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Black Panther
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by Peter Sobczynski

"98% Of The Time, It Works 100% Of The Time"
5 stars

Despite what some less informed commentators have stated elsewhere, “Black Panther” is not the first major motion picture to feature an African-American superhero at its center—films ranging from comedies like “The Meteor Man” and “Blankman” to the Shaquille O’Neal vehicle “Steel” to the “Blade” trilogy beat it to the punch decades earlier and I am sure that I am forgetting a few here and there. However, none of these films were especially memorable or good—Guillermo del Toro’s “Blade II” was the best of the bunch and that is by far his weakest movie to date—and one of the key problems is that while watching them, you always got the sense that the filmmakers were hedging their bets by dialing down that very aspect that made them unique on the assumption that doing so would help broaden their appeal to people who might otherwise be put off with the notion of a superhero saga with African-Americans in the lead roles. There are many great things on display in “Black Panther” but perhaps the best and certainly the most significant is its attitude. This is a superhero film that focuses exclusively on black characters and concerns and clearly does not give a flying fuck about tempering that down to attract a wider audience—in many ways (and I mean this in the best possible way), it looks and feels like the biggest and most elaborate blaxploitation film ever made. To do this was no doubt a gamble—albeit one that Marvel Studios could presumedly cover—but it is one that has paid off beautifully and while it may not be the unblemished masterpiece that some have suggested, it is a superior example of the superhero genre that should prove to be as much of a commercial and creative game-changer as “Wonder Woman” (which demonstrated a similar attitude towards its presentation of a female superhero) was last year. (Although I will try not to delve too deeply into plot specifics, those of you who are more sensitive towards plot spoilers may want to exercise caution before proceeding.)

The film is set primarily in Wakanda, a fictional African country that looks on the outside like the kind of shithole Donald Trump would bar from anything just on principle. Hidden away from view on the inside, however, Wakanda revealed to be a technologically advanced utopia that would make even the residents of Zamunda jealous beyond belief. These advances are due to Wakanda secretly sitting atop the only known lode of the incredibly strong and precious metal known as vibranium. The rub is that Wakanda has elected to take an isolationist stance towards the world at large, neither asking for anything nor offering the use of their vibranium to help solve any number of grave and pressing problems. One person who objects to Wakanda’s non-interventionist policy is N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), a member of the royal family who has led him to choose self-exile for himself and his young son in San Diego. When the story picks up in 1992, T’Chaka (Atandwa Kani), the king of Wakanda and N’Jobu’s brother, arrives in San Diego to bring his sibling back home to stand trial for his crimes against the country. Alas, things go wrong and T’Chaka ends up killing his brother and then fleeing, leaving his nephew behind to fend for himself.

The story then picks up just after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” where, you will recall, T’Chaka was killed in the bombing of the United Nations ceremony in Vienna honoring the recently signed Sakovia Accords, leaving his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) next in line to the throne. While T’Challa returns home to his family to prepare to ascend to the throne—not to mention trying to forge a reunion with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the ex-girlfriend that he is clearly still smitten with—there is trouble beginning to brew in the outside world. A rare Wakanda-made weapon is stolen from a London museum by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkus), a mercenary whose garrulous manner and technologically advanced mechanical arm make him seem like a cross between a gone-to-seed Gerard Butler and Inspector Gadget. It soon develops that Klaue is working with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), N’Jobu’s abandoned son who plans to both avenge his father’s murder and carry out his dreams of exposing Wakanda to the world by seizing the throne for himself and exporting the country’s incredible weaponry and technology to anyone with enough money to buy it, regardless of how they plan on using it.

