Before I get into this movie, there are a couple things I heard around this movies’ release that should be dispelled. Some people praised it as the first superhero movie starring a black superhero. That’s not true; in fact it’s not even close. Even the early 2000’s superhero renaissance that helped lead to the MCU pretty much began with Blade, starring Wesley Snipes. There was also the completely original Hancock in the late 2000’s starring Will Smith. But going back further, there was “Abar, the First Black Superman” in 1977. That movie actually released the year before Christopher Reeves’s first Superman movie hit the big screen. There was a Spawn movie in 1997, starring a black actor. There was Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neil. Besides Blade, none of these movies did particularly well. In fact Steel bombed, and deservedly so. There are others, but that’s enough for this list. Let’s get on with Black Panther’s mildly complicated development cycle.
Wesley Snipes expressed interest in a Black Panther movie as early as 1992, but that project never came to fruition, even with Stan Lee personally backing the project. It went through several iterations over the next decade, one in 1997 as part of an early slate of Marvel movies, and again in the early 2000’s. Snipes even tried to produce and star in the movie after Blade became a big hit.
Black Panther’s MCU movie was in the works as early as September of 2005, when Marvel Studios announced their intention to release a Black Panther movie as part of a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures. At the time, Snipes was still involved with the project. That stalled around the time of Blade Trinity’s release, not to mention Snipes legal troubles for tax evasion that eventually landed him a 3-year prison sentence. In the meantime, Disney bought Marvel, and they eventually paid out of the Paramount deal before the release of Iron Man 3. Although it took them a while to get Black Panther’s movie going, they hired Chadwick Boseman as the title character in 2015, and he made his first MCU appearance in Civil War the next year.
Boseman didn’t actually audition for the role. Instead he discussed what he wanted to do with the part with Marvel, and that alone earned him a role in Civil War, to be continued in his later movies. His praised performance as James Brown in “Get on Up” certainly helped. Snipes gave Boseman his personal support for the project, despite not being involved anymore. However, even at the time of Civil War’s release, the movie was still in its brainstorming phase, delaying the movie’s release for an entire year. A number of possible directors were considered, with Ryan Coogler as their main choice. For a time, negotiations cooled, but after Coogler directed Creed, which became a massive success both critically and commercially, Marvel quickly reignited negotiations.
They confirmed Coogler as the director in January of 2016, of which Coogler described Black Panther as his “most personal movie to date”, stating that he grew up reading comics. “I feel really fortunate to be able to work on something I’m this passionate about again.”
Black Panther ended up breaking a number of records around its release time. By mid-march, it became the most tweeted about movie in history, with around 35 million tweets. Marvel spent nearly $150 million just promoting the film, making it their most expensive marketing campaign for a solo debut movie (even if Black Panther appeared in Civil War first). They built Wakanda exhibits in a couple malls in Chinese cities. They partnered with football broadcasts and multiple ABC TV programs, trying to appeal to all audiences while also hammering it in to the black community.
The results speak for themselves. Black Panther ended up being the second highest grossing movie of 2018 worldwide, and actually the highest grossing movie of 2018 domestically. It earned $1.346 billion worldwide, beating out three other billion dollar movies, including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2 and Aquaman. It only lost to another MCU movie, Avengers: Infinity War. The fact that the MCU saw two billion dollar + movies in one year proves that the superhero movie genre isn’t done yet.
The movie was also received very well critically, in fact it’s currently the highest ranked superhero movie on Rotten Tomatoes, beating out The Dark Knight and Iron Man (both rated at 94%). Black Panther earned a 97% with an average score of 8.3/10. The Hollywood Reporter praised the cast all round, saying that Boseman “certainly holds his own, but there are quite a few charismatic supporting players.” Richard Roeper described it as “one of the best superhero movies of the century”. Even the most negative reviews from major sites still praised the movie as a whole – they merely criticized some of the CGI shots.
Black Panther may not be the first black superhero movie, but it’s the first one to be considered a massive success.
The movie also earned seven Academy Award nominations, and even won three. It won Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, and Production Design. I can get behind those three awards, sure, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it deserved the Best Picture nomination.
Personally I like this movie. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best of the “debut” solo movies in the MCU so far. As much as it explains a lot about the Black Panther mythology, as well as the Wakandan King’s supporting cast, it doesn’t feel like an origins story. It’s a mix of young man becoming the king he needs to be and exploring Wakanda’s fascinating mix of African tribal traditions and technology straight out of a sci-fi flick. In addition to Boseman as Black Panther, you’ve got Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett K. Ross, and Andy Serkis returning from Age of Ultron as Ulysses Klaue. All of these listed actors perform their roles brilliantly. All of them show their own form of charisma. Any one of these performances are good enough to be the starring role, yet Boseman still stands out.
As much as this is a good superhero movie, it does get a touch political without being overwhelmingly so. The way I take it, this movie is about black people solving their own problems. It also explores the difference between doing it legitimately and taking things to the extreme. Killmonger wants to use Wakanda’s advanced technology to help black people all over the world pretty much take over. If he succeeds, Wakanda will basically rule the world, with him seated on the throne. As a special forces soldier, he’s been trained to topple governments, and he wants to take this skill and knowledge global. And he’s got a dark, depressing origin story that makes sense of his motivations.
Compared to Killmonger, Black Panther does want to start opening Wakanda up to the world, but he wants to do it slowly and peacefully. The political angle behind this debate is seeing which tribes of Wakanda lean towards which side. It takes Black Panther a while to come to this conclusion, in fact he mostly decides it based on what happened to Killmonger’s father. In case you haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil it, but his father made a terrible mistake. It’s a mistake that almost lead to disastrous consequences. In that sense, this movie is also about the consequences of not doing the right thing. It’s about learning from past mistakes, whether they’re your mistakes or your predecessors’.
None of these themes are enough to propel this movie to Best Picture nomination in my eyes, but they’re well told enough that it does make this a very strong entry in the MCU. If I was to say there’s a trinity of the best “debut” superhero movies in the MCU, it would be Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and this. And among those three, Black Panther is arguably the best of them. Black Panther is an easy recommendation. With all that said, I agree with the CGI complaints– some of the shots in both the Korean car chase scene and the climactic battle between Black Panther and Killmonger are so fake looking it’s almost cringe-worthy compared to this movie’s otherwise fantastic visuals. Yet this movie’s good enough that these shots don’t bother me all that much.
Next up is the most profitable superhero movie of all-time … at least for now, Avengers: Infinity War. After that, it’s Ant Man and the Wasp, and then we’ll look at Captain Marvel. Avengers: Endgame releases on April 25. I can’t think of any movie in the near future I’m more excited about than Endgame, and I’m confident that I’m not the only one who can say that.