Movie Review: ‘Black Panther’
***MOSTLY SPOILER FREE – MINOR PLOT ELEMENTS DISCUSSED***
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letita Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Plot: T’Challa is a super-powered hero known as the Black Panther and the new king of the secret African nation of Wakanda. As he takes up the duel roles he is forced to defend his kingdom and consider it’s role in a wider and changing world.
Review: Man, it’s good to see the MCU finally mixing things up. Seventeen movies featuring white male leads, often sporting a black sidekick, and they finally give us something different. Once we get Captain Marvel in cinemas they might be approaching something approximating ‘diverse’.
I didn’t intend to talk much about the cultural aspects of this movie since I am quite far removed from them geographically and in heritage, but it is integral to the movie. Not only are we seeing a non-USA culture being brought to the fore but the film tackles the issue of individual nations taking responsibility for others in need.
T’Challa (Boseman) is returning to Wakanda following the events of Captain America: Civil War, which included the death of his father. He is now the king and responsible for protecting his borders and maintaining the secrets of the nation. To the outside world Wakanda is a Third World country that keeps to itself. The reality, which we learn about is a brief prologue, is that a meteor made of vibranium (the stuff Cap’s shield is made of) crashed into the region, altering the flora. This led to Wakanda being a technologically advanced nation equipped with powerful sonic weapons and transport that the rest of the world aren’t even close to. The Black Panther is granted super strength and speed by ingested the herbs affected by the vibranium.
Over the course of the first hour we learn this history, as well as the history of the five tribes who occupy the region, their political system and their traditions in electing officials and other ceremonies. We also get introduced to a range of characters like the warrior Okoye (Gurira), former romantic partner and spy Nakia (Nyong’o), T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Bassett), his spiritual leader Zuri (Whitaker), his sister Shuri (Wright) and the leader of the outcast mountain tribe M’Baku (Duke). Plus there’s the duo of villains, weapons dealer Ulysses Klaue (Serkis), sporting a sonic blaster arm after Ultron tore him arm off in a previous film, and black-ops soldier Erik Killmonger (Jordan), who has past ties to Wakanda.
It’s a huge amount of information to get through, and in this era of epic superhero franchises it’s not often we have to get through this much exposition and origin malarky. Overall it’s great that they did go all in on Black Panther lore and not make a cop-out fish-out-of-water story, and it’s all very interesting. Shuri a high point as Panther’s cheeky sibling and skilled scientist who provides all his gear. Hopefully we’ll get to see her schooling Tony Stark at some point.
When we get to the halfway point thing really pick up. Killmonger’s plan becomes apparent and he arrives in Wakanda to challenge T’Challa for his throne. For the most part MCU villains are just there to serve the simple purpose of being punched by the hero, but Killmonger is absolutely one of the best we’ve seen thus far. Whilst he is a dangerous killer his motivation is an understandable one, and it ties into the larger question of whether or not Wakanda should be sharing it’s incredible wealth, technology and resources with the world and using it to help African people in need.
This is possible the strongest overall cast in any MCU film. You can tell that it’s a passion project for many of the people involved, with Boseman, Jordan, Wright, Nyong’o and Gurira all putting in amazing performances. Their commitment to their roles practically drips off the screen. This is supported by some genuinely astounding art direction, giving mainstream audiences a taste of the Afro-Futurism sub-genre of sci-fi.
It takes a while for the film to find it’s feet and get to full speed, and the shaky cam used in early action sequences is not the best showcase for what is happening on screen. Get out and see it.
Review: EIGHT out of TEN