It is impossible to reject that “Black Panther” will become a massive American icon as it is already one of the fastest opening films of all time. The movie has garnered impenetrably high praise and adoration from many critics and filmgoers. A friend and I went to see the film the night after it released. We came to the theatre an entire hour early and were directed to wait in line for our seats for one of the six screens dedicated to showing the movie. We were taking part in a huge cultural event, and I was not disappointed when the picture rolled. It was a spectacular film – one with passion, perception and purpose. Therefore, I wanted to share my first impressions of the film after seeing it.
First, let’s get all of my griping with the movie out of the way. The main problem with the film is its overabundant and bloated CGI effects. While the CGI works well with the City of Wakanda itself where the entire sci-fi utopia is rendered in painstaking detail, more practical effects would have helped breathed realism into many of the scenes. In particular, the computer-generated rhinos especially seemed pointless, considering that real rhinos could have been used since they are native to Africa where the film was made. However, the CGI was necessary for the scene where Black Panther stabs one of the rhinos in the head. Suffice to say, the film’s computer visuals will not age very well.
Now let’s get into what I loved about the film, which is mostly everything else. The film has received a lot of attention, for better or worse, for its political and racial implications. I thought that the story handled these topics very well. I enjoyed the movie’s overarching theme as a conflict between ideologies and principles as much as a conflict with guns and spears. Wakanda, a virtual utopia, had only obtained its advanced state by isolating themselves, hoarding all the fiction super element Vibranium for themselves, and turning a blind eye to the rest of the world. The Wakandans are essentially extreme nationalists, with the main protagonist King T’Challa, the Black Panther and the rest of his council holding the same principles.
King T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia, who represents globalism, tries to convince him that Wakanda should use their resources to help the rest of the world. The chief villain, Killmonger, (ironically) represents imperialism, wanting Wakanda to use its powers and resources so that Wakanda can conquer the world and seek vengeance for Africa’s former oppressors. This battle of philosophy adds depth to the story that can be compared to real world issues, but it does not make the viewer feel guilty if he/she does not agree with the movie’s conclusion of rejecting nationalism.
The main antagonist, Killmonger, is my second favorite character in the film (behind Okoye, aka Michonne from “The Walking Dead”). He is charmingly cruel, ruthless and considers himself vindicated. As a young boy living in California slums, Killmonger witnessed the death of his father by the hands of his own uncle, T’Challa’s father. This tragedy sparked a hatred in the boy, hatred of the world, hatred of the people that have oppressed his race, and hatred of his own family that betrayed him. He dedicates his life to killing, as a hardened soldier in the U.S. military, just so he would be prepared to slay his cousin, T’Challa. He has set out to carry out his father’s grand delusion of overthrowing the world by avenging his death and taking Wakanda’s throne for himself. He is the complete antithesis of T’Challa: selfish, sadistic and lacking a conscience.
The action sequences are very well orchestrated and focused, zooming in on more close-quarter combat like “Captain America: White Winter Soldier.” My favorite scenes were set atop a rocky Warrior Falls, where T’Challa had to battle warriors from other tribes who wished to take the throne from the king. Keep in mind that they fought gladiator style while only steps away from the edge of a steep waterfall. There are few special effects in these set-pieces; instead we get pure, intense hand-to-hand combat, which is more engaging and personal than a bunch of explosions. I also loved how the movie implemented the Black Panther suit’s ability to absorb energy during combat and use it as a shockwave for strategic defense. The filmmakers were thinking logically when planning these scenes.
The film’s visual design, too, was excellent. The Black Panther’s suit itself is sleek and stylish. It’s dark and stealthy like Batman’s outfit but specialized for speed. Tchaka’s brief transition into the suit was smooth but not as awesome or sophisticated as Iron Man’s. The Wakandans’ costumes draw heavily from African culture, with deep colored patterned dresses and ritual accessories. I especially loved the design of the women warriors’ battle dresses, with their bold crimson robes and golden rings, while carrying long spears. The City of Wakanda itself looks like a sci-fi version of New York from the distance. A closer look of the city shows citizens still grounded to their roots, an indication of their deep sense of heritage and national pride.
And the soundtrack, FANTASTIC, as it was my favorite part of the whole experience. Instead of the tired and true dramatic orchestra music in virtually every action film, we get dynamic trap instrumentation, traditional African drums, and excellent songs from Hip-Hop/R&B stars like Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and the Weeknd. It manages to carry the action forward, while giving the setting of an advanced African city an extra layer of personality. The highlight is the spectacular “All the Stars,” where SZA serenades the audience while the credits roll. I cannot recall a recent soundtrack that nails the theme and setting of a movie quite like this.
Overall, this was the best Marvel movie I have seen since the original “Iron Man.” For half of the film, I forgot that I was watching a Marvel movie. It felt like its own separate entity, removed from godlike superheroes, alien supervillains and outlandish camp. It was the unique standalone superhero movie I wanted it to be. And while I do not agree with the immense level of praise it is receiving, a person cannot deny that there was heart and soul put into Black Panther.