Marvel Knights: Black Panther
1. First, people should be aware that this is not a movie, but an 8 episode mini-series.
2. The animation style is different, somewhere between "normal" animation and a motion comic, but the art is John Romita Jr.'s and is first rate. If you are the sort of person who gets upset that not all animation looks like your favorite "cartoons", this might bother you. If you are the sort of person who can relax and appreciate a unique style for what it is, then do that, and you'll see it is appropriate and really well done.
3. The voice acting is simply STELLAR. This voice talent and direction here is superb. We even get Stan Lee himself voicing a crotchety, loud-mouthed general, and getting it just right.
4. Characters of almost infinite lameness, e.g. Klaw (the guy "made of sound") and Batroc ("the leaper") are re-imagined in interesting and subtle ways, transforming them into both credible threats and working to build a Black Panther mythos.
5. Some people are upset that the Black Panther lays the smack down on Captain America. It *is* clearly emphasized that Cap has just started out (he has the old, pointy shield to prove it) ... and this Black Panther of the WW II era has MUCH more experience. And let's be honest, the Black Panther is in Captain America's weight class (I'd put Wolverine in there too). And do you know a better way to establish a character as a formidable fighter than to show him taking down Captain America (after a hard fight)? And as "generic state department guy" reminds us, the Panther did take out the Fantastic Four, all four of them, in his first appearance (canonically, in the comics). The Black Panther is TOUGH, Cap was trespassing, assuming that an African country mainly counted as a stage for his fight with the Nazis, and the Panther showed him the door.
6. The music is remarkable, incorporating many African styles -- appropriate, since (nearly) all the action takes place in Africa. I understand the composer even created elements of the Wakandan language, appropriate that area of Africa.
7. The series succeeds in making it very much a family story, placing T'Challa's mother, uncle (the previous Black Panther), and sister front and center in the story, not pushed off to the side.
8. The series doesn't make any bones about taking place in a political context of a world where various European powers have felt that Africa belongs by right to them, rather than Africans, a history that is of course still very much with us. If you don't like your super-hero stories to touch on actual political and historical themes, go rent a Super Friends DVD, this isn't for you. (I take it back. Even the Super Friends tried to make a positive political statement, as painful and clumsy as it seems today, with characters like "Black Vulcan" and "Apache Chief '... *winces at the memory*). Is it coincidence that that the super-villain team that attacks Wakanda (which lies basically at the heart of Africa) is led by a Belgian, and includes a Frenchman, an Englishman, an American, and a Russian? (I also enjoyed Batroc's comeback to the Juggernaut's taunt about the US saving France during WW II, "Yes, you owed us one for helping you win your Revolution.")
9. The portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church is rather absurd if taken at face value -- and we're left wondering why the Black Knight is a Catholic zealot, instead of, say, a good Anglican, fighting for the Church of England. I believe the writers succeed in calling attention to the fact that political and economic imperialism rarely occur apart from religious imperialism. My guess is that this was less sloppy writing than a convenient way to portray both the Catholic Church's history in Africa as well as Great Britain's. "Christianizing and civilizing the heathen African savages" was a crucial part of the justificatory rhetoric of colonialism after all. The portrayal of organized religion is rather absurd and unfair, and does a disservice to all the good that was been done by the Church in Africa. There are more Roman Catholics in Africa today than in Europe, and it is likely that the future of Christianity will belong to Africa (at least the foreseeable future).
10. Minor point of annoyance for me: the substitution of the Juggernaut for the Rhino (who was in the comic book run). It's completely understandable why they did it: because it created an entirely plausible reason to work Ororo into the storyline. But 1. you can't stop the Juggernaut with knock-out gas. If you could, everyone would just do that, and he wouldn't be very unstoppable, now would he?; and 2. come on, who doesn't want to see THE RHINO actually in Africa? It's too hilarious NOT to do. Oh well. On the other hand, I can't think of a better way to get Storm involved in the action either.
11. In sum, Art: 5 stars, Voice acting: 5 stars, Music: 5 stars, Characters: well written and complex, Story: some implausible parts, but succeeds on a deeper level, touching on more serious social, cultural, and political issues, without being too heavy handed about it.