About damn time.
Black Panther (2018) is a Marvel superhero action film written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed). It stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa the new King of Wakanda, a hidden and highly advanced African nation located on top of of a rare mine of the precious metal vibranium. But when a mistake from his father’s past returns in the form of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), his claim to the Throne is challenged and Wakanda’s fate is held in the balance.
Black Panther as a character has always been a personal favourite of mine. Occasionally described as ‘Marvel’s Batman’ because they’re both rich badasses, that parallel sells how compelling and distinct a character Black Panther is quite short. Hence finally seeing Black Panther on the big screen in Civil War was quite a joy, but having his own solo movie is another level entirely. Aside from a few mediocre Marvel parts, Black Panther easily sits among the upper echelon of Marvel movies and deserves every million its earned thus far.
As narratives go, Black Panther doesn’t necessarily forge new ground. Its the basic Marvel origin story of a hero in a fancy suit growing as a person while being supported by a comic-relief supporting cast and brawling it up with a villain that’s essentially his evil counterpart. However, Black Panther does distinguish itself with not only how well its told but also that, unlike most Marvel movies, Black Panther takes itself almost completely seriously. There is still quipping – some great, some less so – but for the most part director Ryan Coogler consistently lets the dramatic moments breathe with actual drama and pathos, lending the film a level of emotional resonance not often found in Marvel’s typical comedic fare. This is bolstered by Black Panther‘s refusal to shy away from some very serious subject matter, dealing with issues of racial violence, rebellion and globalisation. This all adds up to a film that is very clearly Marvel, but also distinctly feels like Coogler’s vision – and considering how fantastic a director he is, that’s a huge positive.
Coogler’s direction also bleeds into the film’s design and action as well. The film just drips with gorgeous visuals all in the vein of Afrofuturism. Typically a niche aesthetic, Afrofuturism refers to the integration of traditional African design with science fiction, ultimately creating an incredibly distinct and visually stunning display that Black Panther is drenched in. On the action front, its sadly not quite so innovative. Aside from one fantastic one-take around a South Korean casino, these sequences often rely a little too much on CGI to be particularly thrilling – an issue that’s worsened by the fact there’s an awful lot of shoddy CG to be seen in this film. About on par with Wonder Woman last year, its a real shame considering how much it detracts from the overall experience.
On the flip side, arguably the best part of the entire film is the cast. Its strange to say that even though Chadwick Boseman plays the lead and does a great job of it, he is consistently overshadowed by almost everyone around him. So lets gush about them for a second shall we?
Lupita Nyong’o (Naika): Closest thing to a traditional ‘romantic lead’ in this film, Nyong’o is always stellar and here is no exception. Far from the usual awful superhero love interest, Nyong’o not only shines in a number of action scenes but also represents a challenge to T’Challa rather than a goal, which is a wonderful change of dynamic for typically the weakest archetype in superhero films.
Danai Gurira (Okoye): Head of the Dora Milaje and most well-known for Michonne in The Walking Dead, Gurira is just as engaging here. She has clearly put in the effort into her choreography which allowed Coogler to shoot her in long, detailed takes that really showcase how capable of an action star she is.
Letitia Wright (Shuri): The real surprise of the entire film, Wright steals almost every scene she’s in as T’Challa’s cheeky younger sister. Not only the tech support for Wakanda but also the biggest comic relief, her dynamic with Boseman is infectious and sells so seamlessly that this is a brother and sister with a long history together.
Winston Duke (M’Baku): A relatively dull villain in the comics, Coogler’s screenplay turns him into a far more entertaining character than he has any right to be. Although Duke’s charisma certainly helps too.
Andy Serkis (Klau): Clearly having the time of his life playing the deranged weapons dealer, Serkis chews all the scenery he can get his hands on, and ends up being a really entertaining presence amongst a stellar cast.
And if you’ve heard or read any criticism of Black Panther prior, odds are you’ve heard about how stellar Michael B. Jordan’s turn as the villain Killmonger is. And its all correct. Not only is a thematically rich embodiment of the antithesis of T’Challa in many ways, he’s also a deeply sympathetic and understandable character that makes you feel bad for rooting for. Its the hallmark of a great villain when he’s being more discussed than the hero, and its not hard to argue that Killmonger deserves to be considered one of the best villains in the MCU to date.
Simply put, Black Panther is a fantastic film. An assured direction by Ryan Coogler with a distinct visual design and an incredible cast, its few minor comedic and CGI missteps is not enough to drag this down from anything but one of the best MCU films to date. Wakanda Forever.
General Audiences: Must-see
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
True Believers (Marvel): Must-see