Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett with Forest Whittaker and Andy Serkis
Plot: T’Challa (Boseman) is promoted to the King of Wakanda and the mighty Black Panther after the death of his father, but learns that his followers think there are several ways to rule the country.
2017 wasn’t a great year for Marvel in my opinion. It was a year where Marvel were so fixated on entertaining, they lost sight of the goal. Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman and Thor: Ragnarok were all glorified comedies and, as a result, get lost in the bulk of blockbusters being spewed out in the superhero genre. It means that Black Panther comes along and sticks its flag into the cinema, determined to be one movie we will remember for a long time to come.
While Black Panther is being admired for a major contender for promoting black talent in cinema, which it does remarkably well, the truth is that it stands up outside of the political landmark it is setting. It is, simply put, a very good film. Balancing a break-neck action movie, a cracking character piece for actor Chadwick Boseman, as a king finding his feet, and throwing in some political dialogue on the side, for good measure, Coogler’s Black Panther covers all the basis for a movie that demands queuing audiences. The satisfying thing about Coogler’s superhero movie is that it manages to slip free from the Marvel vehicle for a long while. It feels like a movie with its own identity, rather than another entry spewed out of the Marvel movie-making machine. It is strangely free of cameos from the other movies, with an exception of a post-credits sequence, and spends time, instead, focusing on its own characters and mythology. The cast list is threatening, suggesting a character roster too packed for its own good, but the script finds time to develop everyone, making each actor a crucial part of the overall picture of this movie. It helps that Black Panther’s powers are less showy than the likes of Spiderman or Thor… he is simply a guy in a suit that does good. A sequence in Korea feels closer to a 007 movie, where Black Panther gets an array of gadgets from his very own sister Q (Letita Wright – amazing!), from kinetic-absorbing armour to soundless shoes, before taking the fight to Andy Serkis’ charismatic arms-dealer. Black Panther’s supporting cast are hardly super too, yet badass in their own right. Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira spends wondrous sequences taking out rooms of people with weapons. Lupita Nyong’o is less a love interest and more a kickass spy, who happens to catch T’Challa’s eye. Daniel Kaluuya rides a rhinoceros into battle. The first half of the film feels like Coogler is setting up his franchise, without the pedestal of Marvel. Forget Infinity War… as we get a holographic car chase through Korea, I am more excited for Black Panther 2, 3 and 4. The African culture richly embedded into this story makes Black Panther feel like an action movie with a new, innovative take. Black Panther’s story might not do too much new, but the Wakanda heritage flowing effortlessly throughout the tone definitely makes you feel like you are watching something totally new and innovative. It is fascinating watching the ritualistic traditions of Wakanda, embodied wonderfully by the set-designers, actors and costume department. Every frame of this movie finds something new and interesting to catch your eye. While this movie is fairly large for a Marvel movie, it never slows, gripping you from start to finish.
But it is the politics at play here, which takes Black Panther from strong to essential. While Andy Serkis holds down the “fun” bad guy, Coogler writes in another bad guy, in the form of Killmonger, who hits a far more important note. He is dangerous, because his motives are actually scarily easy to get on board with. Wakanda’s culture revolves around an African nation, getting hit by an asteroid that gives them an infinite supply of precious Vibranium, which they use to stay ahead of the rest of the world. To protect their population, Wakanda poses as a third world, impoverished country, making sure no one comes to take what is theirs. However, as Killmonger insists, Wakanda needs a king who does not hide, but uses their wealth to help other African nations, or pockets of black culture, in desperate need of a saviour. He is enraged that Wakanda can exist so closely to other third world nations and just watch as they are ravished by drought and war. Take away the fact that Killmonger is a megalomaniac with a taste for vengeance and power, and he is hard to argue with. It is an interesting footnote that Killmonger’s henchmen aren’t bad people, just those that agree with his views, but not his methods. It suggests that we need to look at the opinions of those we are warring with and try to approach a subject from their point of view. Interestingly, T’Challa learns from his encounter with Killmonger and incorporates the villain’s motives into his own political campaign for Wakanda. It is a message that could be served being incorporated into real world debates as well as this fictional one. There are moments of Black Panther that seem to directly point the finger at Brexit, the refugee crisis in Syria and Donald Trump’s bias towards Mexico. It is encouraging to see the heroes in our stories start off with differing opinions to our own, but rather than fall into a negative light, learning from their history and changing for the better. While the political angle might weigh Black Panther down in the second half, I would much rather watch an intelligent action like this than Mark Ruffalo talking about the Devil’s Anus.
Final Verdict: Black Panther reinvents the superhero movie with a thoughtful, culturally rich action that stands out from the numerous superhero movies of recent years.