Where to begin with Black Panther? For the first time in a long time, Marvel has delivered a film that nearly left me speechless and without any negative criticism. I literally have nothing bad to say about this film, except perhaps that the main villain wasn’t properly introduced until relatively late in the film, but they made up for that in an abundant number of ways.
This review will remain relatively short since I have nothing negative to say. Over the years, I’ve had two major criticisms of Marvel films, especially in the post-Avengers era, when Marvel kind of zeroed in on what worked for them. The first is that Marvel had become a bit of a cookie-cutter industry, with each film looking, sounding, and playing out roughly the same way. The second is that Marvel’s villains seemed very one-dimensional, with the exception of Loki due to his personal connection with the hero and the fact that they could stretch his story arc over multiple films.
I am pleased to say that neither of these problems reared their ugly heads in Black Panther.
For starters, this film felt like the most unique Marvel film since the early days of Marvel Studios. In fact, there were times when I forgot it was connected to the greater Marvel universe. It felt very self-contained and most connections it had with other films seemed minor. This helped it breathe as its own film, and made it so much better.
The main villain, though lacking in screen time at the beginning, is, dare I say it, the best Marvel villain we’ve ever seen. He had a personal connection to the hero and was truly sympathetic. Despite being misguided by his upbringing, he was someone I wanted to see live past the end of the film. But his death was a symbol of T’challa’s arc. He was, as T’challa points out, a villain of Wakanda’s own making, a flaw in their system, evidence of the need to make changes. Erik’s death symbolized T’challa’s realization of this fact, and his resolution to do something about it. I wish we could have seen more of Erik, but his role was easily the most compelling for any Marvel villain.
There is so much good I could say about this film. I’ll try to lay it all out, rapid fire. The costume design, and indeed all of the design, was an amazing mix of science fiction and African culture. The pacing was perfect, making me want to punch the air at all the right moments. The soundtrack was incredible, drawing from multiple black cultures across the globe. The action scenes were among Marvel’s best. And the simple narrative craftsmanship was spot on. Every scene had a purpose.
But ultimately, what made Black Panther so special was its message. As a white male born into privilege, I will probably never fully understand just how important this film is to young black children (as well as adults) all across America, Africa, and the entire world. But I have an idea. This film is a symbol of hope for all impoverished people around the Earth. Furthermore, the film also had a message to me and my fellow privileged peers: what do you do when you have the resources to help others?
I hope we may all benefit from the messages and hope that stem from this film. These are what make Black Panther perhaps the most important superhero film of the century to date, if not the most important film of any genre. And I do not say that lightly.
In other words, go see it again.