Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Letitia Wright
Review Author: Tony
Both Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok are Marvel’s response to their films being called visually dull and having forgettable soundtracks. Thor: Ragnarok was bursting with colour and interesting backdrops with a wonderful synthwave score. Black Panther is just as visually arresting with a beautiful palette of colours and a vibrant, sun-drenched Wakanda while sharing a banging soundtrack composed of hip-hop beats and tribal sounds from the universally loved rapper, Kendrick Lamar. It’s all wonderfully adapted to the big screen by the fantastic, Ryan Coogler, who’s knocked it out of the park for the third time and put Black directors on the map alongside Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele, Dee Rees and Ava DuVernay.
Following the death of his father in Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home nation, Wakanda. Wakanda is hidden from the world due to its technological advancement as a result of being the only country to own Vibranium, the most valuable resource in the world. T’Challa takes the mantle of king and the Black Panther in order to rule this thriving nation but has his position is threatened by the arrival of an old foe, Ulysses Klaue and his mysterious but efficient compatriot, Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens. The young king must rally the strength of his allies in order to protect his people and the world at large.
Wakanda is one of the biggest stars of the film receiving far more backstory and care than Asgard or any of Guardians of the Galaxy’s many settings. Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country on the planet but still dripped in a deep respect for its culture and traditions. Its an African Utopia free of the pain and suffering its continent has endured. But for all its advancement it has hidden away from the world and watched its neighbours struggle and deteriorate.
Coogler brings far more depth to the film than I expected. It tackles current socially relevant topics and the effects of historical ones. There’s a heavy theme of responsibility and the sins of our fathers as Wakanda’s threats are self-inflicted. The supporting cast are just as excellently realized. For such a large cast, every member gets their moment to shine, it feels like another ensemble film such as Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
It has been well noted by now that the effects of Black Panther leave much to be desired. It’s odd seeing a film of this magnitude with a massive budget have such hokey CGI. While I was not too bothered by the CGI it was the fight choreography (or lack of) that really frustrated me. The fights scenes in Marvel films are far too choppy with split-second quick cuts which leave me confused and having no sense of whats transpiring. The fight scenes need better choreography which map out the battlefield and who’s throwing what punch. It’s a far cry from the excellent fight scenes in Coogler’s previous film, Creed. Where the film also falters a little is trying to find it’s footing in the first 30 – 40 minutes as we are introduced to Wakanda, Vibranium, the side characters, the villain. It’s a little directionless until Michael B Jordan steps in and the film digs its feet.
Michael B Jordan is a revelation as Killmonger. This is easily Marvel’s most defined bad guy with a tragic past but focused determination mixed with raw savagery. He also gave me my worst case of body envy yet (a serious issue I’ve had with all of Marvel’s leading men being impossibly ripped). Michael B Jordan nearly steals the show from Chadwick Boseman but thankfully Boseman’s, T’Challa, really comes into his own. T’Challa serves the dual role of ruler and protector of his kingdom which carries an enormous weight of responsibility. Boseman plays the titular character with dignity and understanding but also does a stellar job of displaying his uncertainty and skepticism.
Perhaps Black Panther’s most impressive feat is its lack of callbacks or narrative tie-ins to the grander MCU story. There are no obnoxious nods to previous events or infinity stone nonsense to distract from its own story. It’s a film that stands apart from the MCU and forges its own interesting characters, most of whom have no superpowers. While it doesn’t quite break free from the Marvel formula and shares more than a few similarities to Hamlet, Black Panther is another triumph for Marvel but its significance is far more important than that. Black Panther is a win for representation and eliminates the unfounded belief that minority led films won’t break the box office because this film is fucking smashing it.
Rating: 4 / 5 Tumblers of whiskey