Here’s my spoiler-free review of Black Panther:
I said in my initial reaction that this might be my new favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but that only time would tell. Two days and an additional viewing later, I’m still not exactly sure where it will land in my personal MCU rankings, but I’m still pretty certain it will be very near the top. So what makes this movie so good? To honestly answer that question, I feel like I’d have to make feature-length commentary track for the entire movie, akin to a director’s commentary. Instead, I’ll just have to settle for a few general statements.
I may as well start with one of my favorite aspects of the film: the score. It may seem odd to point this out first, but the score was absolutely phenomenal. It almost felt like it was its own character within the movie. Unlike many previous Marvel movies where the score is unnoticeable and forgettable, throughout pretty much the entire film I found myself amazed by how much the music enhanced what we were seeing on the screen. In fact, I made sure to listen to the album in its entirety yesterday, and I’m even listening to it again as I write this. (To be clear, I’m talking about the instrumental score by Ludwig Göransson, not the original music by Kendrick Lamar, though that was used to good effect as well.) It will almost certainly be nominated for “Best Score” in next year’s iteration of the McKoovies (shameless plug).
An additional amazing strength of this film was its cast. The amount of great characters is so high, it’s possible that Black Panther’s character was overshadowed in his own film. It’s not that T’Challa was particularly uninteresting. On the contrary, several times throughout the film, I found myself thinking “T’Challa is freaking cool.” However, the film just happens to feature several other characters that may be cooler: Killmonger, Shuri, Okoye, M’Baku, Nakia, and so on. I honestly don’t think I could pick a favorite character from this film. Two brief side notes about Shuri: one, I love that this might be the best sibling relationship we’ve seen in a superhero movie yet; the banter and interactions between T’Challa and Shuri are completely believable and entertaining. Two, someone online mentioned that it’s cool that Shuri now gets to be the second quick-witted sciencey teen in the MCU in addition to Peter Parker, and the second that they pointed that out, I suddenly realized that I needed to see a Peter/Shuri relationship on screen NOW. Heck with Liz or Michelle, I better see Peter meet Shuri in Infinity War, and I better see SPARKS FLY. The world needs this, Marvel. You better not hold out on us.
An additional great aspect of this film is how NOT black-and-white it is (no pun intended). The good guys are flawed and the bad guys have understandable motives. There are times when you may not agree with the good guys’ philosophies and what they do. There are times when you may actually agree with the bad guys’ philosophies and what they do. This is not your typical good vs evil story that you see in many superhero films. However, ultimately Killmonger (the main villain) goes too far in trying to pursue his goals, which leads to Black Panther needing to stop him. That said, this might be the best ideological conflict we’ve gotten in a Marvel film so far.
Despite this, Black Panther is still a superhero movie at its core. While it takes many of the basic elements of superhero movies and improves upon them (and includes so much more than just your basic superhero movie), it doesn’t quite transcend the genre like The Dark Knight or Logan did. So if you hate superhero movies, you may still end up disliking this for some of its superhero-ish elements, but if you’re merely picky about which superhero films you choose to see, this is highly likely to be one that you’ll enjoy (and if you like/love superhero movies, you probably like/love this).
One other thing that bears mentioning: upon my first viewing, I thought that the pacing and suspense were great. While the movie did have some predictable moments, I found myself genuinely not knowing what was going to happen several times. I also walked out the movie completely PUMPED. Yet some of the enjoyability and suspense that was there on my first viewing wasn’t present the second time around. In my experience, it’s possible to know everything that’s going to happen within a movie but still feel suspense (Jurassic Park, Psycho, and 10 Cloverfield Lane provide some good examples of this), but it just wasn’t there for me on the second viewing. However, it’s entirely possible that this was simply due to some inconsiderate patrons seated near me that were distracting me throughout the movie. (The guy next to me had his phone in his lap, and he had some kind of notification light that kept blinking every few seconds throughout the entire first half of the movie until I finally asked him to put his phone away, and a guy about 3 or 4 people down from me was muttering commentary throughout the entire movie – and not just occasionally, it was literally like once a minute he would say something. Anyway, the moral of the story is please be considerate and actually do the basic theater etiquette things – keep your phone put away, and if you need to make a comment, keep it quiet and do it exceedingly sparingly). All of that said, when I finally see this movie a third time (likely when it’s available for home purchase), it’s entirely possible that I may find myself liking it as much as the first time. Stay tuned.
There’s a ton more I could say about this film, but I don’t want to turn this into a full-length essay. In short: this movie is great in several ways that I haven’t even mentioned, and it deserves to be seen. Get to the theater as soon as you can, because it’s worth it. The only other thing I have to say is: