It is now the highest grossing movie on any President’s Day weekend in history, the highest grossing film for a four-day weekend, bringing in $241.9 million, and the highest grossing MCU film on its first Tuesday out. It is also the first superhero movie to consist of a majority black cast and tackle black issues and history. More women than ever before hold leading roles and join in the action. With all of this behind the release of ‘Black Panther’, we at mxdwn break down the film, talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what’s behind all of the hype.
Rick: Since the hype is now over, and Black Panther is now released…what are your thoughts? Did you like the film? Did it exceed your expectations and most importantly did you have fun watching it?
Ben: I personally found Black Panther to be a great film, easily in my top five MCU films list to date. It was definitely the most mature Marvel film since Civil War, especially given the subject matter the film sought to confront. The idea of Wakanda had been hinted at since Iron Man 2 and titles like Age of Ultron and Civil War made it clear that Black Panther would come to play a larger role in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet the film itself offered something not only fun and genuinely character-driven, but completely unique when ranked alongside everything else in both this franchise and the superhero genre in general.
Chris: I enjoyed the movie, I really did, but I’m not as enthusiastic as most other people seem to be about it. It didn’t meet or exceed my expectations (though admittedly they were pretty high). I had fun with parts and felt frustration with parts of it. Still, it was a solid movie and I’m excited to see it again, so that says something.
Rick: I had no expectations walking into the film as I was curious as what the filmmakers were going to do with the story. What surprised me isn’t the action sequences but it’s story and culture in the film. The music fit the movie perfectly and even the villain felt plausible in the sense that he didn’t have any special powers or crazy over-the-top weapons. As an MCU film, I believe this surpasses Iron Man and Civil War in several ways. As an origin film, Black Panther works well especially as a sequel to Civil War. Watching this film reminded me of when I first saw Spider-Man. It was the one superhero movie that shocked me in many ways. The story, the characters, the comedy and the overall sense of enjoyment makes me want to watch this movie again and again. The only thing that I felt was disappointing was the Stan Lee cameo which felt lackluster at best. Chris, what parts made you frustrated? I’m interested to hear a different take.
Chris: The action scenes left a lot to be desired. Especially compared to something like Winter Soldier, the fights felt choppy and hard to follow. The initial scene when T’Challa rescued Nakia in the beginning was hard to see (especially since it was at night), and the fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger at the end was lackluster. Also, throughout the movie T’Challa was overshadowed by pretty much everyone. The side characters were more interesting, the villain was more interesting, and T’Challa just kinda faded into the background. And a lot of the CGI was a mixed bag for being a $200 million film.
Ben: I will concede that the opening action scene was rather dark and the climax fight standard MCU fare with some iffy CGI moments, but the South Korea casino fight/chase scene was definitely worth the price of admission. That’s a very well executed and choreographed scene and I appreciate how director Ryan Coogler managed to incorporate a single-take fight in the same vein as he did with Creed. I won’t say that T’Challa is the weakest character in the film, but I can think of at least three other characters who were more entertaining to watch (i.e. Okoye, Killmonger and Shuri). However, I think we should address the biggest character in this movie before discussing personalities and motivations: Wakanda itself. This iconic Marvel nation was hyped up from day one and it did not disappoint. The location exudes Afro-futurism in its blend of tribal and futuristic vibranium tech, and the symbolism of what it represents for African culture clearly stood out amongst critics and audience members alike.
Rick: The world of Wakanda was like being introduced into a new world unknown to everyone. I liked the idea of the Wakandan people keeping their technology a secret from the rest of the world and how T’Challa wants to change some ideas around once he becomes King. Also, the sense of style was amazing in it’s costumes and even the challenge fight on who will become King was very cool to watch. Black Panther seemed like another superhero action flair but was so much more than that. T’Challa is an interesting character who wants to do the right thing but also has to look out for his people. It’s interesting to see how the people wanted to keep everything a secret while some parts of the world were suffering. This reminded me of Civil War when they discussed the idea of powers destroying cities and literally killing people. It’s amazing to see how far the MCU films have come since then. Black Panther won me over with it’s story, music and culture. I will agree that some of the fight scenes were either overwhelming with CGI or underwhelming at being not that exciting. Plus, entering the world of Wakanda did remind me the same way Steve Trevor arrived in Wonder Woman’s world.
Chris: Wakanda certainly didn’t disappoint. Starting from the scene when the plane dips through the barrier showing the ‘real’ Wakanda it was just a spectacular display of design excellence. The costumes were great, the different tribes were well-designed, and the focus on futuristic technology and melding it with classic African aesthetics was world-building done right.
