Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
Flashback to 2014. Rumors began to fly that Marvel Studios had begun its search for its next leading star. One that would take on the mantle of Black Panther. After constant denials on the part of Marvel, a bombshell announcement dropped at the El Capitan Theatre as Marvel Studios unveiled its phase 3 plans, with a Black Panther solo film on the way as well as the announcement of Black Panther debuting alongside Iron Man and Captain America in Captain America: Civil War. Then, Chadwick Boseman stepped on stage, introduced as Marvel’s Black Panther. His performance in Civil War was scene-stealing. Anticipation was at an all-time high for his solo outing, increasing to a monumental level with the addition of Ryan Coogler (Creed) as director and its ensemble cast. Fans knew that this film was going to be different. Much like Wonder Woman, Black Panther is a cultural landmark for filmmaking, with its largely-black cast, strong female characters and its relevant and topical themes. It is a film that stands out boldly, introducing viewers to a beautiful new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Coogler delivers not only one of the best Marvel movies ever, but one of the best superhero movies in history.
Black Panther is set some time after Civil War. T’Challa has returned home to the hidden nation of Wakanda, a technological marvel, after the death his father T’Chaka. As he ascends to the throne of his home, his mantle of king is threatened when a powerful enemy mysteriously appears. As the Black Panther, he will be tested and drawn into an age-old conflict that not only threatens Wakanda, but the real world as well. The young hero will face danger unlike anything ever seen and must rally his allies together to unleash the full power of the Black Panther to secure the safety of his people.
About five years ago, Ryan Coogler was fresh off his critically acclaimed directorial debut with Fruitvale Station. The success led Coogler to directing the surprisingly entertaining, Creed, the seventh entry into the Rocky franchise. Catching the attention of Marvel, Coogler signed on to direct Black Panther, the studio’s much anticipated entry into its cinematic universe with a black man as its leading man. This film, without a doubt, is one of Marvel’s best films yet as it has one of the most multifaceted and entertaining plots a comic book movie has ever seen. An intelligent, brooding drama that focuses on the sins of a father trying to do right by his country, Coogler, and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, have crafted a story that will reverberate through generations. While still having the all-around feel of a Marvel movie (as well as having small but meaningful connections to the larger universe), Black Panther aims to celebrate African culture and showcase people of colour in a light rarely seen in cinema.
Where Black Panther succeeds the most is in its superb blending of genres. Being part James Bond, part The Lion King and including an entertaining dash of both Moana and Star Wars, the movie forgoes the typical superhero film routine in favour of an entertaining action/spy drama that goes above and beyond what Marvel has done in the past. It masterfully creates a world filled with rich culture and Afrofuturism that is rich, mysterious and just as awe-inspiring as other worlds in the MCU. Black Panther sets a new bar for Marvel’s continued exploration into genre-blending, with its espionage and adventurous set-pieces widening the boundaries of what a comic book movie must have while still introducing viewers to dynamic and exciting new characters.
In what may be the best decision Coogler made in creating this film, the country of Wakanda is treated as its own character. The unknown Marvel nation abides by its own rules, separate from the common traits of humanity. It has its own social structure as well as the exciting nature revolving around how a king is chosen to lead the many tribes that fill Wakanda. The cinematography is absolutely stunning as Rachel Morrison, who recently became the first woman in Oscar history to be nominated for the Academy Award for best cinematography, brings Black Panther to life with her keen visual style. The cities and farmland are vibrant and exciting with Morrison skillfully showcasing how unique Wakanda truly is. The costume design boasts vivid and dazzling colours that pop off the screen, even if you are not watching the film in 3D. Marvel films are typically criticized for their lack of attention to colour and cinematography in their films. Black Panther however, flips the script and delivers the most visually fascinating location to date in the MCU.
