Black Panther. You know, the remarkable superhero blockbuster that managed to seize a vital cultural moment to not only become one of the most successful movies ever made, but even win over waves of film critics who otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead saying a positive word about a comic book movie on principle (don’t worry, that gang is back to whining now that Infinity War and Deadpool 2 stepped into the spotlight). At this point, it almost seems pointless to spill anymore digital ink on the flick. It’s not as if anyone lazily running their eyes over these words hasn’t heard of Black Panther and all the reasons why it’s such a genre and cultural milestone. However, the movie hits Blu-ray this week (less than a month after it climbed back into the top five at the box office out of Infinity War viewers seeking extra superhero sweetness), so why not celebrate Ryan Coogler’s unifying beauty of blockbuster just in time for you to gleefully fork over more money?
So yeah, where to start? I guess with the absolutely stunning production design by Hannah Beachler, building a world (Wakanda, remember?) so colourful and distinct and unique that it both made Black Panther the most visually stimulating Marvel movie and already made an significant impact on culture (pop and otherwise). There’s the remarkable cast filled with some of the most powerful (Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o) and brilliant (Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett) fictional women of color to ever appear in a movie of this scale. Obviously, there’s the scene-stealing Michael B. Jordan and his instantly iconic villain Killmonger who snuck some genuinely complex social commentary into a massive Disney production. There’s the almost painfully catchy and pointed soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar (who won a Pulitzer Prize since the movie was released). Oh yeah, there’s also Black Panther himself, a potent and noble hero brought vividly to life by Chadwick Boseman, building off his good work in Civil War to create a superhero for the ages. He was pretty damn good too, even though Boseman and the even titular hero tended to get lost in all reviews, think pieces, hot takes, tweets, and emphatic post screening ramblings about Black Panther.
I mean, fair. The list of things to praise in Black Panther is almost tediously long. I haven’t even mentioned all of the masterful Marvel movie moments crammed into the movie, even though that would typically be the focus of most of the reviews of that studio’s output on this stie. Yet, at times it’s easy to forget this is even a Marvel movie. It’s clear that the studio typically dinged for being a conveyer belt of personality-free mass appeal products let co-writer/director Ryan Cooglar take complete control of a beloved and forgotten character. The filmmaker who burst out with powerful indie debut Fruitville Station and then somehow made the best Rocky movie in Creed rocketed to the top of the film industry with an insane speed. He took Black Panther and pushed it to a place no one could have predicted. The success is deserved. The endless stream of praise also deserves to extend to this Blu-ray release. More than anything else, it’s exciting to think that Ryan Coogler is now in an incomparably enviable position to make whatever the hell he wants next and it’s pretty damn clear he’s not going to drop the ball. Wakanda Forever, indeed.
As usual, it goes without saying that Disney have gone out of their way to ensure Black Panther hits Blu-ray in the best possible HD presentation (though weirdly they’ve officially stopped including DVDs in the Marvel Blu-ray packages with this release. Oh well.). The sumptuous colors of Wakanda pop beautifully on the screen while the rich landscapes appear in stunning depth and clarity. The lossless sound mix pounds through speakers, with a particularly bass-heavy score rattling walls with power. This disc is a stunner. Obviously. Disney always pulls out the stops with their Marvel Blu-rays and since Black Panther is now one of the biggest hits in the history of the studio, they’ve clearly spared no expense.
What is a pleasant surprise is how the studio absolutely packed the disc with extras. The best by far is a 20-minute roundtable discussion with Ryan Coogler, producer Nate Moore and a team of Black Panther writers stretching all the way back to the origin of the character. It’s a wonderfully in depth discussion of both the important impact of Black Panther historically in comics, but also the power of the film (based purely on Coogler’s amusing reaction to whether or not he predicted the success, it’s clear this chat was recorded recently). It’s such a sincere and thoughtful discussion that you can’t help but wish more Marvel movies got features like this. But Black Panther is special and deserves a little more. If nothing else, Marvel is acutely aware that this movie is their best shot of ever getting some Oscar nominations and the push starts now.
The usual Marvel movie featurettes come next, in this case roughly 25 minutes of cast n’ crew interviews and energetic montages covering everything from the movie’s place in the MCU to the prominent role of women in Wakandan society. They are about as fleeting and general as most Marvel Blu-ray features, just coming across far more sincere and serious than usual. Even better is the commentary track with Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler that digs deep into all of the visual designs and motifs throughout the film. It’s a far more rich and in depth commentary than most of these movies typically get, entirely because Coogler and Beachler clearly put more thought and care into this project than most Marvel productions for obvious reasons.
After that, things get a little more predictable. There’s the typical outtakes reel that likely played far better at the wrap party, as well as 7 minutes of deleted scenes that actually fill in minor plotholes in intriguing ways, even though they were all wisely excised for the sake of the final cut’s momentum. Finally the usual Marvel cross promotion features pop up, feeling a bit odd in contrast to all of the care and sincerity elsewhere on the disc. An 8-minute explosion of movie clips and movie star sound bites attempts to sum up the ten year history of the MCU (and sell some more Infinity War tickets), while the Ant-Man & The Wasp preview essentially adds a couple quipy quotes from the stars to the most recent trailer. Both features are perfectly fine for what they are, but really highlight just what a special production Black Panther was for Marvel.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Yes. The hype is deserved. This is a special superhero movie that will be remembered as one of the highlights of the genre for years to come. Now wrap up this silly Infinity War already so that you can announce the Black Panther sequel, Feige.