Starring: Chadwick Boseman (42), Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Letitia Wright (Humans), Winston Duke (Person of Interest), Angela Bassett (Malcolm X), Forest Whittaker (Rogue One), Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes)
Director: Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)
Writers: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story)
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes
Release Date: 13 February (UK), 16 February (US)
Full on disclosure: Black Panther is not the first superhero movie to have a lead of colour. Sure, we can sweep movies like Steel and Spawn under the rug, but Blade practically started the modern superhero movement; why do people keep constantly forgetting that important fact? However, that by no means diminishes Black Panther’s importance. It’s not just the first of the current generation of comic book movies to have a black lead, but it’s the first to be so steeped in that culture and brought to life on a scale equalling its cousins. Much like Wonder Woman last year, there is a lot riding on Black Panther’s shoulders in regards to minority representation in Hollywood and, with very few exceptions, it delivers an experience long overdue for that underestimated slice of humanity.
Though knowing the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War help the experience, Black Panther is very much a self-contained Marvel adventure and would work just as well in a vacuum. The plot is simple but incredibly well executed, mainly thanks to pitch-perfect world building and an appropriate balance of gravitas and levity. The whole experience is swift and engaging from its opening minutes, but there is a lot of down time away from the superheroics. Thankfully, these scenes of interpersonal conflict and political intrigue are often more entertaining than the action sequences themselves, and they show a level of political commentary and dramatic gravity often lacking in Marvel’s other films. More so than many of films of the genre, Black Panther is a socially conscious film that delivers an important message about uniting nations and fighting for the betterment of all peoples. It gives the disenfranchised a hero they can look up to, but also reminds us that the pendulum can swing the other way when the oppressed gain power. Even more so than the Thor films, it delivers a tale of Shakespearean levels but through a fantastical lens, and even though the individual pieces are familiar they are used to build a truly original hole.
Chadwick Boseman got a chance to show us what he could do with the character of T’Challa in Civil War, but now with his own film he truly gets to run the show and does so with flying colours. His dry sense of humour and subdued charm help set him apart from the usually quip-happy heroes of the MCU, and the added dimension of him being not just a superhero but king of an entire nation creates a whole new set of complications for his character; talk about “with great power comes great responsibility”. But more than most other solo Marvel movies, Black Panther is very much an ensemble movie that wouldn’t stand as strong without its fantastic supporting cast. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is easily the best antagonist in the MCU since Loki, not only because of his charismatic performance but because his motivations are clear, understandable and even somewhat empowering. I genuinely understand why people would follow this guy, though his methods do occasionally veer on Baron Zemo levels of questionable plotting. Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as Nakia, sharing fun romantic chemistry with Boseman that rivals Tony Stark and Pepper Potts for awkwardly adorableness. Danai Gurira is an undeniable badass as Okoye, stealing pretty much every action sequence she is in, and Winston Duke makes for a surprisingly entertaining rival fro T’Challa as M’Baku. Angela Bassett and Forest Whittaker provide excellent mentor roles, their mere presence giving the film a lot of credibility, whilst returning players Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis get to expand on their respective characters of Everett Ross and Ulysses Klaue in fun and interesting ways. But the film’s real MVP is Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s spunky tech genius sister Shuri. Not only does she have all the best lines and incredible comedic chemistry with Boseman, but to see a young woman of colour essentially be the Marvel Universe’s equivalent to Q is an empowering feat all on its own.
What Black Panther achieves on a technical level almost outshines what it does elsewhere, delivering a cinematic experience that feels like a true glimpse into a possible ethno-diverse future of the medium. The production design work that has gone into bringing Wakanda to life is just gorgeous to behold, mixing traditional African designs with advanced sci-fi to truly define the modern definition of “Afro-futurism”. The cinematography is vibrant and sweeping, effectively covering not just the intense and wildly choreographed action sequences but the sweeping beauty of the film’s lushly detailed environments. The visual effects work is on par with what you’d expect from Marvel on both positives and negatives; the design and animation is fantastic, but the final execution sometimes comes off as too cartoony (and there’s way too much obvious green screen work). The film’s music also deserves a boatload of praise. The Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack is fantastic and incredibly catchy, but Ludwig Goransson’s compositions are also incredible in how they weave African choir into a typical superhero score.
Black Panther is an incredibly enjoyable blockbuster movie that delivers everything you want from a Marvel movie, but it’s so much more than that. It goes above and beyond the expected MCU template by giving the characters more complex relationships, crafting visuals unlike any others in modern cinema, and sends a message of empowerment and progressivism that is desperately needed in today’s culture. For me, it’s simply yet another excellent entry in the superhero genre, but for others it will be far more than that. There are plenty of other comic book movies to come this year, but I doubt any other will capture the cultural zeitgeist and inspire more people than Black Panther.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10