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The superhero films keep on rolling; it's the first one for 2018, and in terms of hype, this seems to be one that's most anticipated.
Black Panther might not be the most well known superhero, but it is the fact we have a major blockbuster release with cultural importance that is getting the headlines. That seems to be getting many demographics excited to see something like this on the big screen and be heavily promoted under a major studio.
If you are up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, you will have obviously encountered Black Panther in a minor role in Captain America: Civil War. I thought it was a good enough introduction for me to want to know more about him. Especially as Chadwick Boseman played the role really well.
Now as a standalone, I thought this was pretty entertaining. There's a good opening, a solid introduction to a brand new world we have never encountered before. But with some poorly executed action set-pieces, it was an OK opening act. After that, it just gradually built up both in its quality of story-telling and character development, but in its action. By the end of it, I felt it to be a satisfying finale and another strong addition to the MCU.
Now, despite this being a release aimed for a mainstream audience, the storytelling felt a bit more thorough that you would normally expect from other blockbusters.
The characters in particular were well written, developed, and actually felt intelligent in their actions. What also helped was that the cast for this film was pretty strong, and they don't hold anything back.
Michael B. Jordan was easily for me me the best part. A memorable Marvel villain has been hard to find, and he could very well be up there with Tom Hiddleston's Loki as one of the best. His presence from the very beginning is quite striking and highly impactful in many scenes. He felt like how a villain should be. He has a story arc, you are terrified by his actions whilst also understanding where they're coming from, and you feel genuine fear for our protagonist. In the end, you just feel so much empathy for him. A good villain is definitely something that many big budget films have lost these days.
Boseman carried the film well. But despite being our protagonist, the story did not feel like he was central character. It seemed to be more of an ensemble piece with him being the face of it. But when he had his moments to shine, they were all well executed.
I also have to give props to Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke for top supporting roles. Their contributions felt committed, integral, and memorable enough for you to support whenever they are involved in any set-piece.
Andy Serkis gave a solid contribution and you can tell he is having a fun time playing his borderline over-the-top character. His well known screen presence is as strong as you would expect.
I was a bit disappointed with Daniel Kalluya. He might not have been anything exceptional, but nevertheless, he was perfectly fine in his role. I think after seeing him in Get Out, I was expecting a bit more. I finally mention Martin Freeman's character, who sadly felt to be a bit of a waste in this and was very forgettable.
Another strong aspect that almost matched the quality of the performances was how director Ryan Coogler introduced us to the world of Wakanda. It established the law and geography of it really well in a crash-course style, and it made me understand this hidden world and made me invest in each character's origins. When a world becomes a character in itself, you know you have done something right.
Despite having many things that I was not expecting, it still had some good stuff that we come to expect in any Marvel film. One thing that this franchise is known is for a solid amount of comedy. There is not that much in this one. But when they do go for the comedic moments, the execution is pretty good and had me chuckling a few times.
From the technical side, the score by Ludwig Goransson was surprisingly impressive. The wonderful mix of tradition African instruments and current sounds worked really well at the right time and perfectly enhanced scenes when needed.
The costume designs were noticeably strong in their variety and detail. I can see it being an early contender for a Oscar nomination in next year's awards.
On a side note I must mention, I noticed that this film weirdly felt very James Bond. In particular, there were similarities to Skyfall in two scenes. Be sure to check them out.
It wasn't all gold on screen. There were moments that I was not that engaged with and the slow moments were not all that impactful. The biggest problems I had with this were some of the lighting and camerawork issues during the fight scenes early on. There was a lot of 'shaky-cam' moments and with it also being particularly dark and hard to see, those entire set-pieces were incredibly difficult to watch and make sense of.
They did get better in the second half, but it was hard to ignore what I had seen before that.
Also, I think parts of the visual effects looked like they could have been improved as they felt too much like a cartoon.
But you'll be glad to hear that I felt this to be a pretty entertaining experience and it has introduced me to a new world within the MCU that I would happily find out more about.
Ryan Coogler and his team should be proud of what they made, and I can see this being watched a lot as it has fairly strong re-watchability. You can feel how much his direction was put into this story. For a director that's pretty young by usual standards, he has already created a fair amount of high-quality features such as Fruitvale Station, Creed, and now this.
I have noticed that the studio is listening to its fans and making sure its features are not having the same generic tone. I felt all of their 2017 releases to be different and almost feel like a standalone. For me, Black Panther has felt their most standalone piece of work since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The biggest part of it standing out I felt was that it concentrated on its characters more than anything else. I have always felt that if you invest in the development of your characters, then you can make anyone get invested no matter how crazy the story sounds.
What also makes it stand out is it messages coming from within the character development. Sure, it may have many scenes that you expect in a superhero film, but it also covers the topics of social commentary, learning from the past and understanding all of the problems from previous generations.
Lastly, it's a Marvel movie, so expect bonus scenes during the credits. There is one midway through the credits which is fine, and the one in post-credits was interesting to see where they go with the character that they showed.