The greatest triumph of this film is to make you forget the barrier-breaking significance of its mere existence by weaving it naturally into the plot and spectacle. It is truly the first time a Marvel film can be described as important.
The 18th Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film is the first that can be accurately described as important.
The Black Panther, T’Challa, (Chadwick Boseman) was first introduced in the excellent Captain America: Civil War (2016) and this film follows on from the death of his father where he is crowned king and super-protector of the secretive African nation of Wakanda. The new King must face the challenge of defending secretive technology from notorious arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), and a mysterious soldier (Michael B Jordan) who also poses an ideological challenge.
It is unbelievable that 18 films into this shared universe that the standard is still so high. As with Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel has handed the directorial role to a very exciting director not used to managing big budget blockbusters. Ryan Coogler’s previous films are both very impressive – Fruitvale Station and Creed – but this is a big step up.
Black Panther is simultaneously a family saga, comic book blockbuster, futurist fantasy and espionage thriller. The film opens with T’Challa’s father explaining the origin of Wakanda from a vibranium meteorite that allowed the country to develop into a technological utopia, which has been kept a secret from the rest of the world. Part of the prologue also involves Oakland, California, which is a nice nod to both the director’s birthplace and the actual Black Panther Party.
We are introduced to T’Challa’s close friends and family in Wakanda as he prepares for the ritual of coronation that involves a battle for the crown in a stunning waterfall sequence. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is a lost love who has been an undercover agent saving groups of kidnapped girls, the consistently scene stealing Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the general of the all-female guard, and the technologically savvy Q to T’Challa’s 007 is his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). A triumph of the film is the multiple well written female characters as this film easily passes the Bechdel test (a test which asks if a fictional film features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man – it is amazing how many modern films still fail this test). This is not a comedy like Thor: Ragnarok, but it still carries the Marvel charm with plenty of laugh out loud moments especially from Shuri and Okoye.
The cast is perhaps the best yet from the MCU also featuring Forest Whittaker, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya. One slight criticism is not enough time given to the development of some supporting characters with some unresolved strands. However, it is 134-minutes long with some amazing character arcs and it is a credit to the film to be so invested in the supporting characters. As with every superhero film there are some minor plot points that don’t hold up when closely examined especially some hostile greetings, but how invested you are in the film, action and characters correlates with how much this will bother you.
As with Creed, Coggler’s visual flair is on full display, especially in a kinetically energised neon-lit street sequence in South Korea that starts with the use of a wig as a weapon. After being masterfully introduced to the Wakandan culture and aesthetic, seeing the clash with the outside world makes for a breathtaking spectacle. This does make the predictable finale climax a slight disappointment especially some computer generated animals. The computer generated imagery is nowhere near Justice League levels of bad but some scenes seemed to have unnecessarily obvious green screen, which felt a bit jarring.
Chadwick Boseman has a calm presence as the conflicted King learning “it is hard for a good man to be king”. The film elegantly explores this conflict as he considers the mistakes of his father and whether to move Wakanda from their current isolationist perspective. The crux of the film lies in the performance of Jordan who is the catalyst for much of this conflict. Marvel has not created such a complex and intriguing character since Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki. It is clear why Coogler always works with Jordan. This is an awards-worthy performance that generates pathos despite multiple violent acts, his character a minor step away from being the hero.
The greatest triumph of this film is to make you forget the barrier-breaking implications of its mere existence by weaving it naturally into the plot and spectacle. The film is made by the people represented on screen as the crew was almost entirely African and African American. The cultural significance of this film makes it an unmissable event and this is truly the first time a Marvel film can be described as important.
I promise you couldn’t have more fun watching an African King run around with his Bugatti spaceship.
Written by Lyndon Wells
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright
Released: 2018 | Genre: Action-Adventure
Country: USA | IMDB
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Black Panther was released in UK cinemas January 12, 2018.