Throughout the history of its cinematic universe, Marvel Studios has excelled at creating engaging, entertaining diversions, bringing dozens of characters to life in a string of blockbusters that feed into one another, like a cinematic perpetual-motion machine, Black Panther.
Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture)
Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Written By: Joe Robert Cole, Ryan Coogler
In Theaters: Feb 16, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: May 15, 2018
Box Office: $501,105,037
Runtime: 135 minutes
Studio: Marvel Studios
What it hasn’t done is make movies that feel consequential. Sure, there was some commentary about war profiteering early on in the Iron Man films, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier glanced upon the idea of selling out privacy and freedom in the name of security. But more often than not, the studio’s films are primarily concerned with keeping all the narrative plates spinning on the long march toward the Thanos showdown that will finally start in Avengers: Infinity War.
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is different. Not only is it a long-overdue embrace of diversity and representation, it’s a film that actually has something to say — and it’s able to do so without stepping away from the superhero dynamics that make the larger franchise work. It’s gripping, funny, and full of spectacle, but it also feels like a turning point, one where the studio has finally recognized that its movies can be about more than just selling the next installment. In the process, the studio has ended up with one of the most enthralling entries in its entire universe.
Black Panther picks up in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, where audiences were first introduced to Chadwick Boseman’s Prince T’Challa and his superhero alter ego Black Panther. In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns home to the country of Wakanda, where he will take his father’s place as king. Wakanda is a mystery to the outside world. It’s an incredibly advanced country filled with fantastic technological wizardry, but those advancements come courtesy of vibranium, a rare ore found almost exclusively in Wakanda. In order to protect its massive store of the substance, Wakanda has pretended to be a primitive nation throughout its history, hiding its advancements from the rest of the world with the aid of a force field.
But notorious arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) knows the country’s secrets and has secured some vibranium that he intends to sell. Working with him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, also the star of Coogler’s films Fruitvale Station and Creed), a former US military operative who seems to know quite a bit about Wakandan culture himself. T’Challa puts together a team to investigate what Klaue is up to and winds up in a battle for control of the throne of Wakanda itself, with the precious anonymity his country has been holding onto hanging in the balance.
In Fruitvale Station and Creed, Coogler demonstrated his ability to bring emotion and character work to the foreground, whether working on an indie canvas or within the framework of a larger franchise. Working from a script co-written with Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story), he does the same in Black Panther. T’Challa is still recovering from his father’s death, and he’s torn between the duty to carry on Wakanda’s traditions, and the growing realization that he may need to examine some of them in a different light if he’s to be the kind of ruler he aspires to be. Boseman plays him as quiet and thoughtful, ready to leap into action as Black Panther when the moment requires it, but more often, he’s happy to patiently wait and take the more measured approach.
In the opening scene of Marvel’s Black Panther, a little boy’s voice says: “Papa, tell me a story…of home.”
It’s a fitting way to start the film, since the movie is very much about home and the stories we tell about it.
Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole not only provide an in-depth look at African culture, but they also position the fictional African country of Wakanda into a fairytale space — an Africa untouched by colonialism, thriving under its own means.
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther is a film unlike any other in the genre. Based on the popular comic book character created in 1966, Black Panther sees T’Challa returning home to Wakanda to take the mantle of king after the death of his father, only to be challenged by an outsider who claims to have a right to his throne. T’Challa must now fight, not only for the right to be king, but for his people and his country as well.
Director Ryan Coogler’s film is absolutely amazing. The costume and production design by Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler, respectively, is gorgeous. The cinematography is stunning, featuring soaring landscapes, waterfall canyons, and city markets. All of these things make Black Panther a well-woven tapestry of sights, sounds, action and adventure that is sure to impress even the most staunch critics of comic book films.
Coogler and his team waste no time immersing their viewers in a world that references and comments on African culture, tradition and mysticism. Hidden from the outside world, Wakanda is an Edenic wellspring of hyper-advanced technology that balances African tradition and history with modernity. The central question of the film is how Wakanda will use this power: will they continue to horde their wealth, or use it to bring justice to oppressed people around the world?
Each tribe and character also have their own unique style, personality, and important part to play. With wonderful performances by Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Michael B. Jordan, as well as Forrest Whitaker and Martin Freeman, Black Panther is a film with a well-rounded cast that help bring the story to life.
What I loved about Black Panther is that it is so much more than your average superhero film.
While television shows like Luke Cage and Black Lightning deal with issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, they focus primarily on African-American issues in the United States. Coogler’s film, in contrast, portrays African culture in a positive light in a media environment where it is largely ignored, and it talks about the importance of the preservation of culture and tradition in an ever-changing world.
Viewers are also confronted by challenging themes about how to enact social change.
A large driving force behind the struggle between the conflicting ideas of Wakandan isolationism and modernity comes from the villain, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan’s character is unlike any villain that Marvel Studios has put on the big screen thus far. Ruthless and cunning, Killmonger is not your average, maniacal villain bent on destruction and chaos, but rather, his motives stem from a far deeper and more radical impetus involving the liberation of black people from their white oppressors. His desire is not only to liberate, but to conquer and install a new world order founded on black power.
His conflict with T’Challa and the warriors of Wakanda is not only memorable, but deeply emotional and personal, and one cannot help but feel for the villain.
There are also many strong female characters in the film, from Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri, to the palace guard, and even some of the elders on the council. Women hold many places of power and influence in Wakandan society. This is a refreshing change from the norm, and Coogler represents these women not just as secondary characters but as important, strong, and essential figures in his story.
Overall, Black Panther is not just a story of heroes overcoming evil and saving the day, but of nation-building, family, honour, civil rights, and social justice.
With its hard-hitting action scenes, superb-pacing, moments of comedy and drama, stunning visuals, and a soundtrack to match, Coogler puts his best foot forward with Black Panther.
The film is a must-see for any and all fans of superhero films and comic books, as well as anyone looking for strong, kick-ass female characters and a memorable villain.