I hate getting sick of things that I love. I recently realized that, in the past, I had obsessed over the “Star Wars” franchise so much that it detracted from my enjoyment in my last few viewings of the movies. I was simply getting sick of “Star Wars.” It’s a terrible feeling — knowing that something you love so much is simply not so great anymore. Eating cake every day makes eating cake not as fun. And that’s awful. Because cake is damn good. And I went and did it to “Star Wars,” of all things. I thought I had done it to superhero movies.
I don’t want to lather “Black Panther” with praise, but actually I really, really do. A lot. Because it was a blast. If you take nothing else away from this review, please let it be this: Go watch it.
The superhero genre has been tired. “The Avengers” worked with audiences, so Marvel tried to do it again with “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and then again with “Captain America: Civil War.” Then DC decided that it wanted in on the action and made “Justice League.” All of these films, with the exception of “Justice League,” were visually flat, and, with the exception of “The Avengers,” unexciting on a character level.
There were exceptions in recent years, of course. “Deadpool” brought spoofy sarcasm and lots of blood to the genre. “Logan” reveled in bloodiness and added a dimension of tragedy. DC struck gold with “Wonder Woman,” thanks to some clever dialogue and situational humor.
But even “Wonder Woman” felt more like a return to the good ol’ days of love stories and epic, unironic battles, than a progression in the genre of superhero movies.
In this sense, director Ryan Coogler has proved himself a pioneer of the genre. The film is visually astounding. It’s one thing to show your audience something cool on screen. It’s another thing to convince your audience that something is cool.
“Black Panther” does both. The spectacle is real, but so is the connection with the characters. And while we’re talking about the characters, there’s loads to talk about relating to the screenplay by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. The character that will stick with most people will be not the titular hero, named T’Challa (played with appropriate majesty by Chadwick Boseman), but one of the film’s antagonists, Erik Killmonger, played by Coogler favorite Michael B. Jordan.
Killmonger, downtrodden and frustrated to the point of villainy by centuries of white oppression, may be the flick’s baddie, but he is profoundly understandable. When he speaks and battles, there’s always a part of you that wants him to succeed. This is an action film, and a fun one at that, but an empathetic one. Coogler and Cole treat most of their characters with love, and all of them with respect. The film’s most resonant villain moments are not acts of violence or badassery, but moments of human sadness and pain.
I haven’t scratched the surface of the qualities of this movie, the strides this movie makes on the boundaries of race and gender. Frankly, I don’t know if I (a white man) am the right person to make those comments. What I can tell you is that aside from this being a socially virtuous movie, it is an expertly made one.
Oh yeah, and the soundtrack is pretty great too.