Black Panther Review: Long Live the King

The anticipation for this film has been out of this world. From breaking presale ticket records to an unbelievable amount of early promo screenings, this is the first Marvel film to break the typical ‘Marvel Superhero mold’ and go off in a different direction.

As the story goes, Black Panther follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who, after the death of his father (John Kani), the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when an old enemy arises, he’s forced to make vital decisions to decide the fate of Wakanda and the world.

There is a lot to discuss here so let’s get straight to it. First, this is the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to this date. Second, seeing an all-black cast on this platform for the first time was not only refreshing but absolutely necessary. We need to go over the role of women in this film. Lastly, the subtle messages in the film that were directed at the audience are as important as the actual plotline itself.

This is not your typical Marvel adventure and I was so glad it didn’t come to that. Even the way Stan Lee made his expected appearance in the film was better and much smoother than what I’ve seen in the past. Like the movie’s title, the Black Panther movement, in reality, started in October of 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in Oakland, California. So where does the film begin? Oakland, CA. The way the film’s storyline gelled with our current reality was beautifully done. What Huey Newton and Bobby Seale set out to do was protect and educate black people and stand up against injustice, specifically from Oakland’s Police Department (which still has problems to this day). Social programs were at the party’s core and one of the most notable programs (which my father recounts vividly) were the “Free Breakfast for Children.” They armed each other for protection and often marched to mock the stupidity, racial biases, and hypocrisy of the NRA (which still exist to this day). So in the film, there are characters who voice and represent these struggles in a relatable, ‘in your face’ manner.

Mbaku

Wakanda is made up of five tribes. Four of the five accept Black Panther as their leader but the Bakari tribe, led by M’Baku (Winston Duke) do not and take their place in solitude in the mountains. This technologically advanced country is masked by the “look” of a third-world country to the outside world but boasts the most precious resource in the world, vibranium. T’Challa leads his people to continue the tradition of staying hidden and keeping the precious resource out of the hands of the greedy Americans (sound familiar?). One of the last messages from his father (which we should all follow) was, “You’re a good man, too good for politics (wow). Keep a circle of good people around you that you can trust.” That circle came in the form of his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his personal guard. The message of keeping a circle of good people around you is a good one but the picture that’s painted exists already in black culture. Notice all the names I mentioned were women? That is a direct reflection of “Behind every strong black man is a strong black woman,” and he had four! The power felt by the cohesion and intelligence of these five individuals gets better and better as the film continues.

Okoye Lupita and Ayo in Black Panther

This leads me to my next point about these women. I cannot believe that out of all the reviews I’ve read, not one of them spent the proper amount of time praising their existence and importance in this movie. As I mentioned above, those four are the main ones you’ll be exposed to in the film, but they are everywhere. The most exciting and the easiest to identify is the Dora Milaje, the personal bodyguards to the Black Panther. Led by Okoye (top left), they protect the king at all costs, boasting red armor, shaved heads, and spears. If you remember in Captain America: Civil War, we were initially introduced to Ayo (Florence Kasumba, top right) as our first glimpse of the Dora Milaje. Her presence and her one-liner almost stole the whole film (and in case you’re wondering, yes, she gets more face time in this movie). Nakia, played by Lupita, loves T’Challa but loves helping her people even more, which is why she never stayed in Wakanda. She didn’t feel right living in the thriving country of Wakanda while outsiders that looked like her were starving. But anytime he needed her she was by his side without question. T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri is the epitome of life goals. Her intelligence is next level and she has her own lab where she develops weapons and enhances technology already deemed ‘perfect’. She’s smart, beautiful, and her sense of humor led her to be the most glamorous troll I’ve ever laid eyes on.

