Black Panther, 2018.
Directed by 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, Sterling K. Brown, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, and Andy Serkis.
T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe is rocked to its core in Avengers: Infinity War, another Marvel film is upon us with the release of Black Panther. Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to be crowned king in a film that blends together superhero action, spies and politics in one of Marvel’s most thematically deep and relevant films yet.
Given a whole film to himself, Chadwick Boseman exemplifies the best qualities of Black Panther and really expands the character more than we’d seen in Civil War. He shows a lot of comfort in the role and comes across charismatic, humble, intelligent and imposing. T’Challa begins his journey as a newly crowned king who quickly learns heavy lies the crown. One of the big themes of the film is whether he can be king yet still stay a good man. Boseman brings the audience into T’Challa’s journey with ease and though he’s the king of a small nation, he still manages to make T’Challa relatable and empathetic.
The supporting cast is just as strong in their roles as Boseman in his. Danai Gurira excels in her role as T’Challa’s ever-present bodyguard Okoye, blending together a stern traditionalist with playful charm, while Lupita Nyong’o does well as T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend and Wakandan native Nakia. Though Nakia is T’Challa’s ex, that fact never clouds her character and she’s given her own beliefs over where Wakanda should stand in the world. Letitia Wright also steals many of the scenes she’s in as T’Challa’s sister, acting as comic relief, Wakanda’s version of James Bond’s Q and a fierce warrior all in one. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker deliver some nice emotional backbone to the film in their brief screentime. Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross doesn’t get too much more development while Andy Serkis, returning as Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron, chews up as much scenery as he can and gives a sadistic, yet fun, performance.
The real MVP of Black Panther, however, is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. Re-teaming with director Ryan Coogler after Creed, Jordan gives a powerful performance as Killmonger that makes him one of Marvel’s best, if not the best, villain yet. The old adage ‘every villain is the hero of their own story’ is used greatly by Coogler in this film. Killmonger’s motives are entirely and unfortunately relatable as he fights against oppression, using anger against anger and becoming a dark reflection of T’Challa. Jordan comes close to stealing the show several times, but this also leads to one of the film’s few flaws. After his initial introduction Jordan isn’t really seen again until the halfway point of the film, making the first half devoid of a great central hook, even with Serkis’ performance as Klaue.
One of the best aspects of Black Panther is just the visual look of the film itself. Coogler creates some stunning visuals throughout the film that range from the sets, cinematography and costumes (seriously, the amount of varied and awesome costumes is amazing). After 18 films, it can be tough for the MCU to deliver something fresh to its look, but this film knocks it out of the park in that regard. Black Panther has many unique qualities to its look and arguably the most gorgeous colour palette of the MCU to date. The choreography in the action is also very well done throughout most of the film. In one scene Coogler employs a one-take fight sequence that travels the room as T’Challa, Okoye and Nakia fight separately followed by a fairly inventive car chase. Speaking of Okoye, the fight scenes involving her and the other bodyguards, the Dora Milaje, are quite entertaining and well-choreographed, though we didn’t get to really see enough of them.
That all makes the climax a little disappointing as it somewhat plays it safe and acts as a traditional Marvel climax. The fight between T’Challa and Killmonger could be more visually interesting as they both wear slightly different Black Panther suits, literally making that dark reflection between the characters physical. It’s an old Marvel trope that has gotten a bit tiresome after seeing it so many times (Iron Man vs Iron Monger/Whiplash, Hulk vs Abomination, Cap vs Winter Soldier, etc). The CGI is also a bit iffy, not just in the climax but throughout the film as a whole; its obvious at some points when actors are standing in front of a green screen rather than on a physical set or location and look too cartoonish.
Despite those few flaws, Coogler directs an impressive entry into the MCU with a very strong cast. The plot itself may be fairly standard, but its relevance and emotional impact have a strong effect for the audience with a great visual look. Boseman and Jordan play well off each other in one of Marvel’s strongest films. It’s good that it won’t be much longer until we see Wakanda once again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★