Black Panther Review: JP Cromwell, MFA

When my roommate pre-ordered the tickets for Black Panther, I was hype for watching. I had “King’s Dead” from the Black Panther album on repeat. I re-watched trailers. I looked at the toy commercials. And though I hate it when movies have little add-on scene advertisements, I smiled anytime the Black Panther Lexus ads popped up on TV. And though I was excited to watch this movie, there was a worry in the back of my head that maybe I and other young-ish black people had set expectations too high for this film. Maybe there’d be a chance that we’d be let down, despite this representation we’d been waiting for. And before there’s an argument that The Meteor Man, Blade, and Hancock came before Black Panther, I guess I saw this film as different. It’s an entry into an already popularized mega franchise. It’s an addition into a cinematic universe that didn’t really feature black leads. This felt more important than any black superhero movie before it.

And though I had my worries, after watching it twice, I can easily say that there was no reason to worry. On a technical level this movie was beautiful. I love Ryan Coogler for Creed, so I knew we’d get amazing shots in this film. There was a wonderful balance of color and great angles, and Coogler never wastes the energy there’s to be had when using a continuous shot. There’s a tension in extended action shots that follow along without cuts that Coogler executes so well. Then there was the film score composed by Ludwig Goransson, who produced Creed’s film score and worked with Childish Gambino on most of his albums. Each musical piece in the movie was bumping, I and a lot of the audience were dancing in their seats. But my main concern was if the narrative and the representation would come close to this wild expectation a lot of people had. People were coming up to theaters in kente cloth, making rules in how to experience the blackness of this movie.

Narratively the movie is pretty straight forward, it’s not trying to invent the wheel. It’s very much a superhero movie, there’s your good and your bad. They fight it out, but it’s what the movie does with that narrative that matters. The narrative is a vehicle for exploration. It explores blackness and does it well, because this movie is unapologetically black (though there’s nothing to apologize for in the first place). It brings up a lot of issues relating to our political climate and embraces the tragic past that blacks had to go through. But even though it does that, it doesn’t follow the tired storyline of the black experience through the lens of oppression which we really didn’t need. I mean, Black Panther presents a black fantasy with Wakanada. You’re given a country of Africans that didn’t experience the oppression of the historical narrative. They were never invaded by colonizers. They weren’t forced into the shackles of slavery. They kept their dignity. They still pray to the same gods. Their lives matter. It was interesting to see such a culture of royal blood interacting with the rest of the world. I’d say it kind of reminded me of what Danez Smith envisioned when reciting his poem “Dinosaurs in the Hood”, but without the dinosaurs. This movie serves as both an exploration of blackness and an exploration of being a ruler which T’Challa has to address both of those questions.

The movie addresses a slew of other themes too as it talks about masculinity and how it can be not toxic. It shows a bunch of fleshed out, strong, independent female characters too who were super endearing. I really want T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri, to get a spinoff or something.

And then the antagonist of this film, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, might give Loki a run for his money for best MCU antagonist. He was deeper than most MCU villains and not merely a reflection of the hero. With a lot of what he addressed regarding the black plight, I agreed with him, and there were plenty in the theater that, deep down, were fine with the possibility of him winning. I was sympathetic for him and during my second watch I even got misty-eyed from some of his lines. He was the villain that the movie needed, because making Ulysses Klaue the central antagonist would’ve taken away from the themes going on in the film.

This movie, as I said after leaving the theater the first time, was everything. And while it had its flaws in narrative execution, for the most part, this movie was great. It was what I and many other black people wanted and needed. It lived up to the expectations people had set for it. And though it was so different from other Marvel movies, it still allowed certain tie-ins from the cinematic universe and other Marvel movie quirks to make it still feel like a Marvel film. It still had that Marvel humor that rather than bogged down the seriousness, raised the narrative, the atmosphere of the film. So what I’m trying to say is, this movie was dope. And should you watch the movie? Yeah! And if you’ve already watched, watch it again. You’ll probably find more in the second and third watches. So go out now. Watch the movies where you can. And for the love of everything, don’t bootleg it. Later days.


About the Author

JP Cromwell is a 3rd year MFA student in the WLP program from Baltimore, MD. When he’s not writing short stories, he enjoys playing video games, watching superhero shows/ anime, and writing reviews for nerdy content on his blog. JP Cromwell