(Warning, this review does contain spoilers)
So if you know me, you will know that I am a massive comic book fan, which in turn means that comic-based superhero films are my love. And for fans of this genre, you have the pleasure of Marvel releasing two to three films ever year expanding their ever growing Cinematic Universe, (disregarding other films such as Deadpool 2 and Venom releasing later this year as well). The MCU is ever expanding, and after his first, and very well received first appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa now has his own film. So today I’ll discuss my thoughts and opinions on the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther.
So Black Panther is the first of three upcoming MCU films to be released this year, and is the 18th films to be released since Iron Man. And it is fair to say, it is a brave film, in which it still feels like a Marvel film, but it is different in its own tribal and cultural way. And it’s fair to say that I am going to have to a lot of googling to make sure I spell the names of characters correctly. I will just being doing a run through of the film, adding extra details to plots, characters or other things I particularly enjoyed.
At the start of the film, we learn the history of Wakanda to set the scene, in a scene which is very aesthetically pleasing to watch. It explains how centuries ago, there were five African tribes that go to war over a meteorite that crashed to earth, containing alien metal vibranium. One of the warriors eats the all important “heart-shaped herb” that was affected by the metal and as a result gains superhuman abilities. This warrior becomes what is known as the first “Black Panther”, and then unites the tribes to form the nation of Wakanda, with the Jabari Tribe choosing not to follow them and exiling themselves. The Wakandans then use the vibranium, to which they now have practically an endless supply of, to develop highly-advanced technology that puts them years ahead of any other nation on earth. And to stop the rest of earth getting there hands on this tech, they isolate themselves from the rest of the world, hidden by a shield, merely pretending to be a Third World country.
Now I will admit, following this, the opening 30-45 or so minutes of the film is quite slow, but when the film finally finds it feet it really excels.
The film’s opening scene starts off in the past, in which we meet a younger King T’Chaka as the Black Panther, discovering that one of his men within New York has betrayed him, making a deal with the Vibranium arms dealer Ulysses Klaue, played by the incredibly talented Andy Serkis (which is a very relevant plot point that I will explain later on). Moving on from here, we meet a present day T’Challa just after the events of Civil War, in which he is soon becoming the new King of Wakanda, following his father’s death. And T’Challa’s attempts to balance his life as King and as the Black Panther is a big and very strong plot point of the film throughout. Before officially being crowned, we see T’Challa in the film’s first fight scene, with the idea being that if anyone from a tribe wants to challenge him for the throne, they can fight him in a combat based challenge. Enter Winston Duke’s M’Baku, leader of the Jabari Tribe. T’Challa obviously wins the fight in what was a well fought affair and a good watch, with M’Baku submitting before having to be killed. Following this, we are introduced to the Panther spirit realm, with T’Challa visiting his father, and seeing the other previous Black Panthers before him. Again a touching moment between father and son, with T’Chaka knowing that his son is finally ready to take the mantle and become the king. Overall, the opening 30 minutes on Wakanda, whilst can feel quite slow as mentioned previously, it does introduce the audience into the vibrant, advanced and thriving nation, not to mention some of the main characters within the plot as well:
-Danai Gurira’s Okoye, the leader of T’Challa’s Dora Milaje fighting force;
-Letitia Wright as Shuri, the King’s younger sister and technological genius within Wakanda;
-Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-lover;
-Zuri, a wise elder within Wakanda, and the keeper of the heart-shaped herb;
-and finally Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi, best friend to the King, as well as the head of security for the Border Tribe, serving as the first line of defense for Wakanda.
Following all of this, we are introduced to the film’s ‘two’ main villains. Although Michael B Jordan’s Erik Stevens, AKA Killmonger is the main villain, and I will get to his incredible performance in due course, Ulysses Klaue does play a bigger role in the film than expected. Klaue is an arms dealer, looking for Vibranium objects to sell on, with Killmonger only working with him for his own personal way back into Wakanda, to which we discover later. After Klaue resurfaces and makes himself known to the Wakandans, T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia travel to a hidden casino in South Korea, (with Shuri remaining in contact through technological ways). This is the point that the film does begin to find itself.
Around 45 minutes into the film, there is a very strong action sequence involving the four core Wakandans, Klaue and the now introduce CIA agent Everett Ross, played by the wonderful Martin Freeman. Now whilst I have heard people say that his role maybe wasn’t necessary, to which I agree, I still enjoyed Freeman’s performance and did enjoy Ross’ story throughout. There is a very enjoyable ‘bar-style’ fight followed by car chase scenes, which make for a good 15 minute ‘good vs evil’ bout, without being too big to defeat the object of having this at the end. After capturing Klaue, Ross takes him in, after T’Challa reluctantly turns him over, refusing to kill him on sight like W’Kabi preferred, who specified he wants Klaue returned, dead or alive. Ulysses then reveals to Ross all of Wakanda’s secrets, with Everett of course laughing it off.
Enter Killmonger once again. Of whom which rescues Klaue, with Ross getting severely injured in the process. T’Challa just lets Klaue escape, seeing Erik’s ring, identical to that of his own. Now of course he then refuses to pursue Killmonger and Klaue, instead choosing to take Ross back to Wakanda, safe in the knowledge that they have to tech to saving his life. Cut back to Wakanda. Shuri heals Ross, with T’Challa heading to confront Zuri about N’Jobu, (T’Chaka’s brother).
