At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Black Panther “2018”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, John Kani, Florence Kasumba, Atandwa Kani, Sterling K. Brown, Denzel Whitaker, Isaach de Bankolé, Connie Chiume, Dorothy Steel, Danny Sapani, Sydelle Noel, Marija Abney, Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, Maria Hippolyte, Marie Mouroum, Jénel Stevens, Zola Williams, Christine Hollingsworth, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Nabiyah Be, Stan Lee; Voice of: Trevor Noah/Runtime: 134 minutes

Around the time we got to the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2018’s Black Panther, we as movie goers were officially in the midst of the 3rd phase in the MCU. A phase that was seeing the stakes that had slowly but surely increasing over the past decade of movies at that time finally start paying off and characters finally start exiting stage right especially when the capper in the form of Avengers: Endgame a year later. Yes more characters and narrative threads have been introduced in the time since, but as a whole the “Infinity Saga” in the MCU will always be looked at as one of the finest franchises of all time. Of course since each slice of cinema is, in its own distinct way, vital to not only the narrative up to that point but also to where the narrative is going from here I think the best way to really look at the films Marvel makes is to approach them both on how well they work within the larger narrative at play, but also in just how well they work at being their own thing as well. In that respect, I can safely that Black Panther is a phenomenal success in each of those areas. Yet even though this slice of cinema does operate as a fairly, by and large, self-contained narrative on a phenomenal level, I also think that what it brings to the MCU as a whole is both intriguing and exciting. Indeed with this slice of cinema the lid has now been removed and everybody can now come to play in this world from now on. Indeed Marvel has, since at least the 2nd Captain America back in 2014, shown that they have done a phenomenal job at making superhero films that can also function within different genres as well. With this slice of cinema however, it really does feel like the MCU is opening the door for both narratives to be given to us from distinct points of view as well as for comic book heroes to embrace ideals on a ideological and/or cultural level that up until the MCU comic book movies hadn’t thought to take on before. Indeed everybody is getting the right to bring stories to the table and then share them with an audience on a truly global level. Yet lest you think that this slice of superhero cinema is simply “woke cinema trying to preach a message to the choir” let me be clear dear reader. Yes this movie has a message, but the message is told in a way that is beautifully done all while the film also proves to be an engaging, entertaining, and often funny and even emotional slice of cinema that gives us phenomenal work from the various departments behind the camera and an incredible cast of characters thus resulting in a slice of cinema that is a truly powerful film and one that is still very much a crown jewel in the MCU as a whole.

The plot is as follows: Following an important prologue that I refuse to go into for the sake of spoilers, Black Panther opens up its riveting yarn in the immediate aftermath of Captain America: Civil War which, spoiler alert, saw the death of Wakandan King T’Chaka occur at….some point during its narrative. As such, we see that the film gets underway as his son Prince T’Challa, following his mini-arc in Captain America: Civil War, is now set to take his father’s place both as King of Wakanda, but also as its protector aka the superhero known as the Black Panther. Yet we soon see, despite our initial awe, that Wakanda is not the technologically advanced utopia that we may think it is. This is because not only is there inner chaos amongst the various tribes thus resulting in our hero being crowned king not exactly being a guarantee, but there is also the returning (from Avengers: Age of Ultron) threat of Ulysses Klaue. Klaus, in case you have forgotten, has been a longtime thorn in the side of Wakanda due to his theft of quite a hefty amount of their precious vibranium and because he killed T’Challa’s dear friend W’Kabi’s dad back in the day. An action that means W’Kabi is dead set on making sure T’Challa either kills Klaue or captures him to bring back to Wakanda to face “Wakandian justice”. Yet in case this madman wasn’t enough for T’Challa to deal with we soon see another foe emerge. A foe who takes the form of a former American special forces operative by the name of Erik Killmonger who has an intriguing and fairly enigmatic tie to Wakanda and who may very well be our hero’s most difficult challenge not only in terms of strength and beliefs, but also because he may very well have a beef that is actually justifiable. Suffice it to say that if our hero wants a chance at stopping Killmonger and his nefarious machinations, he will have to team up with his technologically-savvy and snarky to a t sister Shuri, the loyal head of the Wakandan Secret Service (for all intents and purposes) Okoye, and a devoted Wakandan spy, and former significant other, by the name of Nakia and a few other surprise allies. Not only to find out Killmonger’s ties to Wakanda’s past, but to make sure his plans do not become Wakanda’s future as well.

