Written By: Blake Baker
The wise build bridges; the foolish build barriers.
There’s something about Mr. Coogler. He has ”it” and it is on full display in Black Panther (2018). As a comic book nerd way before it was cool and way before my brother and I left Iron Man (2008) like HOLY SHIT, I was a young black kid wondering: “Where do I fit in this world?” I mean there was Luke Cage but he plugged too many stereotypes, brother was a fugitive. It was a during a trip through my cousin Johnny’s crazy comic book collection where I discovered the Black Panther. He was the most interesting man in the world before anyone sipped on a Dos Equis. T’Challa was the smartest person in the room and on top of that, he’d whoop ya ass just to make sure his skills were on point.
Black Panther (2018) is not only the best movie in the Marvel pantheon, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. (Director) Ryan Coogler had a vision of black excellence which he delivers. First, the movie is visually striking and vibrant, there isn’t an ounce of color that isn’t brilliant. You legit leave the movie and wonder why the colors of the world suck in comparison to Wakanda. I’m praying for a Wakanda coloring book with some bomb colored pencils. They didn’t sell out on the art direction either, there’s clear accurate historical inspiration. Unfortunately, for the most part cinema history has depicted Africa and blackness as butt naked people and some lions. The beauty of Africa in Black Panther is that of a Planet Earth documentary, and long overdue.
Visually, I also found the special effects to be perfect. It wasn’t too much and over the top. The fight scenes were more Jason Bourne and less Michael Bay blowing up toasters, vacuum cleaners, and other household items. The way those scenes are shot is what I found interesting though because they captured the tension of the moment better than any previous Marvel films. These are fight scenes you actually feel invested in and they’re more than just cool to watch. Black Panther was truly shot beautifully.
I can see why some people might have felt like there was a lack of action during Black Panther, but there wasn’t a lack of action, it was just different. We’ve grown accustomed to complete annihilation throughout the Marvel catalog. Yes, I agree, it’s quite awe-striking to see Hulk go beast mode on all of NYC and ragdoll Loki like a lil’ bitch. My wife says I remind her of the Hulk which is BS…. Okay, I may or may not have a bit of temper, but I digress. Yet, there’s something to be said for squaring up with your opponent and going toe to toe. Maybe it’s cause I’m old school and Black Panther reminded me of fights I’ve been in and witnessed. Those days when if you didn’t like someone and they didn’t like you it was “I’ll see you at 3:30pm over here.” Your friends showed up and their friends did too to make sure it was a fair fight. I’ve won more than I lost, except against my brother; I mean he’s built like M’Baku. Black Panther action is more Kill Bill (2003) than any Avengers movie and I appreciate that. There’s even a mention of guns being primitive during the movie. Maybe it’s our gun culture and love of the shoot ‘em up flicks that makes us miss the beauty of pure combat. Or maybe it’s my MMA background that compels me to revel in the action of Black Panther. I’d much rather watch someone get put in a triangle choke than someone getting particle laser beamed off a cliff.
Now the fun stuff. No one, and I mean absolutely not one member of this cast, turns in a bad performance. In my personal opinion, Michael B. Jordan steals the show with his performance as Killmonger. Here’s the catch: he’s more misguided anti-hero than villain. Once you find out why, you actually understand his motivation and flaws. If you truly pay attention you realize Coogler is addressing something much larger in black America through Killmonger’s character. I’ll leave it at a quote I once read: “to a fatherless child nothing is safe”. It’s truly fitting. Oh, and Michael B. Jordan got jacked; like I ain’t no punk but he ain’t Wallace from The Wire no more. I just really enjoyed the fact that he’s not savior or hero in this film. Yet his character has a depth that I don’t think we’d see if not for Michael B. Jordan’s performance.
The film offers quite a few things, but I think the biggest thing it offers up is a question. Are we good people? What you’ll realize is that this movie is a public discourse without beating you over the head. As we see, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) ascent to power forces him to answer a lot of questions we’re struggling to answer right now as a society. Then we have Coogler subtly weaving in the perplexity of being black. There’s this “I know who I am but I don’t know who I am to you” undercurrent. Hence Wakanda keeping its guard up much like minorities in society. What I love about Boseman in this role is that his acting is conveyed with his eyes. Tom Hardy has perfected this, but Boseman works closer to Pacino in the first Godfather. In his eyes though is a looming “what if?” This is where the brilliance is hidden.
I feel like Black Panther compels you to ask what if things were different? It’s a revisionist dream of modern blackness. Yet it’s not militant in its approach and it’s not playing the victim. It’s a reaffirmation to viewers that blackness did not start on slave ships but as kings and queens. Coogler hits you with quite a few moments where this is obvious. But more so, he hits you with: What if we celebrated blackness, and respected blackness, and all stopped acting like heartless assholes to our fellow man?
Black Panther is a must see for EVERYONE and you don’t need the full Marvel background to enjoy it.