The acting in the feature is phenomenally executed. Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as the titular hero and captures the emotion and heart of the character so beautifully. Since Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa has evolved from the man bent on vengeance to a King looking to do right by his people. His repartee and slick aura make him worthy not only of being king of Wakanda, but as their protector, the Black Panther. However, the showcase of powerful women is where film really shines. Danai Gurira stars as Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje and gives arguably the performance of her career. Gurira is incredible as Wakanda’s fiercest warrior as she will leave viewers in awe through her stellar action sequences as well as her moments of vulnerability shared with Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia. Nakia is a character who struggles with her place in Wakanda as she feels her calling is helping the less fortunate in other parts of the world. Nyong’o delivers an eccentric performance and, while she has not done many action films, her fight sequences in Black Panther were all kinds of exciting and it is clear that Nakia definitely brings the pain to a battle. Letitia Wright is the comedic relief for Black Panther and her role can only be described as Wright’s breakout performance. She’s the female Tony Stark but smarter and even more quick-witted, stealing the show whenever she is on screen and you will leave the theatre wanting more of her. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis both return to the MCU as Everett Ross and Ulysses Klaue respectively with bigger roles than previously seen. Freeman handles his role as the no-nonsense outsider with expert precision, playing off the sheltered Wakandan’s incredibly well. Serkis is even more menacing here than he was in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Klaue is someone who has no remorse, simply acting in his best interests and this leads to some of the most exciting moments of the entire film.
Marvel Studios as a company has been long criticized for its handling of villains. Despite instances where their films give the villains a chance to shine (Loki in Thor, Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming) many have coined the phrase “Marvel’s villain problem” whenever a new lackluster antagonist graces the silver screen. In Black Panther, it is Michael B. Jordan who had the monumental task of bringing Erik “Killmonger” Stevens to life and not only does he deliver the best performance of the entire film, he solidifies Killmonger as one of the greatest superhero villains to ever be put to a feature film. The backstory and portrayal of the character was nothing short of brilliant as Jordan’s Killmonger is someone who will continuously make you feel conflicted on his actions to the point where you consider whether he is actually in the right during the film. Similarly to the relationship between Magneto and Professor X in the X-Men series, Killmonger has seen the worst of humanity and ultimately, decides to take matters into his own hands to protect his people. Once again, like Magneto, his actions are often too extreme and this leads him to fighting against T’Challa. He’s charming, charismatic but also brutal, intense and his final scene in the movie will leave you re-evaluating everything you felt about the character’s ideologies.
Black Panther unfortunately does have a few minor flaws. The main issue revolves around the film’s use of CGI. While in most cases, the CGI is gorgeous and elevates the tension in the scene, there a couple of instances where it was apparent that the actors were standing in front of a green screen. Specifically, in one scene near the end, T’Challa experiences one of the most emotionally moving moments in the film and it is bogged down by the background scenery. Additionally, while the film’s mid-credits scene was impactful and necessary, it felt as if it should have been the ending of the film rather than a tacked on sequence after the first set of credits. Again, neither issue will affect your movie-going experience but these were the two issues that stood out most after multiple viewings of the film.
Composer Ludwig Goransson, who worked on Creed, reunites with Coogler here to create the musical score for Black Panther and the result is one of the most different and unique scores a fil has ever seen. Blending thrilling orchestral sounds with heart-pounding African percussions and woodwinds, Goransson is able to craft music that is as compelling as the film itself. It does not shy away from including several hip-hop beats, especially when Killmonger enters the frame and will leave you humming the various compositions for days.
Black Panther is a film that went above-and-beyond the calling of a superhero film. It joins the likes of The Dark Knight, Logan, and Wonder Woman as something that is more than just a comic book movie. It wonderfully blends genres to deliver a fully developed plot with complex characters as well as Marvel Studios’ best cinematic villain since Loki. The slow build leads into an incredibly powerful, emotionally relevant and thought-provoking feature that solidifies Ryan Coogler as one of the best directors working today. Every frame is infused with soul and charisma with Coogler evoking a very human feel to the story. Black Panther elevates the superhero genre to thrilling new heights while telling a fantastic standalone story that will go down as one of the greatest comic book movies of all-time.
Nick’s Rating – 9.5/10
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Black Panther is in theatres everywhere now.