Ben: And this brings us into how the narrative not only affects T’Challa in his struggle to rule as King, but also how Wakanda as a nation must evolve with the times. Up until this point the country always presented itself as a poor third-world nation, when, in reality, it’s more advanced than anything Western Civilization has accomplished in terms of technological advancements. However, now the nation must decide between remaining in isolation or opening itself up to the world, as well as how Wakanda can offer assistance to less fortunate countries. This process is further enhanced by Killmonger’s own agenda, as he seeks to use Wakanda’s resources to aid radical African-American groups to overthrow those who have inflicted oppression for centuries. The film succeeds here because it allows us to see each point of view, even the most extremist ones, as empathetic, especially given how most Wakandans witnessed the rest of Africa succumb to colonization in the past.
Chris: Yeah, making Killmonger such a sympathetic figure was a tricky feat to accomplish. He’s obviously done a lot of horrible things but he also has ideas that appeal to his fellow Wakandans and that creates enough turmoil to rip their society apart.
Rick: Killmonger is a character that will live on for years to come. He did have a legitimate argument and as we see his character develop, we begin to understand why he is so angry. I agree, the themes in this movie were very bold to introduce and yet it was executed in such a delicate way. Seeing this movie, I forgot that Ryan Coogler co-wrote and directed this, and after seeing his work on Creed, this further proves that he is a director that is really making a name for himself.
Ben: Not to mention this makes Coogler’s third collaboration with Michael B. Jordan after Creed and Fruitvale Station, which has made them quite the director-actor partnership. I can safely say this absolves Jordan of his performance in Fan4stic (a role ironically played by Chris Evans in the previous Fantastic Four adaptation) and makes him the best MCU villain since Loki, not that the bar in film roles has been that high. I’ve heard a lot of critics say he’s the best comic book villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker but I would honestly compare him more to Magneto from the X-Men films. Killmonger clearly represents the Malcolm X to T’Challa’s MLK, as, despite his radical ideas and justifiable quest for vengeance, his plan is still empathetic. You might not agree with his motives, but it was hard to not listen to his words and agree with his frustrations on some level.
Rick: I like your analogy of Malcolm X and MLK. Killmonger is a villain that I honestly felt bad for especially when we learn what happened. True, I didn’t agree with all of his ideas but Michael B. Jordan did such a great job that he stood out to me more than T’Challa himself. Magneto is a good comparison in terms of a villain, Heath Ledger’s Joker’s performance is something that I feel can’t be really compared with. In some ways yes, but unlike Killmonger there wasn’t a big fight between the Joker and Batman. The Joker was more of ideals and reigning down anarchy whereas Killmonger wanted to overthrow Black Panther and anyone that stood in his way. A ticking time-bomb of a character. Speaking of villains, what did we think of Andy Serkis in this film?
Chris: Serkis was the only one who acted like he knew he was in a comic book movie. He looked like he was having a blast. I wanted that casino scene (with a hell of a long tracking shot) and car chase to go on forever. Klaue was like a demented Mega Man. I want him in every MCU movie. I also want Letitia Wright in every movie. What a scene-stealer. Danai Gurira and Winston Duke were incredibly bad-ass as well.
Ben: I’d say Ulysses Klaue isn’t necessarily compelling, but Andy Serkis was still ridiculously entertaining in his moments of screen-time. The man was both unhinged and hilarious in his scenery chewing moments, and I especially loved how the film incorporated his sonic cannon appendage into the film. It’s a nice example of continuity within the MCU and successfully links Klaue and his character motivation- the acquirement of vibranium- into the narrative rather well.
Rick: Serkis seemed to have an absolute blast in this film. I was disappointed that he wasn’t in the movie longer. Letitia Wright was a major heart of the film. Her chemistry with Chadwick Boseman felt like a true brother-sister relationship. Even some of the jokes she said were great and nothing felt forced to make the audience laugh. I will agree that the South Korean action moment was awesome. It was tense with its building and once everything went swinging I didn’t want it to end.
Chris: Shuri was especially interesting because she was 4 characters in one. She was the genius technology expert, the sister, the warrior princess, and the comic relief. It wasn’t like she was Q from Bond 25 and just showed up to explain the gadgets. She was confident and powerful and courageous.
