Review: Black Panther (Spoiler Free)

I just flew back from Wakanda, and boy are my arms tired!

Seriously, I saw the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Black Panther, today. The theater was a Dolby theater, with improved sound (think Sensurround, for those old enough to remember it) and a higher contrast film. No 3-D, but there are recliners and assigned seating, which alone makes it worth the few extra bucks to get it. The theater was filled (as indeed were the other eight or ten theaters showing it in various formats in my local AMC).

Short version: Black Panther is really good. It’s not the best film in the MCU (that goes either to Avengers or Captain America the Winter Soldier), but it’s definitely a solid entry overall.

The visuals are truly astounding in this film. Wakanda is fascinating, with a distinct architectural style that almost feels like it belongs in a Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy film. In particular, the use of color throughout (even when the film is in places like London and Korea) is very well-done. The MCU has clearly moved into a phase where bright colors are the palette of choice, rather than the rather muted colors of earlier films in the series, and it’s a welcome change. I would daresay this shift in color presages the coming shift in Phase 4 to the cosmic and magical side of the MCU.

It’s also worth saying that it makes the Marvel movies stand out visually from the muted-to-the-point-of-being-drab DC films.

The music was also a standout element, and captures the cultural differences of Wakanda, using a number of African themes woven into a traditional soaring orchestral form to come up with something new. Definitely an improvement over Doctor Strange’s forgettable music.

The acting is great as well. The casting is excellent, and all the performances are well-done. I particularly loved Andy Serkis’ return as villainous arms dealer Ulysses Klaue, as he really stepped up his crazy with the character, and it worked perfectly. Chadwick Boseman is just as good in the lead as he was as a supporting character in Captain America Civil War, and has the chops to carry the film. His sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, provides most of the humor, although Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross has his share as well.

The stand-out, though, is Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. The same praise I gave to Spider Man Homecoming’s Vulture applies here as well. He’s fully fleshed-out, with a clear mission and a clear motivation. He’s full of menace, and it’s very clear that he’s a capable threat. I hope Marvel continues it’s recent streak of good villains; a tendency towards underwhelming villains has been their only consistent weak-spot for years.

One thing I should also point out is that the film didn’t get as preachy as I feared it would. Specifically, some of the early marketing for the film gushed about “black exceptionalism” and “Afrofuturism” and so forth. Having seen it, there wasn’t any “white people are evil” stuff (aside from a few exceptions about which I won’t go into details), and the ultimate message of the movie was actually quite uplifting. So, my worries about the films potential politicization were unfounded. Yay!

All in all, this is a terrific film and well worth the price of admission. While there are (inevitably) call-backs to Captain America Civil War, which directly sets up the events of this film and which was the introduction of Black Panther, it’s much more of a stand-alone film than we’ve seen in years, although we know from the trailers that Wakanda will feature prominently in May’s Avengers Infinity War. Four stars out of five.

And make sure you stay through the credits; there are two helpings of schawarma.

Want to discuss the movie with total spoilers? Here you go.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.