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Black Panther is Marvel’s Highest Achievement (A Spoiler Free Review)

Hi, I’m Yohanne. For those of you who don’t know me, that may sound like a bold title but allow me to explain.

I have been a cinephile for as long as I can remember and through the years I have grown to love comic book movies as I loved the comics and cartoons they were based on. As a film lover, your first instinct is always to look at any live action movie through the lens of what it is as a film, first, not what it may mean to you as a fan of a property. I have lived by this and it has made me both agreeable at times and a pariah among my own peers, at others.

When Marvel Studios began this undertaking, this big bold cinematic universe venture with the first Iron Man in 2008, that was one of the most solid comic book films of it’s time and to this day, stands head and shoulders above most of the films that came after it. Many agree that Captain America Winter Soldier became the defining line by which other Marvel films were graded against. It was the critical darling, the film that was both a comic book movie and a political action thriller. The film that managed to amount to something more than just big personalities punching at each other til one or the other won. Then Iron Man 3 happened… and it began to feel as though Marvel was drinking its own koolaid. Film after film began to feel formulaic at best and trite at worst. It felt as though the soul of the story telling was lost and forgotten in what felt like a Disney/Marvel never ending assembly line of junk made for mass consumption.

I, being someone who had loved Marvels Phase 1 and Winter Soldier, found little solace in enjoying Guardians of the Galaxy and its follow up. I began to rage against Marvel films. To me, they had become the very thing I hated about summer blockbusters and all the wannabe’s. At the same time, being one of those people who still argues that Zack Snyder had made something special with Man of Steel and someone who appreciates Batman V Superman for the grandiose modern greek tragedy it is, I began to hope DC films might carry that torch, alas Suicide Squad happened, then Wonder Woman and then Justice League and well… I was wrong.

Enter Marvel’s Black Panther. A film I hoped would be entertaining at the least but a film I did not expect to break the Marvel cycle. I’m here after my second viewing of the film in as many days to tell you this. The hype is real. The critics are completely right this time. For a Marvel film to tell the story this film tells without blushing is nothing short of amazing. The film does not pull its punches, that is immensely refreshing. The film tells a story of love, love of family, love of country, love of peace, love of war. There are some very adult themes explored here. The sins of the father, the choices and consequences that come back to haunt one, you can take your kids to see this film but it very much understands that while it has to entertain its younger audience, it has to respect its source material and its older audience. It is very much a film for adults. And it has to do right by the themes it explores. Speaking of themes, the original score is heart pounding, fittingly tribal, sincere and just pulls at the heart strings when it needs to. This is the strongest original motion picture score in the MCU.

The cast all do an amazing job. And I am proud to se that Marvel finally has an antagonist… a real antagonist. A fleshed out villain that you understand and even feel for. Not a throw away villain who is simply put there because the hero needs someone to fight at the end. And fight they do, but this is not some action heavy Marvel comic book movie that lacks substance, the substance is there in spades and every action scene actually serves the story instead of being there for no reason at all than to be a distraction for those with a more limited attention span (I’m looking at you Civil War Airport scene).

If I am to take a moment to point out the only negative I feel the film still carries over from Marvel films since Phase 2… the CGI here is not the best. It’s serviceable but it is also noticeable in some moments. This does not pull you out of the experience but it’s there.

All told, I am happy to report that this film has come along. It has reinvigorated my hope in comic book movies, and I think it will be something special to experience and later look back on as another possible turning point in comic book film history.

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