Black Panther

Posted: February 27, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright.

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“What do you mean, Batman has bigger ears?”

To the outside world the African nation of Wakanda is a poverty stricken, third world country, but this is a deception, in reality Wakanda is a super advanced society based on the possession and application of vibranium, a rare extra-terrestrial metal (Captain America’s shield is made from it). Vibranium is also the substance used to make the suit of Black Panther. For centuries the king of Wakanda has drunk a special potion of give him super strength so he can become Black Panther.

In the aftermath of the death of King T’Chaka (as seen in Captain America: Civil War) his son T’Challa (Boseman) assumes the throne of Wakanda, and the mantle of Black Panther. His position is precarious however. Almost immediately he faces a challenge for the throne, and shortly afterwards he leaves Wakanda in pursuit of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) a black-market arms dealer who’s come into possession of some vibranium. Klaue is also responsible for the death of the father of W’Kabi (the ever brilliant Oscar nominated British actor Kaluuya) an ally of T’Chaka. W’Kabi wants Klaue dead, but Klaue has allies too, including a mysterious man named Killmonger (Jordan), who has ties to Wakanda that will shake the nation to its core.

T’Challa has many other allies, from his former lover, and Wakanda secret agent, Nakia (Nyong’o), special forces general Okoye (The Walking Dead’s Gurira) his baby sister Shuri (Wright) who’s also the brains behind Wakanda’s advanced technology, and CIA operative Everett K. Ross (Freeman). But when regime change comes to Wakanda even these formidable allies might not be enough, and T’Challa’s stint as Black Panther may end up being rather short.

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Black Panther isn’t a character I’m familiar with, but I liked what I saw of him when he debuted in Civil War. It soon became clear that a standalone Black Panther film would follow, and just a few months before we get uber crossover Infinity War, and a few months after the hugely enjoyable Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther arrives heralded by a tsunami of positive reviews.

See this is where sometimes film reviewing get’s boring, because I’m not sure what I can say about Black Panther that hasn’t already been said—though that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try!

Those reviews weren’t damning Black Panther with faint praise, because this is a very well put together, very enjoyable blockbuster, with an exceptional cast and a smart script that has a lot to say about a whole host of things, and best of all it’s a Marvel blockbuster that manages to do something very different, to the point where it almost doesn’t feel like a Marvel blockbuster at all, certainly it’s streets ahead of something like Dr Strange, or even Ant Man (as enjoyable as those films were, especially Ant Man) and whilst it might not be as knock down enjoyable as Ragnarok, it’s certainly a deeper film, and I think it may well be in the top five of Marvel’s output for me.

In many respects it’s amazing it got made. For many years now the perception in Hollywood has been that black led blockbusters won’t make money (and you can see their point, what with losers like Will Smith and Denzel Washington out there…). Black Panther puts that notion thankfully out of its misery, turns out a black led, black written, black directed film can make as much money as any other blockbuster—see also Wonder Woman for doing the same for female led/female directed blockbusters. Only time will tell whether Black Panther is the sea change people think it will be, but whatever happens it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Coogler shows a deft directorial touch, there’s a fair bit of exposition/world building going on here, and in lesser hands this could have been dull. Black Panther is most assuredly not a dull film. It runs two and a quarter hours, but for me it raced past (until the credits waiting for the obligatory end credit scenes—there are two and you do need to stay right to the end for one of them). It feels like a leaner film than it actually is, and Coogler directs his action scenes and more contemplative scenes with equal aplomb.

Really I only have two quibbles with the film. I’ll get to the second later, but the first is Black Panther himself. Seems odd to say it given he’s the titular character, but in many ways T’Challa is one of the least interesting characters. Boseman is good, it’s just that not only is his saddled with being the upright, noble warrior, he’s also surrounded by a whole heap of brilliant actors, each of whom it seems, decided they were going to steal the movie! Don’t get me wrong, the film falls apart without him, but this does mean Boseman has to be the solid defensive midfielder whose presence allows everyone else to have a ball.

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Don’t worry ladies, it’ll be your turn to kick arse soon enough!

So where to begin with that extended cast? For me the best character was Danai Gurira’s Okoye. She’s strong, fierce and has a nice line in humour, and not for one second does she fail to convince as a warrior who could kick your butt. Coogler’s also not afraid to give her flaws, specifically her patriotism, yet she still comes out as a rounded, empathetic character. As T’Challa’s sister Wright is wonderful; smart, brave and with a mischievous streak that made her a joy to watch, and I hope we see a lot more of these two characters in future films.

As Nakia Nyong’o isn’t quite as convincing, but mainly this is down to a slight lack of chemistry with Boseman.

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“You try being a good guy with a name like Killmonger!”

Michael B Jordan plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens and he proves an excellent foe for T’Challa, physically imposing with great screen presence and, best of all, a character you can relate to, even if you don’t necessarily agree with. When it comes to blockbusters Killmonger is a more nuanced villain than you might usually find.

Finally Martin Freeman does a good job with a character who could have easily been merely comic relief (as I believe the character is in the comics)

There really are too many great performances to mention, but suffice to say each and every one has his or her moment to shine. The talent on show in this film is incredible, it’s just a shame some of them won’t be coming back for a sequel.lupita-nyong-o-black-panther-ht-mem-180111_4x3_992

In terms of plot Coogler’s created a smart tale that plays on multiple levels. You can read it as a straightforward superhero film, but there’s deeper stuff at work here, from a deconstruction of colonialism to a critique of isolationism and the notion that only Africa can solve Africa’s problems. It’s a film that will reward repeat viewings, heck just the other say someone pointed out the symbolism of the fact that the final fight takes place in an underground railway!

Wakanda itself is wonderfully realised, as is its people, drawn from five separate tribes, each of whom has a distinct style all their own. The film is awash with colour and has a great soundtrack.

I said I had another issue with it, didn’t I? That issue is the cgi, which I thought looked a trifle ropey at times, but given the choice I’ll take great characters and slightly substandard cgi over photorealistic effects and carboard characters any day.

This is a smart, well-paced and well directed action adventure film that features great performances from a superb cast. It’s a film with something to say, and a film that champions not only persons of colour, but specifically women of colour, putting them front and centre where they prove they belong.

Wakanda Forever!

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“No I can’t introduce you to Benedict Cumberbatch!”

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