Now honestly what can I say about a slice of cinema that is often seen by many as one of the finest solo entries in the MCU to date? Well I guess I should start by saying that, in terms of technical components, this is easily one of the most beautiful films that the MCU has given us to date as we see that this slice of cinema’s cinematography department, headed by one Rachel Morrison, does a terrific job at making this film a truly epic scope and vibe to everything that goes on. I mean make no mistake dear reader: from conflicts involving armor-wearing rhinos to incredible car pursuits in Busan, South Korea this movie is easily riveting from beginning to end. It’s also worth noting that this film’s musical accompaniment is one that is beautifully rendered whilst also being laced with elements of success, regality…..and a riveting collection of songs from no less a talent than Kendrick Lamar. I also feel that praise must be given to this film’s script for managing to be one that is a wonderful balance of comedic, insightful, and also incredibly emotional as well for how it manages to present not only the various dynamics that are key parts of this world, but also in how it presents the audience with a look at issues that actually exist in the world around us through the prism of a “comic book film” whilst giving us possible answers to those issues that maybe we ought to give some contemplation to. Finally, I must say that in the helmer’s chair Ryan Coogler does a wonderful job in giving us not only the terrific action beats Marvel is known for, but also in providing us with moments that are a lot more emotional and character-driven as well. A feat that Coogler also makes possible by getting quite immersive performances from a truly gifted cast that shows us that who we think is a hero and who we think is a villain might not be as cut and dry this time around.

Speaking of those performances I can honestly say that, starting with the lead, Chadwick Boseman is absolutely wonderful as T’Challa. Indeed Boseman gives us in this chapter for the character a man who is trying to be the best leader he can for his people whilst also finally getting a chance to grieve for his father, but who even in the face of good intentions is not always able to see the bigger picture much to the detriment of the film’s antagonist and finds that maybe it’s time for Wakanda to come out of the shadows it has been enveloped in for so long and actually try to help those who need it the most. With that said though, even someone of Boseman’s talent is aware that there is a trinity of female performers in this film who deserve the spotlight just as much and all three manage to do an incredible job in their respective roles. This starts with Letitia Wright who is absolutely fantastic in her role of T’Challa’s lovingly snarky sister and brilliant head of research and development Shuri. Indeed not only do she and Boseman actually seem like they could be brother and sister, but Wright just brings a joy to the role that is present in every minute of screen time she gets especially in one scene where she has T’Challa try out her latest gadgets that I promise will have you laughing by the end of it. Hats off also to Danai Gurira who as Okoye is just an absolute badass and Lupita Nyong’o who does a great job as Nakia who wants to do her part to help Wakanda but who also cares very deeply for T’Challa despite things maybe not working out so well for them the first time around. I also loved the more low-key yet still quite riveting efforts in this from screen icons Angela Bassett and Forrest Whitaker as T’Challa’s loving yet strong both in presence and will mom and an elder statesman of Wakanda who is also in charge of the source of Black Panther’s power respectively as well as the returning Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis. With that said however if there is one performance in this film that is no less than absolutely iconic it would have to be Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger. Indeed Jordan does such a wonderful job at playing this enigmatic yet deadly guy with such a righteous degree of both fury and heart that when secrets are revealed about him you definitely see why he is as angry as he is. More than that, we are able to see that Jordan is able to give us a character who can see in full already what T’Challa is only slowly starting to. Namely that all this time spent in the shadows and keeping the rest of the world at arm’s length have made Wakanda almost as guilty as the rest of the world for how bad things have gotten due to having the resources to make the world a better place and refusing to share them. A thought process which is truly remarkable in how it makes you sympathetic to this character even as he does some truly despicable things due to the incredible yet surprisingly realistic fact that to some extent Killmonger is actually correct in both how he perceives the world and the message he is trying to convey. A fact that not only solidifies this film as a phenomenal effort, but also the character of Killmonger as one of the best antagonists in an MCU film that is NOT named Thanos or Loki (though the latter seems to be more of an anti-hero nowadays at any rate).

All in all yes I can honestly say that Black Panther “2018” is easily one of the best solo superhero slices of cinema the MCU has seen fit to give audiences to date. At the same time however, I can also say that this slice of superhero cinema is incredible because it actually has an incredible lesson attached to it as well. That being that if you want to be considered a part of our world, you need to be willing to actually participate in the world because yes there is agony and yes there is hate, but there is also love and acceptance as well and at the end of the day the good components of the world will always make this world worth living in. Indeed film helmer Ryan Coogler and his immensely talented cast and crew could have just taken this material and made it into no more and no less than a really good superhero movie and called it a day. At the same time though, this is a post-2008 Marvel film, this cast is too talented, this crew is too skilled, and Coogler is too wonderful of a director to just make this yet another comic book film. As a result, this is a slice of superhero cinema that has a genuine optimism, potency, and gorgeousness to it that will stay with you long after the film’s post credits scenes have ended and that you hopefully choose to utilize in your own life to make the world around you a much better place than it was before. Indeed every time I watch this movie I always close my eyes after I finish it and I am always able to see a world where everyone is able to live together in peace and harmony and have superheroes they are inspired by to be the best that they can be whilst also getting the chance to have them go on adventures that will continue to thrill audiences for years to come. This is a world that I would love to see and if I could it’s a world I would love to be in for all eternity. Suffice it to say then that Black Panther is more than just an incredible superhero slice of cinema. It’s also a phenomenal moment for cinema in general as well. On a scale of 1-5 I give Black Panther “2018” a solid 4.5 out of 5.