Reluctantly, Zuri explains the events that opened the film. This being that N’Jobu was planning to share the wonders of Wakanda’s technology with people of African descent all around the world, in order to help them conquer their oppressors. As T’Chaka arrested N’Jobu, N’Jobu attacked Zuri, forcing T’Chaka to kill his own brother. Following these events, a broken-hearted T’Chaka orders Zuri to lie that N’Jobu had disappeared. They also left behind N’Jobu’s American son, Erik, in order to maintain the lie. Erik became a U.S. black ops soldier, adopting the name “Killmonger”. And learning of his Wakandan backrground, vows to overthrow T’Challa, thus becoming what he feels is the rightful king of Wakanda.
Meanwhile, Killmonger and Klaue break intro fight, with Erik killing the ironic one armed arms dealer. At this point I was asking myself why he even rescued him in the first place, a plot point that was soon answered. He takes his body to Wakanda, more importantly to W’Kabi. Of whom which lets him in, and takes him before the elders. Now since we are on the topic of Erik Stevens, AKA Killmonger, I will say something about him in this film. Two words. Absolutely phenomenal. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger in this film to me was one of the greatest villains, and villain performances in recent Marvel history. I’ve heard it said that the best bad guys are the ones you can also sympathize with, and when it comes to Killmonger this is easily done. He was left by his family as a now orphaned child, growing up in what seemed a rougher area of New York. You can imagine him having a tough upbringing, and understand his vendetta towards the people of Wakanda, namely T’Challa, T’Chaka’s son. He is merely trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, and build Wakanda into an empire for the world to fear, and to me, I can sympathize very well with him.
After revealing his true self to the elders, he claims his actual right to challenge T’Challa for the throne of Wakanda. Enter the second tribal fight of the film, with this one being a whole lot better. And to put things simply, Killmonger beats T’Challa badly, also killing Zuri in the process. This is a great fight and is also actually believable, unlike some films that I have seen in which the hero gets beaten badly by a villain he is clearly stronger than. Not only does T’Challa having the power of the ‘heart-shaped herb’ removed from him beforehand add to the believable aspect, but the marine background of Erik, as found out earlier. Long story short, T’Challa gets thrown off the edge of the waterfall, ‘killing him’, and granting Stevens the throne of Wakanda. Now with W’Kabi on his side, (someone who I did dislike to see on the villain’s side, and not just because of my strong love for Daniel Kaluuya as an actor), he burns the rest of the ‘heart shaped herbs’, and begins to put his father’s dreams into action.
The now fleeing Nakia, Shuri, Ramonda (T’Challa’s mother) and Ross leave to the Jabari Tribe in search of some help to overthrow Killmonger. This is where they find a T’Challa, clinging on to life in a coma, rescued by the Jabari in repayment for sparing M’Baku’s life during their earlier tribal combat. Nakia provides T’Challa with the last herb, of which she secretly stole before being burnt. The Black Panther returns, and heads off to fight Erik Stevens for the last time.
So here we are. You feel the film coming to the climax, and in my eyes, the final section of the film, did not disappoint. The setting is the plains of Wakanda, with Killmonger just sending off his ships to distribute the Wakandan weapons. T’Challa returns, calling on Killmonger to finish their fight, ‘as he is not dead, and did not submit’. Erik sends W’Kabi and his tribe to attack T’Challa. Now even though there are 3 main battles occurring within this final 20 minutes, however not at a point to me did it feel to crowded or confusing. After an opening scene of Okoye and a few other Dora Milaje warriors taking on Erik, now in his own Black Panther suit, the battle splits into the following.
-W’Kabi’s Tribe vs the Jabari
-Everett Ross taking on the escaping ships
-T’Challa vs Killmonger, each of them the Black Panther
Shuri and Nakia also get involved but arguably have minor roles in the final sequence. The whole scene is very well done. It isn’t often I find myself watching the main hero vs the main villain, and actually find myself rooting for both. They take their fight down to the lower tracks in the vibranium mines where it is transported, surrounded by vibranium dampening panels, making each of them susceptible to blades every now and again. Without spoiling the entirety of it, to sum up, Ross in his remotely piloted jet eventually manages to shoot down the planes carrying the vibranium weapons. When confronted by Okoye, his partner, W’Kabi and his army stand down, refusing to fight any longer. And T’Challa stabs Killmonger when his suit is briefly disrupted.
The final scenes between T’Challa and Killmonger are very very VERY good. You feel for both men. T’Challa feels for Erik, aware that leaving him behind was wrong. He is willing to forgive him, however Killmonger refuses to be healed, dying watching the sunset his father had described, now off to join him, with the amazing final quote
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage”.
The film ends with T’Challa establishing an outreach center at the building where N’Jobu died, allowing it to be run by Nakia and Shuri. And in the mid post credits scene, T’Challa appears before the United Nations to reveal Wakanda to the world, for what it really is, which is built around the great belief to not be afraid of new things. The last post credits scene reintroduces Bucky, of whom is still recuperating in Wakanda.
Another note to add that was difficult to mention, is the soundtrack. Kendrick Lamar did wonders with the Black Panther album, and the other songs included within the film were incredible, really bringing to life the African feel that Wakanda should have.
Overall Black Panther to me was one of my favourite Marvel films to date within the MCU, and I would even go as far as to say of all time. The only downside to me was sometimes the CGI was too noticeable, but in fairness, if it wasn’t it would’ve been majorly impressive. I am now even more excited for Infinity War in May not only due to T’Challa’s return, but due to the huge fight scene that will occur in Wakanda, now one of my favourite places to be within the MCU. There is no doubt in my mind that Ryan Coogler brought Wakanda to life above and beyond all expectations, and the cast were simply incredible.