Well the Jury is out on Black Panther, Ryan Coogler’s third major motion picture, and arguably his best; inarguably his most accessible. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen it at least once, but if the box office is any indicator, you may have seen it twice. This film is currently the 86th best opening film ever, adjusted for inflation, and has crossed the one billion dollar threshold; it’s begun to slow up a bit, but nonetheless has left an indelible impact on the movie business. Coogler has made a film that is for everyone, hardcore film snobs, basically every critic, comic fans, and the average moviegoer. This is a movie that has reached out and piqued the interests of tons of people. White people, Black People, Asian People, Men, Women, Nostalgic Adults, and Wide-eyed children. This is a film that glorifies black culture, and represents the African Diaspora in possibly the most spectacular fashion possible, but it is a film for all of humanity. By the way, this genius that can’t seem to make a bad film is only 31, and he went to Sacremento state on a football scholarship where he also majored in finance…just in case you wanted to feel less successful.
There is very little to say about this film that has not already been said, and you can read many of these thoughts in Lee Kuczmynda’s spoiler free review. This a very layered movie though, and beyond the surface characteristics like its fantastic action, acting, cinematography, and humor, there are still gold mines of material to discuss. For one thing, Ryan Coogler seems to be absolutely obsessed with the sacred nature of one to one combat. His two ritual combat scenes play a lot like the boxing matches in Creed; Tense, emotional, and rife with a palpable feeling of true danger mixed with adrenaline.
Coogler also does a very nice job of putting you in the world of whatever environment the story is taking place in at that momment. The grassy plains of africa, the high tech palaces of Wakanda, the gritty streets of Oakland, or a glistening Korean casino. I know that many of these locations were cgi, but it is a credit to the production team that these sets still feel extremely authentic. As the force-field fades, giving way to Wakanda’s bright, skyscraper laden skyline the grin that crosses T’challa’s face matches the feelings of everyone else watching as they enter a mysterious and exciting new world.
I do however take some issue with the complete misuse of the soundtrack in the movie. The credits feature “All The Stars” and at one point in the movie we hear “Opps” and “Pray For Me” (but with Kendrick’s verse inaudible mind you) but otherwise this 14 track album goes unused. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me as much if there weren’t snippets of generic hip-hop songs that were interspersed into the score; midst transitions and the like. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me as much if I couldn’t pick out verses on the album that corresponded with exact moments in the film. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me as much if Black Panther: The Album was less of a masterpiece.
Nonetheless, Ryan Coogler has created a superhero film that is also a work of humanitarian art, and a massive blow to the near century of under-representation in film. The beautiful thing that this movie does is offers a turn for the better to the marvel franchise, without forcing its established mythos to be torn down, despite its lack of diversity. It acknowledges that the films that built the MCU are still great movies even though they are dominated by white people, and makes it possible for the MCU to continue producing great movies with people of all races. What’s more, scores of children and adults now feel that superheroes are for them, and represent them because they see someone that looks like them being a hero. Now, a cynic could see this as a marketing tactic — which it definitely is at least to a certain point, and with the money Black Panther is raking in, it seems to work — but, an optimist like myself simply sees it as something beautiful.