REVIEW: ‘Black Panther’ Is Solid Entertainment With Great Acting, Compelling Characters

Since getting under way in 2008, the movie series from Marvel Studios has included films with genres that stray away from the typical super hero origins. “Captain America: Winter Soldier” was a spy thriller and “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a space opera comedy.

Marvel once again does this for its latest picture “Black Panther.” Instead of telling a super hero centric story, “Black Panther” is a story of nationalism, politics and a monarchy.

The plot of the picture begins not long after the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” The film follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who doubles as a special soldier, Black Panther, for his nation Wakanda. Because his father died in “Civil War,” T’Challa is now set to assume the throne and become the new king.

After becoming the King of Wakanda, though, T’Challa finds himself not only having to deal with his insecurities on leadership, but a challenger to the throne in a vengeful man named Erik Kill Monger (Michael B. Jordan) as well.

Watching T’Challa, an already accomplished and courageous man, still have to learn more in “Black Panther” is what really makes things compelling. The character became a favorite for many, including myself, in “Civil War,” and here we get to see him become even better.

This starts early on, with T’Challa becoming king and having to deal with the realities of politics and being a ruler. As a result, the audience gets to be engaged not only with some super hero action, but some human drama as well.

This is only enhanced as the movie enters its second half, when Erik’s backstory is revealed and his aggression is detailed. As a villain, his motivations are understandable and his own upbringing adds a lot to T’Challa’s character arc.

Benefiting the story of T’Challa is Chadwick Boseman’s performance, who’s spot on as a young leader for his country. He perfectly portrays the character’s balance of having confidence but not arrogance as well of having insecurities but not letting that stop him from taking on challenges. This is especially true in the third act, when he acknowledges wrongdoing in the past of his family and country.

Jordan, meanwhile, is great as a villain. Despite being quite menacing and ruthless from start to finish, the issues driving his anger are real and need to be addressed by the protagonists of the picture. Jordan portrays both of these aspects, making the character relatable with his grievances at some points and monstrous during others.

The film is also benefited by a strong supporting cast, including Academy Award winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker as well as Oscar nominees Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya. These cast members, along with Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Martin Freeman all bring together a very good sphere of acting.

Each one of these performers play a character with a different connection to T’Challa, and all of them nail their roles. From Whitaker playing a good mentor character to Wright portraying T’Challa’s sister Shuri, the latter providing some fun banter, it was all very spot on.

One of the detriments to the film, though, was Andy Serkis who plays a returning secondary villain last seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Serkis is just way too over the top goofy in the role and it really doesn’t fit at times. I get what the film was going for, having a villain who treats ‘everything like a game’ type of thing, but it needed to be dialed back.

Another problem in “Black Panther” was the dialogue, with some of it being a bit forced. For example, in the first act the characters are flying back to Wakanda and it’s apparent that it’s setting up a big revealing shot to show off the capital city. Just before the reveal, though, Boseman’s character says “this never gets old,” as if the script was spoon-feeding the audience on the visuals.

Another moment, also in the film’s first act, has Wright’s character saying an actual meme from the internet, it felt so jarring and took me out of the picture.

These are smaller issues, though, in a film that largely delivers, which includes giving the audience some top notch action. There are great sequences of hand-to-hand combat, which are part of the ritual of T’Challa becoming king, as well as some scenes showcasing superhuman feats, such as a wonderful chase moment in the second act. The flick’s final, large scale battle is also entertaining to watch, especially because of the personal allegiances the characters have. The production design was also fantastic, many of the scenes are just wonderful to look at and much of the sets and costumes are quite detailed.

Overall, “Black Panther” has a lot of pieces that work very well. Whether it’s the action or the music, the film just has a lot of swagger and these aspects are on top of the picture featuring some good performances and interesting character arcs. I wouldn’t put it ahead of other recent Marvel releases such as “Guardians 2” or “Thor Ragnarok,” but this still earns a 4.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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