One of the big problems with most of the big superhero movies of late, regardless of whether they are Marvel or DC, is that while they are undeniably successful as marketing exercises, there is a sameness to them that tends to grow wearying after a while—although something with a genuinely personal touch occasionally slips through, such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies or the last Thor film, most of these films give the impression that Marvel and DC are in charge and the filmmakers have been hired simply to execute what was hashed out in a boardroom somewhere with even an artistically skilled director like Kenneth Branagh forced to toe the line in order to make everyone happy. When it was announced that Ryan Coogler would be directing and co-writing “Black Panther,” some observers no doubt questioned whether the acclaimed maker of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” would be able to handle the twin pressures of working on a project exponentially bigger than anything he had previously attempted and a studio that, still feeling the burn from the disastrous results of Ang Lee’s gorgeous but criminally misunderstood “Hulk,” might frown on anything that even thought of straying too far from the established billion-dollar template.

Long story short, Coogler pulls it off beautifully and the result is one of the best-made of all the recent superhero epics. In the broad outlines, Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole are not exactly reinventing the wheel here as it contains virtually all of the key elements that one expects to see in such films, ranging from the increasingly distracting Stan Lee cameo to the finale that eventually build down to the good guy and the bad guy whomping the crap out of each other while expensive CGI chaos reigns around them though it is telling that these are among the least interesting things on display and feel like things he was required to include in order to get to do the stuff that he was more interested in. The screenplay that he and Cole have come up with is a real standout that presents a strong, fully fleshed-out story that manages to touch on real-world concerns ranging from the perils of isolationism to the fissures that can develop with an already marginalized community that can lead to them destroying themselves quicker and more brutally than their putative outside enemies possibly could. Additionally, this is the rare superhero movie where the villain is not just some fire-breathing buffoon intent on wreaking havoc just because the effects guys can pull those set pieces off—while Killmonger is obviously a bad guy of the most hissable kind, he has been written in such a way so that you not only understand exactly where he is coming from but you actually find yourself thinking that in many ways, he actually have the moral and ethical upper hand in his desire to share Wakanda’s wonders with the world where they might actually do good for other people instead of simply hiding them away. This is not to suggest that “Black Panther” is dour by any means because while it does have a smart and serious side to it, it is also very funny as well without ever coming across as campy with some of the laughs coming at you so quickly from out of nowhere that you are practically blindsided by them.

From a directorial standpoint, “Black Panther” is also a marvel—no pun intended—as well because of the visual excitement that is present in virtually every frame and I am not just talking about the big action set pieces that everyone will be talking about. Wakanda, for example, is pretty much a wonder to behold throughout with a combination of tranquil natural beauty and audacious technological advancement that blend together in a surprisingly winning and effective manner. Of course, it is all the usual combination of sets, CGI and the like but instead of feeling like an artificial construct, Coogler and his army of technicians have presented it in a manner that genuinely makes you feel as if it is indeed a real place—there is not a single frame to be had that does not contain some kind of element that you will want to savor at length. As for the big action beats, Coogler doesn’t always transcend genre expectations—the big finale goes on a little too long, though it is hard to completely resist any battle royale that somehow manages to make room for both futuristic-looking drones in the air and giant charging rhinos on the ground—but he seems comfortable with the giant leap in scale from his previous efforts and there is one extended fight sequence, set in a South Korean casino that eventually transforms into a massive car chase, that is so masterfully conceived and executed that it makes you wonder what Coogler might be able to accomplish if given the reigns of a James Bond movie.