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There were so many great messages conveyed in various ways it was hard to keep count. Some were to explain to a mass audience how the struggle onscreen is the exact same in reality. Others were slight jabs of in-your-face truth via comedy like Shuri’s “Oh great, I get to fix another broken white boy” (think Rob Kardashian). There were scenes where white characters talked down to T’Challa as if he and his people didn’t know what they were talking about even though they had the credentials to speak on such things (very real, especially in the workplace). The fact that the Wakandans lived on a mountain of vibranium and the white characters discussed how they didn’t know how to truly use it (colonization, stealing territory). There’s a beautiful scene where Nakia and Okoye are conversing in disguise and Okoye says she hates her ‘hairpiece’ and it doesn’t feel ‘natural’. Nakia says, “Just whip your hair back and forth” and Okoye scoffs in defense saying she was beautiful before the hairpiece. Even the deep juxtaposition of T’Challa and Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (or for Marvel heads Professor X and Magneto) was done beautifully.

Black Panther and Eric Killmonger

This is the most necessary film of the 21st Century and the most important of this current administration. Since the arrival of ‘The Great Cheetoh’, racism, hate, and greed now have a face. In the film, they didn’t say they needed to keep vibranium out of the hands of evil, they didn’t say to keep it out of the hands of Europeans, they said, specifically, Americans. Do you understand how deep that is? This movie will be seen all over the world and for those of you who have yet to travel outside of our borders, the U.S. having anything dangerous is an actual concern for people across the globe.

The faux outrage about Black Panther is almost as funny as the white attendees in our press screening laughing loudly at jokes aimed at other Wakandans but deafly silent when the jokes were aimed at Everett (Martin Freeman) and Klaue (Andy Serkis). I’ve seen everything from “Christian” groups threatening to boycott to brainless cretins claiming the film is racist and my favorite, “Marvel is bowing down to the liberal left!”  For the record, the Black Panther character made its first appearance in “Fantastic Four Vol. 1” Issue 52, published in 1966. Hmm… didn’t you just read about something earlier on that happened in 1966…?

To close out, I’d like to leave you with some fun facts:

  • Led by Danai Gurira’s character, Okoye, the Dora Milaje security force features an international contingent of women from all over the world, including Florence Kasumba who returns to play Ayo. The Dora Milaje were cast from a pool of actresses, stuntwomen, and Broadway dancers so that each individual Dora could have specialized skills that they brought to the table.
  • It was decided early on that Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa would be the language of Wakanda. A precedent had been set in Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: Civil War,” when celebrated South African actor John Kani, who portrayed King T’Chaka, used his native accent. Chadwick Boseman, who plays T’Challa/Black Panther, picked it up from him as well.
  • The cast and stunt team practiced with African drums played by musician Jabari Exum so that their movements would have a musical quality found in many African-based martial arts.
  • Michael B. Jordan, who plays Erik Killmonger, spent about two and a half hours in the special effects makeup chair every day, while makeup designer Joel Harlow and three other makeup artists applied close to 90 individually sculpted silicone molds to his upper body. This “scarification” application process entails transferring each mold and then blending and painting them to match Jordan’s skin tone. Each of Killmonger’s scars represents a “notch” of his kills over the years.
  • The Warrior Falls set was 120’ x 75’ in size. The set was 36’ tall, with the pool being six feet above ground level. That made the cliff faces 30’ tall. Construction took about four months from start to finish.
  • The entire cliff wall of the Warrior Falls, including the CG and practically built set, is 100 feet high.
  • Over 25,000 cubic feet of foam was used in the Warrior Falls set, which was sculpted to match the rocks in Oribi Gorge in South Africa.

Black Panther gets an emphatic 10 out of 10. The soundtrack is a beautiful fusion of American Hip-Hop, Afrobeats, and Dance music. Even with the PG-13 rating, minus a friendly middle finger from Shuri and a vibrant “Whoop yo ass!” from Killmonger, the rest of the film is fine if you want to bring kids. If there’s one thing I want you to remember, remember the first bad rating the film received on Rotten Tomatoes. Among other things, T’Challa didn’t, “kick enough butt” for the halfwit who wrote that review. When you’re arguably the smartest man in the world, intelligence can be used as a weapon…

-Jon J.

*Plenty of plot and other powerful quotes were omitted to avoid spoiling your experience.

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