Ben: It wasn’t just Shuri who proved herself an amazing character. All the women were badass and felt like they had a deep and impactful role in Wakanda’s political and cultural structure. We got to see Okoye and Nakia’s conflicting perspectives towards the country’s future, the fighting formations of the Dora Milanje, and Angela Bassett in yet another commanding performance as T’Challa’s mother. I think Wakanda did a great job establishing that women played as much an active role in this society and, rather than feel burdened by them, T’Challa actually relies on these characters for support. But yeah, of all the characters, Shuri definitely stood out for how much energy and humor she brought into her interactions with other characters. Not to mention, in addition to being both a warrior, genius inventor and role model for young female viewers, she’s kind of an unofficial Disney princess.
Rick: Her character felt essential to the story. True, she didn’t feel like a copy and paste character from Bond. When she showed T’Challa the new suits and gadgets that he would be using did remind me of Bond, but it felt natural and part of the story. Is there one scene that stood out to you? One scene that makes Black Panther worth watching again?
Ben: Outside of the South Korea fight and car chase? I’d say it would be the opening scenes in Wakanda, both in the waterfall fights and the spiritual ritual where T’Challa conversed with the spirit of his father. These moments really made Wakanda feel like a fleshed out location that was genuinely proud of its culture and had me interested in more scenes that could explored how the nation functioned as a whole.
Chris: The scene near the end with T’Challa and Erik admiring the sunset was stunning. It’s rare to get that kind of emotional wallop from a superhero flick. The dialogue throughout the movie was superb and organic, but that scene just nailed it on every level. Also, the two waterfall fights were entertaining, if a bit too chaotic. The water splashing as the camera stayed tight and locked in the fighters looked amazing. Coogler’s Creed experience paid off for those brawls.
Rick: I didn’t expect Black Panther to show up in Civil War and Chadwick Boseman just nails that character perfectly. Watching Black Panther was exciting for me in the ways of how it showed us African culture and this unique world of Wakanda. The story captivated me almost immediately and Killmonger is a villain that I admire, I can’t stand his ideology in some ways and is someone that I came to respect in the end. The writers crafted a great story and didn’t settle on silly action moments which could’ve been a lot easier. Black Panther takes itself seriously and being that it’s an MCU addition to a list of other great movies, I can’t wait to see T’Challa on the big screen again. The best parts of Black Panther are in its ideas and not the action. The world of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister having fun are what I remember the most. Killmonger is a great character who is broken, angry and wants things to change especially in a country that is supposedly one of the poorest in the world. Ryan Coogler outdid himself and gave the audience one heck of a story.
Ben: And judging by how the movie has resonated with audiences culturally, I’d say it’s impact in our country will be felt about as strongly as Wonder Woman did last year. It gave African-American viewers a chance to see themselves in a character and world that embrace its heritage with pride and looked badass while doing so. Given the box office sales made in the past week, it’s safe to say that these movies sell and they have a offer something important to those who wish to be represented on screen and feel empowered as a result.
Rick: I have a feeling that Black Panther will do better than Wonder Woman. I love the idea of making superhero films that I’m not quite familiar with. Yes, I grew up with Wonder Woman when I was young, but Black Panther was someone I never heard of before. This film deserves to be watched multiple times. The first time you watch makes you feel like you watched a great movie and seeing it a second time allows you to closely examine everything you missed the first time. The costumes are one of the highlights of the movie and the soundtrack as well. I wonder how much it will take in during it theatrical run. It blew me away, and while the CGI became troublesome and a lackluster cameo by Stan Lee, Black Panther is one of the best MCU films I’ve seen in years.
Chris: Based on the box office numbers people have already been going back for seconds. And the soundtrack is further driving the brand awareness through the roof. Plus, all of the elements are there for a great sequel. Coogler has already said that he wants to come back. If they polish up the action scenes, work on the CGI, tighten up the pace and give T’Challa some more bite I think it could give Winter Soldier a run for the best MCU-series sequel.
Ben: Well, given how Infinity War will partially take place in Wakanda and feature most of the cast, I guess we can qualify it as the unofficial Black Panther sequel. So waiting a few more months is fine by me.
Rick: As I said before, Black Panther is one of the best superhero origin films I’ve seen since Spider-Man, as that movie was big in its time. Infinity War is literally around the corner and yes it can be seen as an unofficial sequel to Black Panther, I do look forward to seeing where the MCU will be heading.
Chris: Post-Infinity Wars Part 2 will be scary times for the established MCU characters. Kids have grown up expecting certain actors in these roles, and it will be interesting to see how Feige and company handle the transition.
Ben: Well, we’ve got Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel to look forward to in the near future. Given how Marvel has yet to hit a roadblock yet outside of a few recent TV shows (cough Inhumans/Iron Fist cough), I have no reason to lose confidence in them yet.