The performances on display here are also better than those usually found in these films, where the sight of highly paid actors simply going through the motions reacting to things that they won’t even get a chance to see for several more months is generally the norm. Viewers already got a taste of Chadwick Boseman’s turn as Black Panther in “Civil War” and while there are times when the character threatens to get loss amidst the rest of the enormous cast, he still shines through with a funny and highly engaging performance that allows him to balance convincing badassery with gentler but equally compelling moments as well, especially in the scenes between him and the equally winning Nyong’o. one of the rare occasions in a superhero movie where the romantic byplay is not just a way of killing time between the big action beats. As for Michael B. Jordan, this film marks his third collaboration with Coogler and this has already become one of the most exciting actor-filmmaker partnerships going on today. A superhero movie tends to live or die on the strength of the villains and Killmonger, despite the fairly embarrassing name, proves to be an exceptionally impressive one, thanks in large part to Jordan’s performance, a turn that makes the character as evil as can be while at the same time approaching it in a way that cannot help but generate a certain degree of sympathy for his motivations, if not his methods of executing them. “Black Panther” is also blessed with a strong supporting cast of good actors who are visibly relieved to be playing characters strong enough to be spun off into their own films rather than the stereotypical scraps they might have been afforded in other circumstance—these include Angela Bassett as the Queen of Wakanda, Forest Whitaker as a tribal chief, Best Actor nominee Daniel Kaluyya as a childhood friend of T’Challa whose loyalties are torn, Martin Freeman as the token white guy, Winston Duke as a rival of T’Challah’s and Danai Gurira as T’Challah’s fiercely devoted bodyguard. However, the film is utterly stolen by the relatively unknown Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challah’s younger sister and tech guru. Her performance here is pretty much the dictionary definition of the phrase “star-making”—she is so funny and endlessly charismatic throughout that when she first turns up on the screen, you immediately sit up and wonder “Who is that?” and by the time the film ends, you will want to see her in virtually every movie that you see from now on. (She will be appearing in both the next Avengers” movie and “Ready Player One,” immediately increasing my interest in both of those particular projects.) And while I wouldn’t dream of revealing it here—you will know it when it comes up—she has one line reading here that I am supremely confident will go down as perhaps the single funniest moment to appear in any film this year.

Going into “Black Panther,” I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive, partly because of my usual antipathy towards superhero films in general and partly because I did not see any way that it could possibly live up to the enormous expectations that had been generated by people hoping that it would shake its oftentimes moribund genre up in the way that “Wonder Woman” did last year by giving a normally overlooked portion of the audience demographic the spotlight for a change and trusting that other audiences would follow if it was good enough. “Black Panther” is more than good enough and not only does it live up to those sky-high expectations, it pretty much exceeds them and the rare areas in which it stumbles are things that can be easily adjusted before the arrival of the inevitable “Black Panther II.” Of course, being both a groundbreaking example of the superhero genre and a fabulously entertaining movie in general may not prove to prevent hand-wringing in some quarters from people who aren’t personally put off by the idea of an African-American superhero epic per se—heaven forbid—but just wonder if it had to be so, you know, aggressive about it. (Lest you think I am joking about this, I should point out that my radio boss was in full pearl-clutching dudgeon a couple of weeks ago about the very idea such a movie taking its name (and presumably its politics) from the Sixties radical group.) To them, all I can say is that if you choose to sit this one out on the basis of such specious thinking, that is your loss because this is likely to go down as one of the grandest entertainments of 2018.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27587&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/15/18 11:18:13
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User Comments

5/05/19 Kengh Not worthy of praise, the movie is not exciting enough. 3 stars
3/24/19 James Queerbugger A ludicrous joke of a movie, almost unwatchable. 1 stars
3/08/19 Dr. Lao The kind of movie that makes me say 'make mine Marvel!' 5 stars
2/01/19 Piz I fell for the hype. Very underwhelming. Even the effects were pretty lame. 2 stars
12/16/18 Ajp wales This is rubbish. If it dont grip me within 10 min forget it. 2 stars
5/19/18 Nate O`Hanlon I dont understand all the fuss, i thought this movie was garbage. 1 stars
5/15/18 morris campbell i thought it was good had a great cast 4 stars
4/28/18 the sayer of the truth This film is rubbish when compared to the majestic magnificence of Avengers: Infinity War. 1 stars
3/24/18 Tommy Ekblom The action sequences are laughably bad when compared to The Avengers movies. 1 stars
2/26/18 Space Filter black ninja! 5 stars
2/21/18 Bob Dog Overhyped, typically dull superhero movie cashing in on its setting. 2 stars
2/18/18 the giver of the law Political hogwash masquerading as mainstream entertainment. 1 stars
2/18/18 Captain Jack Whoa wasn't expecting that! Great film! 5 stars
2/17/18 The Big D. A Sundiata-style epic and allegory for MLK / Malcolm X rift. Sequel needs Kiber the Cruel. 4 stars
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  16-Feb-2018 (PG-13)



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