MARVEL STUDIOS / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2018)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
As the eighteenth entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Black Panther holds an honourable distinction compared to the (vast majority) of its comic-book counterparts...it’s bloody good. It’s also graced with a nearly all-black cast and a radically different visual experience. Gone are the broad cityscapes of America and all its urban glory and in are the sweeping plains of Africa and the technological wonder that is Wakanda.
It’s a treat for the eyes and a treat throughout.
Hundreds of years after a meteorite containing super-metal vibranium smashed into Africa, unifying its people and creating the land of Wakanda, the nation faces a major threat. King T’Chaka (Sterling K. Brown) has been assassinated by South African gangster, Ulysses Klaue (Serkis) and in his place, his son, T'Challa (Boseman), returns home to take his rightful place as king and the new Black Panther. Alongside Klaue, an evil, merciless new enemy reappears – Killmonger (Jordan) – to plunder Wakanda’s supreme resources in order to fight back against a world that has wronged Killmonger’s people and usurp T’Chala from his throne. With the help of allies Nakia (Nyong’o), Wakandan uber-warrior Okoye (Gurira), technological genius Shuri (Wright), spiritualist Zuri (Whitaker) and CIA Agent Everett Ross (Freeman), the King must repair the mistakes of his ancestors, grasp the full power of Black Panther and secure the safety of his nation.
The social revolution that Black Panther has created cannot be understated – and it should not be underestimated. Ryan Coogler’s vision of a futuristic African nation fused with a proud heritage and tradition delivers a long-overdue chance for an insanely-talented black cast to blaze a trail as the stars of a huge blockbuster. Just as crucial is the fact the movie itself delivers on nearly every level and even more crucially tells a contained story that doesn’t fall back on the most eye-rolling of comic book clichés – the threat to the world’s survival. The threat would lead to the potential of a large scale war, but not the literal end of Earth. This is T’Chala’s story, though Killmonger does his best to steal the show. It’s well-acted, visually lovely (for the most part), sharply written and carries an ethereal feel at times – think superhero Lion King (at times, it’s very un-Marvel like, which is helpful). Plainly put, this is an important, entertaining and very good movie.
The cast are all great within their roles. With the movie on his shoulders, Boseman is conflicted, strong, vulnerable and strong all at once. As his arc unfolds, his performance gets better and by the end of the movie, Boseman owns the role – he is the King. Michael B. Jordan manages to pull off the greatest feat – being an excellent comic-book villain. He’s evil, merciless and cold yet has a genuine reason for fighting his fight, and it’s one that renders him a near-sympathetic bad guy. He’s superb. Here’s a tip for you all – don’t mess with the women of Wakanda. Holy moly. Gurira as Okoye is fearsome, Wright’s Shuri is sassy and strong and Nyong’o and Bassett stride tall amongst their peers. I like Martin Freeman in nearly anything and Andy Serkis seems to be having a lot of fun with his mo-cap suit off – and he’s genuinely very good too. Everyone is uniformly excellent.
The visual meshing of past and future works effortlessly well visually, but not always in terms of CGI. There are some wonderful shots of Wakanda - its sheer scale and contrasting environments displayed beautifully, and the dusk shots are gorgeous – as too are the Lion King-esque ‘dream’ sequences. Some of the CGI throughout the movie is a bit...iffy. At times it looks unfinished and at others just uninspiring, which is a shame compared with the strong performances and story. The contained narrative really helps Black Panther and its more of an intimate affair than previous MCU entries – in fact, the movie doesn’t rely on its MCU roots and you don’t require any previous knowledge of the other seventeen movies to understand what’s happening. It’s still very much a comic-book movie at times (see: shoehorned-in fighter jet dogfight, for example) but there’s a more personal, emotional core to this movie. The third act is a good departure from standard offerings (jet fight aside) with some great hand-to-hand warfare taking place – juxtaposed with a jarring CGI battle involving T’Chala – and along with a powerful duel between T’Chala and Killmonger earlier in the movie, stands out as the best action setpiece.
The narrative is also tight, with some clever about-turns and twists thrown at the viewer – as well as some predictable tropes – that keep the movie constantly intriguing and engaging. Certain parts of the dialogue fall flat (SoundCloud...) and Kaluuya’s character isn’t particularly well-written (though well-acted), but overall the story is very decent – especially the journey of Killmonger and the effects on T’Chala. With a fine score accompanying each scene, the solid narrative is aided by a solid musical decoration.
Black Panther is a triumph for many reasons, but most importantly, because it’s a damn fine movie. It’s not perfect, there are plot points that don’t entirely work and some of the FX are lacking, but at the heart of the movie is a compelling hero’s journey paired with a strong passage for a great villain. It’s well-acted, has some stunning visual flair and, like Wonder Woman before it, has opened the door for a revolution – and if what’s to come is as good as this? Viva la revolution, indeed!
Oh and for the people at the back – WAKANDA FOREVER!
October 2nd 2016