Film Review: Black Panther

By Will Duggan

Director Ryan Coogler made his own uniquely individualistic twist on a Marvel movie and it is nothing short of amazing and revolutionary, from the complex setting and characters to the music and fashion. While watching this film, I felt fullyimmersed and realized just how special and important the insanely advanced nation of Wakanda truly is.

The setting of Wakanda feels more like a character than a setting. There are traditions and distinct tribes of this nation that highlight the different aspects of the technological beauty of this nation. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has to not only be the deciding factor in which direction he has to take his nation in, but also must protect and defend his nation with the mantle of Black Panther. The film focuses on T’Challa’s duality as king and warrior of a secretive nation and the effects an extremely vindictive outsider can have due to T’Challa’s father’s severe mistake.

Each actor puts such a high level of care, complexity and development into their character. While the film does not mainly focus on T’Challa as a character so much as its side characters, Boseman’s T’Challa has a dynamic perspective of how his nation should be led. He struggles to choose a side in his nation’s internal conflict of tradition vs. innovation. He also has to deal with the issue of following in his father’s footsteps as a king while making his own mark. The women in this film are integral to the plot and are never brushed to the side. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), is such a refreshing take on the role of the younger teenage sister. Wright’s portrayal is caring, innovative, comedic and confident. Her character helps create most of the country’s technology and never takes a back seat during the film. Wright knows when to time each joke effectively and knows how to show true emotion when a scene demands it. She takes part in action sequences and is never told to let the adults handle things.

Photo from The Verge

Photo from The Verge

Okoye (Danai Gurira) is a loyal, determined, compassionate and bold warrior, while also serving as head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite all-female bodyguards/special forces. Gurira’s performance is unique: she leads her action sequences, never follows them and highlights the struggles she goes through, such as when she wants to care for her loved ones but has to stay committed to her position. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend but is never portrayed as the damsel; she is actually a Wakandian spy that knows how to be both brutal in her fighting technique and considerate when it comes to the love of her country and T’Challa. Nyong’o reflects her character’s desires for her country and shows how she would rather have her country strive for change than tradition.

Forest Whitaker's portrayal as Wakandan shaman Zuri and Angela Bassett’s role as Ramonda, Queen Mother of Wakanda and mother to T’Challa and Shuri, both shine brightly in their moments when they have to support T'Challa with his vital decisions as king. While Martin Freeman’s Agent Everett Ross and Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue were wonderful additions as side characters, the film’s most significant character, aside from T’Challa, was the American outsider known as Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Jordan’s performance was the most fascinating and heartfelt villain Marvel has seen since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in Thor. Jordan’s portrayal as Killmonger made me feel such a great level of sympathy for the character and how he feels he was wronged by Wakanda in a way. A film’s hero is only as good as it’s villain, and Jordan knocks it out of the park in this film. The best villains also make you understand their perspectives and motivations, and Jordan presents a villain where you slightly see his own reasoning behind his own perspective and motivation due to the cards he’s been dealt in life.

The film’s music composed by Ludwig Goransson is deeply-rooted in a type of African percussion and choral sounds, which highlights the characters' personalities and their specific culture. The album for this film has a mix of R&B and hip-hop, with stars such as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, SZA, Khalid and many more. This album gives a tone of revolution for this film.

The costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, displays distinct tones and styles for each character’s personality and reflects Wakanda’s hybrid culture of tradition and innovation, especially with the uniforms worn by Dora Milaje.

Director Ryan Coogler has constructed a film that feels both separate yet connected to the rest of the films in the Marvel cinematic universe. Coogler’s tone mixes mostly with tradition vs. innovation and develops each character to see how they alter their own perspectives of the world.

The film does have some flaws, such as pacing and special effects, but they don’t diminish the successful aspects of the film. The pacing sometimes unevenly alternates from one action sequence to a more character-driven scene, and some of the special effects, such as the CGI, felt a little cartoon-ish rather than completely realistic. Finally, I felt that there needed to be slightly more development with T’Challa in some scenes.

Overall, the movie proves how superhero films can be fresh, vibrant, truly unconventional and don’t always have to set up another film or stick to a specific type of formula. This film strays away from the formulated plot that Marvel movies are known for by having its own original tone, distinct personalities in its characters, questionably agreeable motivations from its villain and a great moral to the entire story. Coogler provided a movie that should be common in the film industry, but sadly is rarely seen. Hopefully, this film helps usher in more stories that reflect the world today.