Dir. Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, and Sterling K. Brown.
Black Panther is based on a comic released in 1966, and it’s about time it got its big screen adaptation. In a world where #oscarssowhite was only trending a couple of years ago, representation is a huge issue. Black Panther isn’t the first black superhero to grace our screens, but it is the first black, solo superhero movie in the MCU. I was excited going in, Ryan Coogler is a director with a unique voice, which he isn’t scared to use. He managed to bring his socially conscious film making from Fruitvale Station to Creed, and I was interested to see what he did with an even bigger scope. He also assembled a fantastic cast, and crew, and with Kendrick Lamar on song duties, a rapper whose socially conscious songs seem to gel perfectly with Cooglers M.O., I went hoping for a Marvel movie which offered something more.
Black Panther carries on from where we left T’Challa at the end of Captain America: Civil War. After the death of his Father, King T’Chaka, Prince T’Challa heads home to Wakanda. Wakanda is perceived by the rest of the world as a third world African Country, but in fact it’s the most scientifically advanced country in the world. T’Challa is home to take on the mantle of King, and Black Panther. Black Panther is the super strong protector of Wakanda, a role passed on from King to King. Soon, T’Challa sets out to correct one of his Fathers biggest failures, capturing Ulysses Klaue, a thief who stole Wakanda’s precious supply of Vibranium, killing Wakandians whilst doing it. It doesn’t go smoothly though, and T’Challa finds himself facing competition for the throne.
Black Panther is a breath of fresh air in the MCU. After going through a phase of releasing homogeneous, if fun, super hero movies (I’m looking at you Doctor Strange), they have started to add some different colours to their palate. Thor: Ragnarok was hilarious, but I felt it suffered within the MCU because of its irreverence. Black Panther though is a film that takes the super-hero genre seriously, and offers an origin story that looks and feels completely fresh. It’s nice to see one of these movies not set in New York, and the Coogler leans heavily into the African influence with fantastic results. The use of colour in this film is incredible, the set design is fantastic, and the score is thunderously good. The brilliant world building of Wakanda means that even though there are ties to the MCU, Black Panther really does stand on its own four feet.
The conversation around Black Panther is always going to concern reprentation. It’s one of the great joys of this movie, watching so many talented black actors excelling in roles which have been for so long reserved for white actors. Coogler goes one step further and fills his film with lots of powerful black women. In fact Boseman’s Panther generally comes in second to all he women around him. His sister, played by Latitia Wright is more intelligent. His general, Danai Gurira, is better tactically and perhaps a better fighter, and his ex, Lupita Nyong’o, is arguably morally superior. Coogler does well to create this fictitious African country, but he crucially doesn’t forget the American part of the African-American experience. This comes in the form of a Michale B. Jordan’s villain Killmonger. A boy who grew up in Oakland without a father, Jordan is superb, and completely believable with his righteous anger. Coogler uses his rivalry with T’Challa to impart his social messages, but never in a way that is preachy, both their ideologies are flawed. These are lofty sentiments for a movie of this size, and at times you can’t believe Marvel and Disney let Coogler say these things, but the film is all the better for it.
For the most part, Coogler has knocked this movie out of the park. With a firm grip on tone, he swings from family drama to bond-esque spy movie without missing a beat. The action scenes are for the most part fantastic, Coogler bringing his single take, Creed style to the film. The climax does feel slightly under cooked, a savanna fight scene involving some armoured rhinos feeling a little bit like second hand Lord Of The Rings. The film is littered with great performances. Boseman and Jordan are the stand outs, but special mention has to go to Letitia Wright, who is a great deal of fun, and Andy Serkis who seems to thoroughly enjoy not being in a mo-cap suit. Martin Freeman is perhaps the only under-used actor, there for some good jokes, but ultimately feels like a character Coogler doesn’t really care about. Special mention must go to the score and original songs by Lamar. Ensuring that not only does this film look like no other Hollywood blockbuster, it doesn’t sound like one either. I loved the contrast of the organic African drums used in Wakanda, and the processed drum machine used to represent Killmonger.
Black Panther is perhaps the best stand alone MCU movie yet. It’s smart, funny, and full of thrilling action sequences. It’s also a movie rooted in family with a whole ton of heart. Coogler doesn’t shy away from using his movie to comment on the African-American experience. His villain is nuanced and complicated. His hero is thoughtful and wary. Coogler offers a depiction of the things that divide us, but has ultimately made a movie that we can all get behind.