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Black Panther (2018) - MCU Retro Review

Heading into the final few chapters of Marvel's Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we decided it was time to take a look back at the last ten years worth of films (18 in all) and re-evaluate them based on how well they hold up today and how connected they are to the greater MCU now that the films have advanced so far into the timeline, which culminates in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and it's untitled sequel. Are they as good as you remember? Do they still hold up today? Are the deeper MCU connections even deeper than before or weaker? Join us as we attempt to answer those questions and take another look at the last decade of Marvel Studios with our Retro-Review Series!

DIRECTED BY: Ryan Coogler
WRITTEN BY: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
STARRING: Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa/Black Panther), Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Lupita Nyong'o (Nakie), Martin Freeman (Agent Everett K. Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M'Baku), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue), Sterling K. Brown (N'Jobu)
STORY: T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider who was a childhood victim of T'Challa's father's mistake.

After a solid debut in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, T'Challa/aka BLACK PANTHER finally got his own solo debut. As a long-standing staple character in the pages of Marvel Comics, the significance of him getting his own film transcended beyond mere fan service; it was a cultural revolution. The first all-black superhero film (minus ol' Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis) showed that the world was ready for such a thing...and then some! The box office tells the whole story and you simply can't deny the magnificent impact of BLACK PANTHER for the genre and for people of color. Director Ryan Coogler (CREED, FRUITVALE STATION) put a lot of heart and soul into this film and opened a lot of doors in doing so, no only for himself, but for more films like it to be made. But, let's not forget that first and foremost, this is a MARVEL film and as such, it still has to play in that sandbox, no matter how big (or little) the cultural significance may be.

Picking up mere days after the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, which saw the intro of BLACK PANTHER to the MCU proper, T'Challa returns home to assume the crown of Wakanda after his father's untimely death. In Wakanda, however, it's not just a simple swearing in; no, T'Challa has to face battle with any challenger from any of Wakanda's tribes that willfully challenges him. The gorilla-themed group led by M'Baku makes a push for it, but ultimately loses and T'Challa assumes the crown. He is then tasked with tracking down Ulysses Klaue, in order to bring him to justice for crimes against Wakanda. But, let's not forget the flashback set-up with Sterling K. Brown as King T'Chaka's brother, who is ultimately killed by T'Chaka when confronted with the accusation that he's been helping Klaue smuggle vibranium, which is Wakanda's most valuable resource.

There's a lot of Game of Thrones-like political posturing, although without the sex and ultra hardcore violence. It's a royal struggle, as T'Challa tries to balance being a good man and a king, that is made more difficult when his long lost cousin, Erik Killmonger, shows up to challenge him for the throne. He defeats T'Challa and assumes the kingship, but it doesn't last long as BLACK PANTHER returns to thwart Killmonger's plans to arm sects of his race to take over their "masters". It's a fairly deep take and one that plays on the political spectrum of a monarchy, with some clever/cool nods to the spiritual realm, the sacred areas of Wakanda (and the technology) and some globe-trotting adventure to spice things up.

Boseman owns his role as T'Challa/BLACK PANTHER and Michael B. Jordan is nothing short of menacing as Erik Killmonger, even if he flat-out disappears for nearly 40 minutes of the film before reapparing. The supporting cast is also great, with Letitia Wright's Shuri and Danai Gurira's Okoye stealing every scene they're in (in fact, Gurira gives the most emotional performance of the whole film). Martin Freeman feels out of place here and not just because he's white, but because Everett Ross is king of a strange character, almost look a shoe-in Agent Coulson, who would've been better here. Coogler is a talented filmmaker, but it definitely felt like he didn't quite stick the landing on the visual punch or action of the film. There are some cool, thrilling moments, but there's also a lot of clumsy, uninspired sequences as well, including an end battle that plays out like a Playstation animatic and some questionable armored rhinos that may well be from 1995's JUMANJI. It's a pretty big shortfall, as the action and aesthetic, including Panther's fighting style, were so much more fleshed out in his introduction film, CIVIL WAR.

Ultimately, the significance of BLACK PANTHER is two-fold. It's a cultural and box office win, but I can't help but feel many reviewers got too caught up in that aspect and forgot to evaluate the movie on it's simple merits of entertainment and execution. It's a good film and one of the better Marvel films without question, but it's far from the best and needs a major stunt/fight choreography overhaul for the inevitable sequel. It's right in line with the rest of the origin films, but benefits from a strong script, unique setting and cultural significance. The world and intrigue of Wakanda is most certainly firmly established and ripe for more exploration. The biggest win, for me, was the advancement of characters and locales in the ever-growing MCU, which serves to connect and bring these characters together as their worlds begin to merge. That's kind of the endgame point of BLACK PANTHER anyway and it most certainly delivers in that regard, even if the aesthetics can't match the hype.

READ THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL REVIEW!

