Rarely do I spend time writing Film Reviews. However, after watching "Black Panther" this morning (because yesterday's Time Slot I attended was Sold Out) I have to share my thoughts on the FIlm.
First, I must keep this in context. In my opinion, Films with a predominantly African-American Cast have typically resonated mainly with the African-American Community. I felt "Black Panther" would do the same, especially being released during Black History Month. Yet, I did not read any FIlm Excerpts or Reviews before watching the Film because I wanted to go in without expectation.
I did not expect this. Before I go into any details, I must say, after watching almost all of the Marvel movies (save Thor 3) "Black Panther" is easily in the Top 3. In terms of Marvel Villains, "Black Panther" has the Best Villain shown on Screen to date. By far.
Some may say, "Eric, you're a Black person, so, of course, you're going to say that." Even at a 10:30am Showing on a Sunday morning, there was a good crowd of people in the Theater with me. Spanning the gamut of races, cultures, backgrounds, I feel confident that we all enjoyed the Film. Not simply as a Superhero movie, but as a Film, in general.
I am shocked. Pleasantly shocked! Many Films with a predominantly Black Cast have been made on a lower Budget. Meaning, the quality of the Film from Special Effects to the Scale of the movie are lacking and tough to compete with other Films. "Black Panther" is a Blockbuster, big-budget Film that's not only entertaining, but truly 'thought-provoking.' Where should I begin...?
Oh my gosh. Whoever did the Casting for this Film did an amazing job. They nailed the major roles, minor roles, and everything in-between. Everyone fit so well into their role, I still can't believe it. Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther...I loved his performance in "Civil War." I was sold, then. He brings a character I wasn't familiar with before-hand to life. The Villain, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan... I was skeptical on him before watching the FIlm. He did an amazing job. Again, best Marvel Villain, ever. Danai Gurira plays Okoye...she is fantastic as General for Wakanda's Military. And I have to give a shout out to Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue. One of the craziest Villains I've seen. Scene stealer. Also, Black Panther's sister, Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. The chemistry between she and Chadwick was outstanding. They played off of each other well.
What makes "Black Panther" so good is the movie didn't scream, "Look at all the Black Actors/Actresses in this Film!" They simply told a genuine, heart-felt story. And this is a Comic book movie?! Action (of course). Drama, Suspense, a little Romance. It was all meshed together seamlessly. We learned more about the Wakandan Culture, which was mixed with advanced technology. Wakanda, itself, was stunning.
But, ultimately, the audience doesn't know how to feel about the Villain, Killmonger. He is not the typical "I want to destroy the Universe because I'm Evil," type of bad guy. You listen to him talk and think, 'Hmm, he has some valid points about Society, Politics, History, etc.' All of a sudden the Good vs. Evil, Black vs. White, starts to fade to Grey.
We're left wondering, okay, we have a problem. But who's Right and who's Wrong? What used to be a simple solution (root for the Hero to win) is now complex and we, as an audience, want to sit down with each other to find out what's the best solution. Because whether you agree with the Hero or the Villain...you just know something bad is going to happen, either way. This makes the audience wonder how evil the Villain is, if at all.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS
I am not completely biased. If there is a glaring weakness to the Film, it is the consistent quality of the Special Effects, overall. There are a lot of great moments where CG is used. However, when it is 'off,' it is very noticeable. I think they could have dialed back the amount of CG used, particularly with one-on-one fight scenes. However, the Cinematography was so great, I just pushed these flaws aside and stayed in the moment.
The traditional fight scenes were excellent. I almost feel like the CG gets in the way of the Style some Scenes were captured in. I see where they were going, but dare I say more resources could have been put into this aspect. Yes, (ILM) Industrial Light & Magic was a major Creator of Special Effects, but there were quite a few other Studios used to create CG. You can tell the difference in quality. ILM is the best...and then, there are other Studios, for the most part.
I was teary-eyed after the movie. I stayed until the very end of the Credits and saw two Bonus Scenes. I was teary-eyed because...this being Black History Month. Understanding how African-Americans were treated as 'less-than.' At the bottom of the Social Class. To come in and see a Film with a predominantly Black Cast be executed this well on this Scale... It turns all of those negative Labels about African-Americans into a huge Lie.
Then, I realized part of me bought into that. When I was little, during School Shopping, my Mom would walk us through some ritzy venues in the Mall like Neiman Marcus & Saks Fifth Avenue. I could feel the eyes of people watching us. It was tension in the air like... what are they doing in here?
I didn't understand it, then. Not completely, But now, I am 39 years old. I went into Dillard's at a Mall last week and had a look around because I have never shopped there before. A similar feeling of tension, not as bad as back then, but... the security guard kept his eye on me. Neiman Marcus. Saks Fifth Avenue. Do I really belong on that Tier in Social Class?
When I am at my day job in a warehouse and people from Corporate Offices are on Tour through the Facility, I can feel some of their eyes look down on me. I am not on that Level. I used to let it anger me. I told myself that my Value is not based on how much money I have in my Bank Account or what Title I have on a Job. Still... it is hard to really believe.
Oddly enough, after watching "Black Panther" this morning, looking at how skillful they were as Fighters. Looking at how Intelligent they were with developing New, Advanced Technology. Understanding that the Wakanda way of Life was not very different than anywhere else. In many cases, it was better.
Suddenly, I realized, it hit me. I am not 'less than.' I was never supposed to be. American History. The Slavery. The Segregation. Un-education. Low to no Social Status. It was all a Lie. A Lie that one Race was told to believe because someone wanted to keep ownership of them. People, including MLK, Jr., were assassinated to keep this Lie going. We fight against it today. But how many in the African-American Community believe it? How many are used to being uneducated and in Poverty? How many welcome it?
I hope this Film helps remind the African-American Community that there is more than three ways to make it out of Poverty. You do not have to dribble a basketball, play football, or become a Rap Music Star to succeed. You are more than the Level of your Athletic ability. Find out what your Gift is, whether in Science, Math, or Astronomy... It can be anything. Even Drawing. Find it. Use it. Do not settle for Mediocrity.
Eric Christopher Jackson