in Review

Black Panther

In my review of Transformers: The Last Knight, I brought up the Writers Room, the surprisingly talented group of people tasked with turning the aging toy-themed movie franchise into a Marvel-style cinematic universe. Well, as much as the MCU seems to be the sole vision of Kevin Feige, the truth is they had something like the Writers Room of their own, back in the day. It was called the “Marvel Creative Committee” and has been implied to be the source of everything bad that ever happened.

The Marvel Creative Committee was a group of toy and comic people who would consult on Marvel properties as they were adapted. They gave notes like telling James Gunn to not use Seventies music in Guardians of the Galaxy or forcing Joss Whedon to include a scene of Thor taking a bath in Age of Ultron. It sounds like basically everyone who didn’t like working with Marvel – such as Edgar Wright, Natalie Portman, and Rebecca Hall – blame the Marvel Creative Committee. Most regrettably, one of it’s members was Ike Perlmutter, who is now a Trump advisor and is most remember for having said it was fine to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle because black people “look the same.”

Phase Three of the MCU is the first to exist without the influence of the Committee, and it’s just been the best, right? It kicked off with Civil War and every single movie since has been a banger, save for maybe Doctor Strange, which still was far from bland thanks to it’s own trippy style (I really like magic martial arts, sue me). It’s also been the most self-assured phase, as each individual film committed more to its characters’ styles and director’s vision. Like, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was even more James Gunn-y than the first and Thor: Ragnarok was, it sounds like, mostly improvised by Taika Waititi. It’s been an amazing period that’s proved that making the best individual film possible can’t really hurt the overall metanarrative.

Black Panther also exemplifies this value. On paper, this movie exists to give a backstory to a character we saw in Civil War and to set up Wakanda, the pivotal battlefield from the up-coming Infinity War. So for the whole MCU, it doesn’t really change the status quo. But that doesn’t matter, because director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole seized upon their opportunity to flesh out an afrofuturistic society and consider the worldwide ramifications such a place being unveiled would entail.

Black Panther is the story of a Shakespearean power struggle between the newly-crowned Wakandan king (and masked crime-fighter) T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and a hardened, cynical American, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who seeks Wakanda’s power. T’Challa, still mourning the death of his father in Civil War, questions whether it’s time for his nation to finally participate in the rest of the world. He knows they can help, but opening his nation to do good also opens it up to potential dangers. Killmonger, having experienced a violent life as a soldier and mercenary, resents Wakanda for allowing so many people to suffer around the globe. And why wouldn’t he? After all, is it not the MCU motto that with great power comes great responsibility?

On top of that, Black Panther boasts some truly inspiring production design. The costumes and sets were so cool and stylish that I wished that was how the real world looked (flying cars and silent maglev trains would be nice too). The music as well, from Pulitzer-winner Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino-collaborator Ludwig Göransson, is distinct and powerful – uncommon for the MCU which typically has such forgettable scores. And, you know, T’Challa has a sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), who is basically Wakanda’s Q, a genius developing weapons and gear in her underground laboratory, and we haven’t had fun scenes with props like hers since the first Iron Man movie.

The rest of the supporting cast is pretty stacked too, with heavy hitters like Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker all adding different dimensions to what life is like in Wakanda. I especially look forward to seeing more of Danai Gurira as Okoye, the leader of a group of bald warrior women who protect the king. The only performance I didn’t love was Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, he just doesn’t believably seem like an American former-ace pilot and current spy.

Anyway, it’s been two months since I started writing this review and Infinity War is upon us. Will it dethrone Black Panther as the new king of the MCU? It’s a possibility, but for a time being, the biggest movie in a franchise with like seven white dudes named Chris was the only one not to have any white Americans. After Wonder Woman and Black Panther, I hope it’s crystal clear to Hollywood that moviegoers aren’t afraid of diversity, we just care about quality.