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October 20, 2020
 

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Icon movie review: Black Panther

It's a film worthy of celebration for generations

The news of Chadwick Boseman’s death at the age of 43 – coupled with the knowledge that he privately suffered from colon cancer for a number of years – shocked many in the film community and anyone who had been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One of the MCU’s greatest strengths is that it was able to deliver fan-pleasing experiences across multiple movies in the extended film canon. 

Arriving relatively late in the Avengers/Thanos story arc, Chadwick Boseman catapulted to superstardom when he took the role of Black Panther and appeared in Captain America: Civil War. Two years later, he headlined the Black Panther solo film.

It feels more appropriate to revisit Boseman’s most famous role because it is not only a role with historic cinematic importance, but also because Boseman’s turn as King T’Challa is a masterful turn in understated acting.

A Historic Moment
First, the importance. Black Panther was not the first Black superhero to make an appearance in the MCU film canon, but he was the first to get his own film.

The film, taking place in the fictional hidden country of Wakanda, imagines a culture untouched by the history of colonialism. Wakanda, a country so advanced technologically and culturally, remains hidden from the rest of the world due to its being home to an incredible amount of vibranium, which is essentially a super-resource that can do anything and everything.

The Black Panther, in Wakandan lore, is an individual who receives the power of the Black Panther in order to defend Wakanda. In a globalized society, this takes on new meaning: as Wakanda enjoys the fruits of its societal advancement, others in the Black community remain oppressed around the globe. Why does Wakanda remain silent in the face of such suffering?

This is the point made by Erik Killmonger (MICHAEL B. JORDAN), who is a blood heir to the Wakandan throne. Killmonger is one of the best MCU villains, not because he looks meaner and acts cooler than the others but because he is a fully developed three-dimensional character.

Indeed, not long after the film’s release many argued that Killmonger was right to push King T’Challa out of his isolationist philosophy of governing.

Many cultural critics lauded Black Panther for the scope and richness of its celebration of African culture. It is not a coincidence, I think, that the face of Wakanda – indeed, the face of a truly historic moment in pop culture history – was played by the same man who played other icons in the Black community, namely Jackie Brown (42) and James Brown (Get on Up). 

Boseman as Black Panther
I will confess that Boseman was not the highlight of Black Panther for me on first, second, or even third watch.

He carries the calm demeanor that is appropriate for his royal status, but I was more taken with JORDAN’s turn as Killmonger, the pain-filled performance of STERLING K. BROWN as N’Jobu, and the masterful writing and editing by Ryan Coogler (CREED, FRUITVALE STATION). Even when the film ended, I was more interested in revisiting the tremendous casino fight-and-chase sequence or, if being fully honest, opining the Marvel formula that turns the film’s third act into a poorly-rendered CGI battle. Boseman’s performance was not on the top of my radar; I felt very neutral.

Admittedly, my familiarity with Boseman in cinema is very limited. Beyond his MCU performances as the Black Panther, I have only seen him in one other film (2020’s DA 5 BLOODS, which is quite good and available on Netflix).

Given his understated performance, I wrongly assumed him as an actor who has a gift for screen presence, but ultimately is quite limited in his range.

I was wrong, and I am disappointed that I didn’t get to fully enjoy the gift of his acting during his lifetime. As Black Panther, Boseman carries the performance with quiet dignity and an overwhelming sense of goodness.

When King T’Challa learns of the sordid history of his family and their actions, the sense of injustice wells up from his gut and twists his face with genuine pain. Black Panther is easily the best-acted film in the MCU and it is due largely to Boseman in the central role.

Boseman, only 43 years of age, had an incredible future ahead of him filled with Oscar-worthy potential. As a person, he emanated goodness. It’s rare that an actor can generate their charisma from our presumption of their sincere goodness, with others being the likes of Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and James Stewart. 

There are multiple scenes in Black Panther where different characters communicate with their ancestors. Though they are dead in their physical form, their spirits live on with us forever. It is in moments of sadness, such as the moment I entered when I learned of Boseman’s passing, that film can give us a similar silver lining, no matter how faint or insignificant it may seem.

The truth is that few people knew Boseman personally, but we felt we knew him because of the relationship we formed with him on-screen. We can still do that. We can revisit this person who inspired so much hope and joy, sad that he is no longer alive but happy that we were able to receive his gift for even a short time. 

Black Panther is a film worthy of celebration for generations. May we do so.

Rating: 4 out of a possible 5.
-Reviewed by Wilson
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture

Interested in watching this movie tonight? Here’s how:

Amazon
• Open the Amazon streaming platform on your streaming service provider (such as Smart TV, Roku, computer)
• Search for BLACK PANTHER in the search bar. Select the video.
• Click “Rent Movie” in HD for $2.99

Disney+
• Open the Disney+ streaming platform on your streaming service provider (such as Smart TV, Roku, computer)
• Search for BLACK PANTHER in the search bar. Select the video.
• The film is free to stream with your subscription of Disney+

Meet our movie reviewer
“Wilson” is an alias for this reviewer, taken from Wilson the volleyball in CAST AWAY (2000). Wilson has been an avid movie watcher for more than a decade, with hundreds of movies viewed in that time ranging from classics of American cinema to international and independent features. Wilson’s writing is inspired by the film criticism of Roger Ebert.

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