Updated: May 12, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2018; PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief, rude gesture: streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes, Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: Hard to choose between the Ryan Coogler and Hannah Beachler commentary, four-part making-of and “From Page to Screen” roundtable
SOME MOVIES bring out the best in us – “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Disney/Pixar’s “Up” and the Toy Story movies. They inspire; and give us dreams of another life. A home and a purpose.
Now there’s “Black Panther,” a film that steps out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the amazing, hidden city of Wakanda. With its roots in the legendary El Dorado, Wakanda been around for eons in Africa instead of South America. And its residents are Africans. Not white colonists, but genuine Africans from a variety of tribes, with rich, long-standing traditions and cultures.
Wakanda owes its accomplishments through Vibranium, an element that fell there long ago. Thought to be extremely rare, Captain America’s shield is made of Vibranium, but the city is built on a mountain of the blue-glowing mineral. “Wakanda is a Marvel superhero and Vibranium is its superpower,” actor Winston Duke (M’Baku) says in a making-of featurette.
The New York Times, Time magazine, Entertainment Weekly – nearly every publication around the world hailed “Black Panther” as the most important movie of 2018. It changed a hard-scrabble, bare knuckle people into an elegant and intelligent race. It gave a home to the disenfranchised; slaves who had been captured and brought to foreign shores and people determined to erase their background.
It also made a ton of money – $1.339 billion and growing.
The story of two cousins are at the heart, a story of pain and potential. We first met T’Challa/Black Panther on film in “Captain America: Civil War,” in which his father, T’Chaka (John Kani) the king of Wakanda, is killed. Chadwick Boseman brings regal presence and compassion to T’Challa as he returns home to his grieving mother, queen and priestess Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and brilliant 16-year-old sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). (Let’s see Shuri take on Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.)
T’Challa accepts the mantle of king, with the Black Panther powers after a traditional ceremony in which he must fight all comers. That’s the easy part. The hard part is finding his true path as leader of Wakanda and its tribes. Should he share Wakanda's marvels with the world or remain in seclusion?
His cousin, Erik Stevens/Erik Killmonger, whose African name is N’Jadaka, knows what he would do. Erik has battled his way to adulthood without a mother or his father, Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), brother to T’Chaka. Erik becomes black ops legend Killmonger for the United States, but his dream of returning to Wakanda and using its resources to help other people of color has become a genocidal obsession. Erik/Killmonger is the villain of “Black Panther,” except Michael B. Jordan brings such sympathy and strength to the part, it becomes difficult to fault him. There is not a dry eye in the house by the film’s conclusion.
T’Challa and Killmonger should have been friends, but it cannot be. Their goals are too far apart. T’Challa must also deal with terrible knowledge he discovers – that his beloved father killed his brother, leaving his little nephew behind.
This is tragedy on a Shakespearean level, with science fiction embellishments. T’Challa’s team is played by Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Martin Freeman (CIA Agent Ross) and Winston Duke (M’Baku), while Killmonger is supported by Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue) and Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi). Florence Kasumba, Sterling K. Brown and Forest Whitaker also co-star.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Disney Studios present another reference quality 4K (2160p; 2.39:1 ratio). Shot at 3.4K with ARRI Alexa XT cameras, it was finished to a 4K Digital Intermediate. Detail, texturing and contrast is everything it should be. Black levels are super-solid, showing good detail in shadowing and wide-shots.
HDR Color in skin tones, landscapes, sets and costumes are amazing. Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”) and Production Designer Hannah Beachler (“Moonlight,” “Creed”) interpret color codes – T’Challa and his combined guard in a Korean night club scene wear black, red and green outfits, the color of the African flag; blue is always key when Killmonger appears – among production details and personal anecdotes in a fascinating full-length commentary.
Color also thrives in Wakanda among awesome inventions and science labs, in the throne room. and especially on the streets, where vibrant costumes and jewelry rule. T’Challa’s black clothing often sparkles or shines with silky textures, accented by tribal-pattern cuffs and scarves.
Picture and sound on the Blu-ray are also exemplary in their format.
Find additional 4K photos here:
The 4K Ultra disc has a fine English 7.1 Dolby Atmos track – with a super benefit. The soundtrack does not blast viewers out of their theater room (or bedroom or living room, wherever “Black Panther” is watched).
Some critics have complained about it. Personally, I love the option of being in charge of my own sound level. Don’t worry if dialogue, effects and score seem restrained; simply crank it up and become king or queen of your speakers.
Just remember to turn it down later.
Regardless, dialogue is consistently clear. Boseman’s exotic accent is always understandable, almost musical. Freeman’s Englishman-gone-American sounds better than nearly every U.S. native. Winston Duke’s deep bass voice is a thunder-effect on its own.
Special effects from soft, ambient environmental sound to action sequences where Wakandan aircraft take flight and land, charging war rhinos (in armor!), fight scenes, and car chases fill the room. Atmos adds a distinct height boost.
Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, who worked with Coogler on “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station,” created the original music for “Black Panther.” Additional songs, packed with musical star power from SZA, Jay Rock, 2 Chainz, Future, Jorja Smith, Khalid and others energize scenes. Kendrick Lamar produced the film soundtrack.
Bonus features are found on the Blu-ray disc, and what a parcel of treasures they are, so good it’s difficult to pick a “best.” The commentary with Ryan Coogler and Hannah Beachler is loaded with info and personality – although I wish Coogler would put an end to repeated “you know what I’m sayin’”. Think of the extra info we could have had without that chorus. Coogler also provides a brief intro.
A collection of featurettes: “Crowning of a New King,” “The Hidden Kingdom Revealed,” “The Warriors Within,” and “Wakanda Revealed: Exploring the Technology” combine into a good making-of with interviews from Coogler, Beachler, Executive Producer Nate Moore, Producer Kevin Feige, Property Manager Drew Petrotta, Costume Designer Ruth Carter, and cast members.
“The Warriors Within” speaks to the king’s all-woman guard and the strong role women play in Wakandan society. It’s part of the dynamic that makes “Black Panther” part of a present-day cultural revolution.
Four deleted scenes provide additional story; Ross warns T’Challa of the dangers of revealing Wakanda to the world; General Okoye and husband W’Kabi argue over respective support for T’Challa and Killmonger; T’Challa describes his vision to elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker); and T’Challa recalls an early conversation with his father.
“From Page to Screen” is an outstanding roundtable discussion with Marvel Comics writers Christopher Priest, Don McGregor and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who worked on the original published stories, EP Nate Moore, script co-writer Joe Robert Cole and Coogler. They review T’Challa/Black Panther’s history in print. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during the 1960s Civil Rights era, the Wakandan superhero leaped into print before the political organization founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton.
There is also a gag reel and an “Exclusive Sneak Peek at ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp,’” to be released in July.
No one expected a comic book movie to become such a groundbreaker. Just when superhero films had become standard fare, along comes “Thor: Ragnarok,” with its comic appeal. Then “Black Panther” and its charge to become the best woman or man possible.
“We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe,” T’Challa says at the finale, accepting his responsibility as a man, a king, a superhero and citizen of the world.
There is no topping that.
- Kay Reynolds