“Black Panther” (2018)
Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Featuring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis
Ulysses Klaue: “Tell me something. What do you know about Wakanda?”
Everett K. Ross: “It’s a Third-World country. Textiles, shepherds, cool outfits.”
Ulysses Klaue: “All a front. Explorers have searched for it, called it “El Dorado”. They looked for it in South America, but it was in Africa the whole time. I’m the only one who’s seen it, and made it out alive.”
“Black Panther” (2018) has to be one of the most anticipated superhero movies yet, with a bold director, a huge cast, some mavericks behind the scenes as well as a against the grain release date, this has all the markings of not only something new but a deviation as well as breaking new ground for Marvel Studios as well as parent Disney. Whilst the first few MCU movies laid the foundation for what was to follow, introducing new characters, integrating storylines and breaking new actors the middle movies were a little ho-hum treading water, attempting to let the ‘Avengers’ movies handle the heavy lifting. “The Avengers” (2012) was an unmitigated success, it did something that no one had ever seen before, but it was the follow up “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) which was less than successful that changed things. It showed that audiences craved more, a little less integration, as well as maybe moving away from the infinity gems that had been holding everything together. Marvel films then pivoted slightly attempting to change what an MCU movie was by attempting to subvert expectations as well as what would be considered the norm for comic book movies.
Which brings us to the movies that followed that were a little more self contained, had real stakes, better villains as well as not shying away from humor while maintaining a serious streak that would follow through to other movies and characters which has led to the rebirth of characters as well as breaking new ground. All of these aspects can be seen in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) “Ant-Man” (2015) and “Doctor Strange” (2016).
Now comes what might be the MCU’s biggest gamble yet, the full length debut of the ‘Black Panther’ character, the first African, as well as African set character who was first introduced in “Captain America: Civil War” to great success, not only jump starting the movie but giving it a heart that it could rest its conclusion on. While this is not the first time an African American has directed a comic book film, that honor goes to the Hughes Brothers for “From Hell” (2001), which was based on a graphic novel. However “Black Panther” is the highest profiled film ever to be directed by an African American as well as having a majority of African Americans featuring in all the main roles. The leader of this movie is undoubtedly co-writer/director Ryan Coogler who will receive much of the acclaim or blame depending on how this is received, he seemed the obvious choice as he not only brings an immense amount of talent which can easily be seen in his previous efforts, his incredible debut “Fruitvale Station” (2013), as well as the Oscar nominated reboot “Creed” (2015). Coogler also brings his frequent co-star Michael B. Jordan (himself no stranger to superhero movies) as well as a host of willing collaborators, among them cinematographer Rachel Morrison (the first woman nominated for a cinematography Oscar this year) who lends the movie a shot in the arm visually, a departure from other MCU movies.
“Black Panther” begins centuries ago, a meteorite of vibranium lands in the heart of Africa. Five tribes warred over the alien metal, until one warrior discovered the “heart-shaped herb”—a plant affected by the vibranium—which when ingested, gave him superhuman strength and reflexes. With these new abilities, he became the first “Black Panther” uniting the five tribes to found the nation of Wakanda. Using vibranium, the Wakandans developed highly advanced technology, but shut themselves off from the rest of the world, posing as a Third World country.
In the present day, following the death of T’Chaka, T’Challa is to be crowned king of Wakanda. With help from Okoye, head of Wakanda’s royal guard the Dora Milaje, he extracts his ex-lover Nakia from her undercover assignment among human traffickers so that she can attend the ceremony. T’Challa is challenged for the crown by M’Baku, leader of the rival J’Bari tribe, but T’Challa defeats him in ritual combat and assumes the throne. This is when the movie really gets going and the narrative settles down to what might typically be a MCU origin movie, the plot then takes centre stage with some great deviations and revelations.
The striking thing about “Black Panther” is that it is actually one of the more stand alone movies that the MCU has produced to date, it is an isolating movie in theme as well as practically. It is set in Africa in the fictitious country of Wakanda, with most of its running time restricted to that country, this works extremely well as it is concerned with its main character as well as the conflict he has both with his enemies and himself, as well as his place among his ancestors. This film portrays an African country with autonomy, agency as well as a King who is concerned with the protection of his people, who has a worldview that is narrow, so much so that there is little time for the outside world. Interestingly this is a stance that many right wing governments throughout the world are identifying with. There is no doubt that there is both a liberal and conservative streak existing in this film, with room for both – a lesson many could learn, there is no need for extremism as many live in the middle.
At the heart of this movie is the central character of T’Challa (Black Panther) played by Chadwick Boseman who has not had the longest acting career in movies or television but to his credit has played many real life icons in US history such as Jackie Robinson in the underrated “42” (2013), Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” (2017) and in what could have been a mistake the magnificent James Brown in “Get on up” (2014) where Boseman shines in what should have been an Oscar nominated role. What these roles have done in my mind is to prepare an actor like Boseman in playing people that are all larger than life, hold a very public profile, are seen as outsiders as well as having incredible drive to be successful as well as seeing others as real people. From the outside it may seem like easy casting, just get any black guy and put him in a suit, but the astute will see why Boseman was cast. As a Prince then King, Boseman exudes what it must be for a leader that could set millions free but knows to do this would exact a terrible toll – he seems to know when to bring what emotion and I cannot think of a better actor to play this part. The rest of the cast is excellent especially Michael B. Jordan who as a flawed version of T’Challa plays him as human as possible something Daniel Brühl did so well in a previous film. This is such a rich cast from a variety of backgrounds that all of them lend their own unique talents, adding to the overall tapestry of the film, which is excellent – I hope to see some of these supporting characters in other films.
This is a wonderfully directed film with some real flourishes of the camera, as well as original digital backdrops and digital paintings, the colors are as you would expect rich as well as deep, which nods to the African colors that we are used to seeing in other productions. As well as all this the technology that Wakanda uses with all that entails mixed with some of the older weapons and buildings is very well done – nothing dominates too much, when you see Shuri’s lab there is a wonderful African mural in the background, or the energy weapons on the shapes of spears – all thought out so that there is real cultural representation. As you would expect the special effects, choreography and CGI are all at their very best with the Panther suit taking centre stage as well as some new gimmicks thanks to the incorporation of vibranium.
The story as mentioned is as self contained as any previous MCU film has been, which is great because as the audience we are concerned only with the characters onscreen, they are all we need, as well as the issues that they are facing which are all too real and relatable to the world we live in. “Black Panther” touches on colonialism, interference in sovereign states, the military, cultural artifacts, the role of democracies as well as how best to help other countries and people without hegemonic domination as well as war. What is great is that it gives the main character the time and space needed to come to a compromise that will have the best effect all the while utilizing Wakanda’s vast resources.
There is so much to this film; it is the gift that keeps giving. If you have the chance to get to this movie you should grab it. It is a chance to see a culture not seen in big budget comic book films; it borrows from African Nations but never seems to be just using a cultire but illustyrating how they work. It teaches that there is a price for honor that honor without sacrifice is worthless and living up to a promise is important. I recommend this to all and I cannot wait for more stories about Wakanda, the Black Panther and T’Challa himself.