Despite my issues with much of the action sequences in the film (the opening battle to "rescue" Nakie was so dimly lit and lazily executed that you could barely make out the action. However, the chase scene after the casino fight (which was another fight that suffered in the fight choreography department) is actually quite cool, with Shuri using her technical skills to "drive" a car in a car chase in another country from her lab in Wakanda. Pretty cool stuff. Okoye gets a lot of ass-kicking action as well and it's great to see Danai Gurira really shine in a role outside of The Walking Dead's Michonne.

While I found the customary battles on the waterfall to be a great idea and looked really cool onscreen, the fight choreography got in the way again. I wanted to see something a little stronger in style and graceful in battle. Alas, the action wasn't as important as the end result, which is a credit to the film as the stakes for these battles, both with M'Baku and Killmonger, were very real.

There are a few shots that I found really striking and effective from the film, including one where BLACK PANTHER uses his energy field to displace a bunch of W'Kabi's soldiers at the end. That slow motion shot was an image that stuck with me. In addition, there's another cool shot where we see Panther tossed through the air and the camera follows with his perspective through the air. Clever stuff and I felt that was when Coogler was at his best. I just wish it had been more consistent throughout the film, especially in that end fight on the train in the Vibranium mine, which just fell flat to me.

Shuri: "Did he freeze?"
Okoye: "Like an antelope in headlights."

Black Panther: "I never freeze."

Shuri: "Don't scare me like that, colonizer!"

King T'Chaka: [to T'Challa] "You are a good man, with a good heart. And it's hard for a good man to be a king."

Black Panther: "I did not yield! And as you can see, I am not dead! The challenge continues!"

Erik Killmonger: "I've waited my whole life for this. The world's gonna start over. I'ma burn it all!"

W'Kabi: "You would kill me my love?"
Okoye: "For Wakanda? Without Question."

Okoye: "Wakanda forever!"

Ulysses Klaue is a major villain in the comics and we got our first introduction to him in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, which is where he lost his arm (with Ultron ripping it off) during a Vibranium deal gone awry. In this film we see that his arm has been turned into a weapon, as in the comics, but outside of that the similarities are gone, as Klaw from the comics is a Nazi war criminal

When Agent Ross is brought to Shuri after being wounded, she says, "Great, another white boy to fix.", which is a nod to The Winter Soldier being brought there at the end of CIVIL WAR.

Agent Ross returns here, again played by Martin Freeman, who was first introduced in CIVIL WAR.

MID-CREDITS: We see T'Challa addressing the U.N. and saying that it's time for Wakanda to connect to the rest of the world. As they've been in the shadows for so long, the question is posed as to what they have to offer, in which T'Challa smiles, knowing that they have plenty.

POST-CREDITS: We see Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier emerge from a tent, obviously still healing from his phsychological wounds in CIVIL WAR, where he was put in a deep freeze in Wakanda at the end of that film. Shuri is seen with him and we hear him referred to as "The White Wolf". This is a nod to the comics as well, as T'Chala's adoptive brother is known as "The White Wolf". 

Shuri is a staple character in the comics who eventually takes over as Black Panther for a short while.

Everett Ross is a character from the comics that served as a government employee that was assigned to guiding T'Challa around New York in the 1999 comic series.

W'Kabi is a character that is the head of Wakanda's military in the comics and serves similarly in the film (although not in charge of the entire military).

M'Baku also appears in the comics, but is referred to as Man-Ape. Here, that is alluded to with him leading the "Gorilla Nation" in Wakanda

Nakia is very much one of T'Challa's love interests in the comics, but that's a complicated journey. At one point, T'Challa was married to X-Men's Storm, but they later divorced.

Of course, Stan Lee makes his cameo, playing a gambler in the casino scene who "looks after" T'Chala's winnings.

Ulysses Klaue returns here and is sought after for stealing Vibranium (and also for killing W'Kabi's father). He is sportiing his new mechanical gun arm, which is cool enough. Serkis is the whole show, though, and he just feels like a creepy psychotic, the kind of guy you avoid at all costs. You don't want to live in his world as he's unpredictable and crazy. Sadly, I felt the way he was dispatched by Killmonger shorted us a cool villain that could return again for Panther to battle, but the filmmakers had other plans, which ultimately fueled Erik Killmonger's plans.

Michael B. Jordan is excellent as Killmonger. Every scene he's in commands your attention and I think it's a credit to him as an actor moreso than as a character. Killmonger is in it for the long game, seeking revenge for the death of his father, who was T'Chaka's brother, and looking to arm what he considers the oppressed with Wakanda's weapons in order to rise up and overtake their "masters". Ultimately, it's the opposite of what T'Challa wants to do, which originally was to maintain the secrecy of Wakanda, but morphed into reaching out and sharing their technology with the world; Killmonger just wants to burn it down and rule with an iron fist, most of it born out of seeing his father "defeated" by the nation he was from. So, daddy issues. Still, you have to give major credit to Jordan; he's a phenomenal actor and makes Killmonger shine in a way that all other MCU villains (minus Loki, of course) haven't.

 

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DOCTOR STRANGE

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Source: JoBlo.com

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