Synopsis – 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.
My Take – By now we all know what to expect from Marvel Studios, who since their cinematic launch ten years ago, have been on a hot streak of bringing us some high quality superhero based films every year. Sure, not every one of them has hit the standards they have set, but in comparison to what rival studios have been putting out, they at least manage to be entertaining. I will be honest here, even though the titular character did manage to impress me with his debut appearance in the brilliant ensemble Captain America: Civil War, I went in rooting for Ryan Coogler, the excellent director who showed remarkable potential by portraying drama and character studies set contemporary settings in his previous films, Fruitvale Station and Creed. As expected, this film is yet another great addition to the ever growing MCU, which all thanks to Coogler‘s pitch-perfect direction, a brilliant cast that all seem committed and a passionate representation of African culture embedded into a set-up that doesn’t wastes its time by setting up future Marvel films, and has just enough character and style of its own to make it stand out from the others. The film feels like checklist that fulfills every aspect and almost goes above and beyond. The film is unapologetically African and it subtly deals with real political issues. Get ready to watch this Marvel Comics B Lister’s solo outing quickly become one of the favorite superhero films out there. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the story follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who after the death of his father, the king of Wakanda, must return home as his successor, and officially take up the mantle of the Black Panther. As the new king of Wakanda, T’Challa finds himself tasked with the enormous burden of being leader to his country and his people, who have remained socially isolated from the rest of the world and become the most technologically advanced country not just on the African continent, but possibly the whole world.
All this years, Wakanda has managed to thrive, and survive, hundreds of years without having to face the horrors of colonization and exploitation by outside forces, by those who want what has led to Wakanda’s vast wealth and technological prowess – the alien metal Vibranium. But all this is about to change with the return of Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis), a South African black-market arms dealer, who stole Vibranium from their mines years ago, and Eric Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a former U.S. military black ops mercenary nicknamed, Killmonger, who has a tragic connection to T’Challa. With everything falling apart, T’Challa must accept his destiny as the Black Panther, and seek the help of Nakia (Lupita Nyongo), a Wakandan Special Forces agent, General Okoye (Danai Gurira), CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), and T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), to protect their country from this outsiders. I have to agree that this is one of Marvel Studio‘s best movies, and I think its cultural significance (and popularity) is really inspiring too. It is awake and unique with a broad political and socially aware feeling. It may be a superhero film, yet it is also steeped in real political and social issues similar to those we face today, especially diversity and inclusion. It’s great that superhero movies (in general) are becoming such a respected, and revolutionary art form too. Sure, the movie does not have the most unique story, something hard to accomplish in this age of saturation. Yet this Marvel version of the Lion King is packed with so many moments to send one into an emotional fervor, sending you on a roller coaster ride of feelings. This film will be inspiring to many, bringing approving claps and motivation to change the world. It’s a moral filled tale that brings out the dynamic use of technology, the importance of family, and the dilemmas of a new king having to face. All the characters are well-written and lovable, all thanks to a strong script that fleshes out a lot of the characters and makes their motivations believable and clear even when in unbelievable settings. At no stage are anyone’s actions leaving you scratching your head and it is the strength of the script, characters and acting that helps one overlook the films few shortcomings. A superhero film is only as good as its villain, and Michael B. Jordan‘s portrayal of Killmonger is sure to be in the books as one of the stronger Marvel villains in the MCU. Killmonger’s anger and resentment to what has happened to him and his people is more powerful than your average superhero alien looking to take over Earth for no real-reason and with this, director Coogler‘s film has some powerful things to say about the world in which we live, not often the case with a comic-book adaptation. The film invests its story into fleshing out the emotional drama and perspective that Killmonger uses to justify his antagonistic actions; for the first time in a long time in the MCU, we sympathize with the “villain,” and his viewpoints touches on the social commentary in which the film finds its strengths. Here, director Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole explore some thought-provoking ideas such as isolationism, revolution, and the cultures of oppression. They tackle real world problems without being too preachy or over the top, but enough to get the point across in an effective manner. The character of Killmonger presents an argument about his motivations for villainy that are hard to counter. His goals are just as much political as they are personal, and this gives him some much-needed dramatic and emotional dimensions to not make him seem like so many poorly defined super-villains of late. Though not very explicit and may take some thinking to dissect, the film produces that connect the fantastic themes present in Wakanda to our real-world issues of marginalization and how the world perceives Third World Countries.
The themes touch on the power of countries and what responsibility they bear to the world, and particularly focuses on the marginalization and historical oppression of African Americans and poses the question on what can be done to resolve this continuous issue in our society. The film also uses humor wisely and does not kill several dramatic or intense scenes by throwing in a cheap joke. It lets the emotional moments sink in, and does not try to undercut them. Not to mention this film had a spectacular soundtrack by Ludwig Goransson that stays true to African music while still having a twinge of hip hop beats. While, the film may not be an action packed wild ride compared to other Marvel movies, it sure has some stunning moments, for example, the casino scene where T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye fight through some bad guys, followed by an epic car chase. Climatic battle between T’Challa and Killmonger’s followers along with sequence on the futuristic railway are easily stand outs. Also thanks to director Coogler‘s guidance, the country of Wakanda and the beautifully realised settings and production design of the film makes it one of Marvel’s most visually captivating film. African designs and aesthetic isn’t something we see very much of in mainstream American media, to say nothing of our blockbusters, and the futuristic skyline of Wakanda has obviously been carefully crafted to make the city both unique and true to its roots and the scenery is excellent, as is the costuming. The cultural aspects of the (mythical) African country of Wakanda are not only interesting, but the setting itself is breath-taking. An explosion of color, texture and technology blended with intriguing and multi-dimensional characters bring the film to life and draw us into this wonderland of tradition, culture and humanity. That said, this film does try to balance between being a dramatic social discussion and a fantastic superhero film, and ultimately that becomes the reason why this film fell flat on certain moments. The action is derivative, CGI-laden, and boring, and this was disappointing given that Creed had simply phenomenal fight sequences and choreography, here unfortunately some of the CGI seems unfinished for some reason. Thankfully the performances for the excellent cast is on point. Chadwick Boseman is Black Panther, no doubts on that. Here, he is finally allowed to fully portray T’challa’s grief and conflict to spectacular effect. Boseman‘s exhilarating and edgy at the same time, hereby proving how excellent of an actor he is. Lupita Nyongo’o matches him scene for scene and is impossible to take your eyes off of her. Michael B Jordan was the major highlight of the film as he manages to be terrifying, ruthless, yet ultimately sympathetic and fascinating as the main antagonist, making him the best MCU villain since Loki. Angela Bassett‘s role doesn’t have too much to do but her acting chops alone make you believe in her relationship with T’Challa. Letitia Wright provides a lot humor as the sharp witted Wakandan genius and sister to T’Challa, Shuri, while Danai Gurira is also a major highlight. In other roles, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba and Martin Freeman also play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Black Panther‘ is a magnificent film, which despite being riddled with flaws, the film’s social commentary and an all-around excellent cast makes it an excellent addition to ever growing Marvel slate.
Directed – Ryan Coogler
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 134 minutes