BLACK PANTHER (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW
**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**
The Marvel Franchise bus shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, I’m wondering which driver (i.e. director) will be the first to get a puncture and crash their respective bus, because even though we are well past saturation point the successful formula is still sweetly cruising along without the threat of breaking down. Even slightly lesser known heroes such as Dr Strange (2016), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) have all made loads of money, and corny vehicular metaphors aside, surely it is only a matter of time before Marvel’s monopoly on Superhero movie success flails. However, Black Panther (2018) is most certainly NOT the film that causes the decline.
The crafty Marvel producers have kept their products fresh by often changing directors, handing the reins to arguably more quirky, indie-flavoured filmmakers such as: Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Taika Waititi and now Ryan Coogler. Thus, along with the standard heroes-versus-villains-end-of-the-world storylines, massive battle set-pieces and fantastical worlds and characters on show, such directors add an element of humour, characterization and diversity to proceedings.
The Black Panther story spine follows the Marvel formula very closely establishing our hero, T’Challa, in grief following the death of his father (events and characters from Captain America: Civil War (2016) are linked cleverly) returns home to take over as Chief of Wakanda. Despite his heart hanging heavy with sorrow he must face those that challenge his throne in ritual combat. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as T’Challa providing the character a regal poise as well devastating strength in the fantastically orchestrated fight scenes. In some ways though, compared to the other characters, T’Challa is more of the pivot with which the other livelier characters to bounce off. These include: the effervescent Letitia Wright, who portrays the tech genius, Shuri, sister of T’Challa; the fierce warrior Okoye, powerfully brought to life by Walking Dead star Danai Gurira; plus the subtle strength of Lupita Nyong’o as the intelligent and proud Nakia. Other supporting roles are brilliantly realised by: Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis and rising star Daniel Kaluuya.
What is a hero without a villain though? Despite the false flagging of Serkis’ heinous Ulysses Klaue as the primary bad-guy, the true meat of the story is provided in Michael B. Jordan’s angry and vengeful Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens. He not only presents a vicious threat to Wakanda and T’Challa, the writers and Jordan’s performance actually evoke much empathy for his deadly crusade with a multi-faceted characterization and back story. In fact, it’s one of my slight criticisms of the film that Stevens’ story was so strong he should have been introduced much earlier in the first act. However, when he does enter the play the film takes off in a very dramatic direction full of conflict and power.
Ryan Coogler directed the brilliant indie film Fruitvale Station (2013) and followed it up with the impressive genre film Creed (2015) which successfully blew a hurricane of power, pathos and pizazz into the Rocky franchise. Similarly, Coogler and his writing partner Joe Robert Cole have infused the Marvel franchise with an intelligent storyline which covers themes relating to: colonialism, politics, revenge, military might and technological progress versus tribal tradition. It is a rich and vibrant film which successfully marries the futuristic with the historical and rural with industrial. I especially loved the references to the British museum and the infamous colonial “thefts” of ancient relics from Africa and the world over. Overall, Black Panther, while working within a well-trodden formula also pays homage to James Bond films too. Nonetheless, it still represents a fresh voice within the Marvel Universe with a finger on the pulse of African politics and diasporic history too. Finally, above all else it remains an impressive work of entertainment with pulsating set-pieces, cracking car chases, stunning score and bone-crunching bulletproof battles.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)