The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"BLACK PANTHER"

Black Panther

Even though they've made a lot of perfectly entertaining movies, it's easy to view Marvel's “cinematic universe” as a corporate product. There are two or three new installments each year, and the way they're all tied together is clearly designed to maximize profits by keeping people coming back. Black Panther is different, fitting squarely into the MCU while also embracing a tone that is unique within the series. Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) has delivered a picture that earns its spot as one of Marvel's best yet.

Chadwick Boseman plays T'Challa, the prince of an African nation called Wakanda. Although it appears on the surface to be very impoverished, Wakanda actually possesses technology far beyond the rest of the world's. Its citizens keep that tech hidden to prevent it from ever being misused or corrupted by outsiders. Of course, that doesn't mean nefarious types don't try. T'Challa finds himself battling a villain named Ulysses Klaue, who manages to steal a piece of it with the assistance of the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Helping T'Challa try to retrieve the artifact are two of Wakanda's fierce warrior women, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira).

Interestingly for a Marvel movie, Black Panther is not a wall-to-wall action extravaganza. There are about four or five really big action set pieces, including a killer car chase, that are exquisitely done. Coogler stages them with equal parts style and energy. He's working with a superhero whose abilities are different than any other Marvel hero's so that gives him the opportunity to experiment. The movie's incorporation of T'Challa's Black Panther's suit – which absorbs energy and then powerfully blasts it back out – is particularly satisfying in its originality.

With action coming intermittently, there's plenty of time for story. This is where the film perhaps succeeds best. Black Panther is so much more than just a typical good-vs-evil tale. The plot uses Wakanda to say things about the current state of our world, especially the way that some countries/people thrive while others struggle. Without ever getting overly political, it explores that imbalance, asking what obligation the more fortunate have to share their advancements.

A really good human story is here, too. In the opening scenes, T'Challa becomes the king of Wakanda following his father's death. There's almost a Shakespearean vibe to what happens next, as he discovers some shocking family secrets, eventually finding his reign in peril. The manner in which Coogler swiftly reveals game-changing plot points generates surprise without coming off as manipulative.

Black Panther's visuals greatly accentuate the story and action. It fundamentally looks different than other Marvel movies. African iconography is used throughout, yet melded with sci-fi/superhero style (the main character's suit, some fancy weaponry, a massive spaceship, etc.). Every single second of the film is dazzling to look at. The performances are equally pleasing, with Chadwick Boseman delivering a commanding turn as T'Challa and Michael B. Jordan bringing a wickedly offbeat sense of menace to Killmonger. Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira are the scene-stealers, though. Getting to see two strong, skilled, intelligent African-American women in a superhero picture is refreshing. They're phenomenal, and certainly worthy of a standalone spinoff movie.

Black Panther works as both a comic book adaptation and an ambitious social commentary drama. One of the smartest things Marvel is doing is taking some of their lesser-known characters and moving them to the forefront, putting them in the hands of filmmakers who grasp how to make them work onscreen. James Gunn did it with Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, Scott Derrickson did it with Doctor Strange, and Ryan Coogler does it here.

To quote Stan Lee, excelsior!

( 1/2 out of four)


Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.


Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.