that I too was cautiously optimistic about the huge hype around this film, but glad that it managed to meet even my lofty expectations. The filmmakers and cast are top notch, so it deserved all the kudos and earned its merit, because representation alone certainly doesn’t make a good film.

    • I’m so glad that no one can say the movie is only doing well because of the hype. It absolutely earns its accolades. Sure, some of the praise is a little over-the-top, but that doesn’t discredit the movie’s quality. It’s great on its own merits. Taking the family to see it next Saturday.

  11. It most certainly has energized a community. It has also shown that the genre can tackle tougher issues without being too preachy and still being entertaining, as you touched on. My very small quibble with your review is that, to me at least, Killmonger is head and shoulders above the rest of the MCU villains because his motivations are relatable, debatable, and relevant while also being slyly complex. I love Loki, but he ain’t giving us that.

    • Oh man. You have me questioning what I wrote. I think Killmonger’s complexity is what made him a top-tier Marvel villain. He’s something their movies have rarely done – give us a truly thoughtful and compelling villain. It’s a crucial strength of the film.

      Oh, and seeing it again Saturday, this time with the entire family.

    • I think part of the problem with Marvel villains are the studio requirements for scripts. Apparently Joss Whedon was contractually required to have the Avengers fight among themselves, really cutting into the time he had to develop villains.

  12. Finally watched Black Panther and although I liked it , especially Boseman in the lead , it was solid a 7.5 for me . I liked it much better than the last outings by Marvel. While many thought Killmonger was more complex, I just didn’t see him that way . He was well played by Jordan but at the end, he was another villain bent on taking back something he felt was taken from him and then becoming like the people he hates. I also wish they hadn’t have killed off Serkis so quickly either but quibbles .The supporting cast was great though and being a Freeman fan , I was surprised he was in it as much as he was . But like I said, Boseman was the key for me . He exuded strength , wisdom, dignity , humanity and compassion , a real hero. Strong outing over all , but I just not there with the crazy praise I guess . Am I tiring of superhero movies from Marvel? Maybe .

    • 100% agree on Boseman and the T’Challa character. I did like Killmonger quite a bit and while I agree that his general framework is familiar, he scored for me because his rage felt more personal and grounded. I think that’s where the complexity comes in for me. There’s an real-world kick to what no only drives him but what created him.

      What amazes me are the beliefs that he is a hero. I do find him sympathetic – a tragic figure if you will. But also wanted to slaughter people including children. We also get a scene where he grabs an innocent woman by the neck. And something else that I haven’t heard many people talk about. He also shows the impulse of a tyrant by wanting to wipe out any possibility of a successor. Blinded by rage and completely misguided. Yes, a victim of circumstances beyond his control, but not a hero.

      • I did like Killmonger as a villian and I agree his rage was real , better than what Marvel has offered in the past but I could not sympathize with him much . He was no different than those he hated , therefore becoming what he hated . But Boseman as the hero showed empathy, compassion ,a strength of presence I haven’t seen much in Marvel movies . Plus I really liked the lack of one-liners at intense serious moments. It allowed for tension and drama. I will say as well, I look forward to seeing more of Boseman as Black Panther.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s