I wasn't planning to go see Black Panther.
During the time I actively collected comics ('84 - '91), I really don't recall seeing the Black Panther very much - and I bought a lot of comics back then. He may have appeared in some of the Avengers stories, but I don't really remember. All I do remember was thinking, "Sheesh... he looks a lot like Batman." At any rate, I had no real familiarity with the character. Not until the movie Captain America: Civil War anyway.
Also, I was getting kind of burned out on superhero movies. Even though Justice League wasn't a Marvel film, that one was kind of the last straw. It was just dreary, boring and overblown, and I didn't care about any of the characters in it. Even Wonder Woman, who had been great in her own solo film, was completely wasted in it. Plus, with Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and The Wasp coming out, there are already enough superhero movies to go see this year (and that doesn't include: Deadpool 2, Incredibles 2, Aquaman, and how ever many others I'll probably just end up renting or watching on Netflix).
So, I figured I'd just skip it.
But I kept hearing good things about it. And it kept lighting up the box office. And I haven't seen a movie in several months. And I was bored last week. So I went to see it.
And much to my surprise, it was really, really good.
Once in awhile, with films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Ant-Man, Marvel steps back from their big epic stories, and brings their superheroes back down to a more personal, human level. We get to see the people behind the heroes. This is what Stan Lee did that was so different from the typical superheroes of the early 60's. This is in Marvel's DNA, and they have rich character histories to draw from for their movies. When they do it right, it works really well. And with Black Panther, they did it right.
First, they did a great job bringing us into the world and history of the fictional country Wakanda. They had to lay a lot of groundwork in the movie, but it never seemed to get bogged down or overburdened by it. Nor did it feel superficial. They hit just the right notes introducing us to its culture, its conflicts, its history and its leaders. It was all very organic and accessible.
So with the stage set, the characters had a proper backdrop for their stories and personalities to shine - and shine they did.
Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa made for a very compelling lead character. One that had burdens to carry, flaws to overcome, truths to confront, lessons to learn, and an opportunity to grow and develop as a leader and as a man.
Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger provided for one of the best and most complex villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. He was a much more sympathetic and tragic character than we typically get in superhero movies, and his backstory made his motivations for what he was doing hard to dismiss as just being another "bad guy".
The entire cast is first-rate, really. There are some powerful moments in this movie, and incredibly unique and memorable characters throughout. The Dora Milaje (Wakanda's all-female special forces) are particularly memorable, formidable, and just plain fun to watch. There are certainly some great action sequences in the film, but what really made the film work were the personal stories and relationships - why they were doing what they were doing, and how those choices impacted themselves and others. I cared about these characters, and what happened to them. For characters I knew nothing about, that's no small feat. It's how movies should work. I hope DC is taking notes. For that matter, I hope Marvel is taking notes too. Keep the stories about the people - not the events.
Certainly, Black Panther has its fair share of superhero movie tropes: super-strength concoctions, inexplicable techno-gadgets, and a few all-too-convenient plot twists, but it gets far more right than it does wrong. If I had one complaint about the movie, it's that the Wakandan technology was a bit... convenient. Vibranium, apparently, can do anything from healing wounds, to materializing costumes out of thin air, to making julienne fries (okay... maybe not that last one, or at least not on screen ). It's just a catchall cure-all. But hey - it is a comic book movie, so there will be some of that.
Black Panther is a smart superhero film, and a unique one. If you didn't know this was part of the Marvel Universe, these characters and their world could easily stand on their own. It's beautifully filmed (at times with stunning scenery), with an excellent, immersive soundtrack, and best of all, it has heart. A lot of heart. It's well-worth seeing while it's still in theaters.
Black Panther gets a 9/10.
And now, a mini-rant:
Usually, I drive about 25 minutes down to the Arclight theater in Sherman Oaks to see movies. But since this was a spur-of-the-moment thing, I went back to the local Edwards theater. I'd written about the problems I've had with them before. Twice. And yet again - it was disappointing. While not as awful as previous visits, there were still two glaring problems with the presentation: 1) The movie was framed wrong. The projector was set up wrong and the screen was masked wrong. How do I know? Because the subtitles shown when characters were speaking in Wakandan were half cut-off at the bottom. Subtitles should be fully onscreen with some margin below them. Filmmakers never put subtitles at the very bottom edge of the screen, because of the risk of them being partially obscured by masking or screen curvature. Yet even with that safety margin, these were still cut off. There were also a number of scenes I recognized from the trailer that were cropped way too much. So clearly, the theater just wasn't paying attention. 2) The other glaring issue was literally glaring: the aisle lights are bright green and red LEDs. And I mean bright. Ridiculously so. Yes - you need aisle lights for safety, but other theaters manage to get away with darker lights. Even if they just got rid of the green ones, that would help since the green cuts through darkness like a laser pointer. Wearing glasses only makes it worse, because then you're picking up reflections, too. I'll write them to let them know, but they won't fix anything. They'll probably just send me some free tickets which I won't use anyway, because I'm going back to the Arclight.