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Black Panther: The MCU Movie I’ve Been Waiting For

Black Panther Plot Summary:

After the death of his father (John Kani), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is set to take the throne of Wakanda, a hidden nation in Africa that is keeper of the greatest technology in the entire world.  With this ancient technology, T’Challa is bestowed with great power, becoming the next Black Panther.  When an old enemy (Andy Serkis) resurfaces, a terrible secret is brought to the forefront that could spell doom for not only Wakanda, but the rest of the world.

This is why I’m hard on Doctor Strange.  This is why I can’t stand Thor: Ragnarok.  This is why all those Captain America films are overrated.  Black Panther is the first MCU movie I can honestly say is truly great.  For once, they don’t Marvel it up.  Kevin Feige gave Ryan Coogler the keys to Wakanda, and he never looked back.  Thank you, Marvel.  Thank you.

Black Panther delves into superhero themes we’ve seen many times before, but with a screenplay this good, who cares.  Wakanda is keeper of a power that could help the rest of the world, but at what cost?  Do you share this power, and risk putting your world in greater danger?  This naturally leads to the villains wanting to take this concept to the extreme.  It’s a standard set up, but a good one.  While the foundation is laid for a great story, it all goes back to character.  And boy, do we have some good ones here.

The man who holds this responsibility is T’Challa, the next king of Wakanda.  As newly made king, he faces the pressure any one would with this new power – can I live up to my father?  This is where the writing smashes other Marvel movies to a bloody pulp.  As T’Challa wrestles with this and becomes the Black Panther, he has this conversation.  There’s a line of dialogue here about fathers and sons that absolutely crushed me.  It’s early in the film, and by this point, I knew we were in for something special.

There’s another line in this same scene about the burden of being a leader.  It’s so profound, and something that wraps back around so bitter sweetly at the end.  Again, it’s just a damn good screenplay.

I don’t have much to say about Chadwick Boseman.  This guy should probably be in every movie, not just biopics.  He owns the role.  There’s nothing else to say.  He embodies the confidence and hardships of being a king beautifully, but it’s when he has to deal with secrets that have been hidden from him his whole life is when it allows Boseman to go to that next level.  Other than maybe Robert Downey Jr. in the first Iron Man, it’s the best MCU hero performance ever.

What I also love about Boseman is his subtle reaction to all the humor.  Yes, it’s an MCU movie, so of course we’re going to get jokes.  Unlike the rest of the MCU, this film isn’t guilty of trying to make every character funny.  T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), who’s basically the Q of the film, is the true comic relief.  She’s fantastic.  Every time she makes a joke with her brother, Boseman isn’t trying to one up her, which is what happens in Doctor Strange.  Boseman is very understated.  Again, thank you, Marvel.

Speaking of supporting characters, the cast lives up to its billing.  The stand out for everyone will be Okoye, played by Danai Gurira.  She’s basically Wonder Woman on steroids.  Bad ass.  Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya doesn’t miss a beat as W’Kabi, T’Challa’s right hand man.  His intensity cuts through the screen like a beautiful laser.  The performance is great, but I did have a few quibbles with his character arc, but no spoilers.  Lupita Nyong’o is the main love interest, Nakia.  Nyong’o is great as always, but the character is underutilized just a tad.  Minor complaint.

Angela Basset is Angela Basset.  The end.  As Queen of Wakanda and T’Challa’s mother, there’s a moment where she’s forced to do something you wouldn’t wish on any mother.  Bassett is heartbreaking in this scene.  The other heartbreaking performance is Forest Whitaker, who’s essentially the Rafiki of the movie.  Whitaker plays Zuri, and the burden he’s forced to deal with his whole life is pure pain and guilt, and you can see that weigh on Whitaker’s face.  Oh yeah, there’s also Martin Freeman.  He’s pretty much Phil Coulson, but fifteen times better, and a lot less annoying.  You really appreciate him in this movie.

Let’s get to the man of the hour.  Michael B. Jordan.  If you don’t think Michael B. Jordan is the best MCU villain ever, I can’t help you.  Again, it’s a very standard backstory.  His birthright was ripped away from him.  It’s a life that was unfairly taken away.  As “Killmonger,” he becomes pure and utter vengeance.  Jordan is a hurricane in this film.  Outstanding.  This is an Oscar level performance, especially at the end.

Speaking of the end, what they do with Killmonger was the absolute right call.  I was worried they were going in one direction, but they took a crisp U-turn.  Some may disagree, but it’s a much more meaningful and powerful ending.  The final ending to the film was very predictable, but at the same time, it couldn’t be more perfect.  It cements the message of the film.  My only issue with the third act is it falls into the traditional superhero trope of action over load.  It’s not as bad as Wonder Woman, but there’s some CGI creatures I could have done without.

The action was flawless.  Pristine.  Slick.  Pure joy.  The first scene felt a little JV Batman Begins, but I mean that as a compliment.  There’s a set piece at a casino that leads to a car chase that gets a little too Marvel.  My anti MCU blood boiled a little bit.

If there’s one character who Marveled it up too much, it was Andy Serkis as Klaue.  At one point he sings and makes a SoundCloud joke.  That belongs in Doctor Strange, not Black Panther.  Having said that, the Marvel-isms were very downplayed.  For example, T’Challa faces a challenger for his crown, leading them to duel.  This scene is all business.  If this were another Marvel film, Happy Hogan would have walked on frame and made a Downton Abbey joke or something.  When the film got serious, it remained serious.

Oh yeah, it’s also the best MCU score by far.  AWESOME score by Ludwig Goransson.

For all the great acting and writing, at the end of the day, it’s all Ryan Coogler.  I knew from the first scene it was his movie.  It felt very Creed.  He made this his movie.  He took all these characters and put them in situations that really challenged them.  The themes of loyalty, duty and patience infiltrate these characters like a blessing and a virus.  It’s Ryan Coogler who gives depth to this movie that other MCU films can only dream of.

Now that the MCU has gone to that next level of great superhero filmmaking, I’m going to be even harder on these films.  The Joker said it best: “There’s no going back.”  I understand that every character isn’t Black Panther, but there’s no reason why you can’t make a Thor movie with the same weight of the world as this one.

The MCU finally made a big boy movie.  They threw away the McDonalds and grilled up a salivating steak.  The question is will they buy more steak, or go back to the Drive-Thru?

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen likes movies and bagels, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from writing Box Office predictions, Daniel hosts the monthly Batman by the Numbers Podcast on the Breakcast feed. Speaking of Batman, If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.


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