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Movie hype is nothing new, indeed it is now an integral part of the movie making process. The "machine" can make a movie sound like the greatest of all time, look like it is MUST-SEE, and generate millions in pre-sales.
Movie hype has grown from the earliest slogan based campaigns used by sequels like Jaws 2 and its infamous "Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water" campaign, through fanzines and TV spots to the viral phenomenon pioneered by movies like The Blair Witch Project, The Dark Knight, which gave the movies a massive head start into the public consciousness.
However, hype can be a double edged sword. It can put the weight of perceived importance on a movie that can be hard to actually meet, particularly if it touches on a particular social issue such as race or feminism.
This can be dangerous and true where a movie is part of a beloved franchise. The recent backlash against The Last Jedi proved that no amount of brand loyalty or critic's praise can salve disappointed fans when a movie fails to live up to expectations. Wonder Woman in the main delivered a good movie, however some were still disappointed that it didn't quite deliver the feminist movie hoped for.
Yet no modern blockbuster has carried the weight of expectation that Ryan Coogler's Black Panther has the recent weeks and months. As part of the ultra-successful MCU, Disney is counting on the movie to set up arguably the most ambitious movie in history, Avengers: Infinity War, while introducing an entirely new world to the MCU, Wakanda, and giving one of its more culturally important characters the stage in his first starring role.
As if this was not enough for Coogler and his crew of actors and filmmakers, the movie has carried the weight of expectation from fans and social commentators alike that it will deliver on its promise of a superhero movie featuring a predominantly Black cast that can not only succeed as part of the franchise, but help to redefine what is possible in Hollywood.
Black Panther has had quite possibly the most politicized pre-release of any movie, much less a genre film, in history.
In 2018, the movie matters to so many people that the #whatblackpanthermeanstome trended worldwide, while a successful campaign to ensure as many children get to see the movie as possible has raised millions of dollars. Could you imagine the fallout if either those groups were disappointed?
Thankfully, it is something Marvel, Coogler, his cast, and more importantly, all those who hoped for Black Panther to be awesome, need not worry about.
THE MOVIE DELIVERS!
What Black Panther does well, it does VERY well indeed and what it doesn't is small beer in the scheme of what has been accomplished.
Coogler has created a tale as rich in story and subtext as it is in visual style. The world of Wakanda is everything we imagined it to be, full of tradition, yet modern in both its technology and attitudes towards women.
Indeed the female characters are integral to Wakanda AND the movie. Letitia Wright's Shuri, is more than "just" the Q-type shown in the trailers, she is a well rounded character who is in many ways the equal of her brother T'Challa and could easily become the Black Panther herself one day, Wright is definitely one to watch.
Both Lupita N'yongo and Danai Gurira bring fire, intelligence, and gravitas to their roles as Nakai and Okoye. Both are more than the usual spy/love interest and general template that even Wonder Woman didn't quite get right.
At several points of the film, their characters' loyalties and relationships are tested thanks to perhaps Marvel's best villain yet, Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) whose arc is believable, powerful, and will certainly make you think what you would do in his shoes.
One scene in particular stands out where Jordan seems to channel Gil Scott-Heron, Cyrus from the Warriors and Ali. It's a great speech and matched with Jordan's physicality and swagger helps elevate him to one of Marvel's best villains to date.
This is very much an ensemble movie and current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya and veterans Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman all do excellent work. Indeed, Freeman and Serkis are excellent at what they do.
Everett K. Ross could have gone one of two ways after the events of Civil War, perhaps even becoming more of a villain, however we see him here play very much to his strengths. Ross is great fun as the fish out of water, yet not inept and there is real scope for him to grow as Phil Coulson did to become a beloved character.
Once upon a time many saw Angela Bassett as the perfect "Storm" for the X-Men, but here as T'Challa's mother she is well cast as Ramonda, just as Rene Russo was as Frigga in Thor and rather than baggage, she comes across as a valued advisor and crucial part of T'Challa's inner circle.
Serkis is great value for the time he is in the movie, although it is as seems to be the trend for villains with Marvel, short. That being said, we see plenty of the off the wall humor/menace that made the character interesting in Age Of Ultron with the time he is given.
For Kaluuya, it's an excellent follow-up to his Oscar nominated lead role in Get Out. He's not the star here, but he's certainly done his chances of future lead work no harm at all as either an action star or character actor.
Smaller roles are no less important. Sterling K. Brown has a short but pivotal role and is excellent, while relative newcomer Winston Duke brings the character known as "Man-Ape" to life without needing the now unacceptable moniker/image. It's important to mention John Kani who reprises his role as T'Chaka, giving the movie perhaps its most important plot beat, suffice to say his arc shows it's not always good to be "The King."
Whittaker could be seen as the most obvious and disappointing casting as he again appears to play a mentor type character as he did in Rogue One, yet there is a surprising twist that not only makes sense but shows exactly why Whittaker's particular talents were needed.
Of course, I have yet to mention Chadwick Boseman, who we first met as T'Challa in Civil War. At times, Boseman is the most stoic and least interesting actor on the screen, but this befits his role. The film is set barely a week after the Civil War concludes, and as such T'Challa is very much a new King, thrust into a situation that he cannot hope to control.
His strength as an actor shows in scenes with Nakai and Killmonger and the post credits certainly set T'Challa and Boseman up as a potential replacement to Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. as the lead man of the franchise should he as expected, not be around after Infinity War.
While "Get this man an Oscar..." isn't quite a meme that can be launched from his performance here, he certainly delivers what people had hoped for, a leading man performance worthy of the hype and expectation.
Black Panther will be a massive hit for Boseman and its success should easily see him take on more important roles in the future.
Indeed, the true triumph of Black Panther is not that a Black superhero movie worked, or that it will make a fortune. It is that EVERYONE involved, from Coogler to his cast, are very much the new A-list. Boseman, Jordan, Kaluuya, N'yongo, and Gurira are going to be making and headlining a lot of movies going forward of both the action and serious type. Movies will get made starring members of this cast on their talent and reputation after this film.
There are flaws that mainly come from it being a Marvel film and their particular way of doing things. Marvel has the same M.O. repeatedly in how they treat promising villains and the obligatory car chase sequence for example. However they are a small price to pay for what is easily the best MCU film since The Winter Soldier.
Black Panther, Coogler, and some of his cast may well find themselves nominated for the top awards this time next year and it is hard to say the movie doesn't deserve it. Not for representation's sake nor for political reasons, but simply because it is an EXCELLENT film that knows its importance, meets that challenge head on, yet is not defined or constrained by it. It manages to be fun while living up to the hype and pressure and that is all anyone could have asked.
When the MCU history is written, Black Panther will be in EVERYONE'S top three movies and for many it will be the best. So, what are you waiting for? Make time and see it... if you can get a ticket, of course.