TL;DR – Wow, just wow, every part of this film comes together to make something people will be talking for years to come.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid and end credit sequence
I was expecting Black Panther to be good, all the Marvel films so far have been at least ok and this was tracking to be better than average. However, nothing prepared me for just how good the film was going to be, and also just how challenging it was going to be, it does not hold back, not one single bit. So today we will explore the world of Wakanda, the people, history, and locations. But before we do that, can I suggest if you have not seen the film to go do that right now, without reading on, you will be much better to go into Black Panther with as little pre-knowledge as possible, well other than it is really good.
So to set the scene, during Captain America: Civil War (see review) there was an explosion at the United Nations and T’Chanka (John Kani) King of Wakanda was killed. After discovering it was a conspiracy and it was not Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) the real murder was put behind bars and everyone went their own separate ways. However, for one of the Avengers, there was a solemn duty waiting for him at home, the job of burying a father and claiming a crown. Black Panther actually starts off only weeks after Civil War with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) flying a secret mission over Nigeria with Okoye (Danai Gurira) one of his Dora Milaje a group of warrior that protect the royal family. Tonight they are collecting Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from an undercover mission so she could be there for the crowing of the new king. Together they return home to Wakanda, the nation built over the impact site of a giant Vibranium meteorite. Four tribes came together to form the nation while one tribe held out living in the mountains, but still, together they formed Wakanda, a nation with rapidly increasing technology, far more than anywhere else on Earth, but who hides it all behind force fields and the guise of a poor developing country. Well, T’Challa is pronounced King after defeating M’Baku (Winston Duke) much to the joy of his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) on of the great advisors of Wakanda and his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) the heart of Wakanda’s technological advancement. However, there is a storm coming and no one is prepared for what is about to land on Wakanda’s doorstep.
Before we move on to the cast I want to take a moment to explore some of the production sides of Black Panther because it is truly fascinating. The set and costume design in this film is spectacular, and if it is not nominated for an Academy Award in those fields I am ok with people getting out their metaphorical pitchforks. The design of Wakanda’s capital city takes elements of the past and combines them with dreams of the future in the best tenants of Afrofuturism. Every single set that they walked into was a delight to see as nothing was dull and pedestrian. Take Shuri’s lab you have the view out into the Vibranium cavern, as well as this you have a white clinical look but accented in areas with riots of colour and works of art built into the design of the room. The costumes take inspirations from across the African continent and transform them into something new. Now with a less talented team, this could easily fallen into a mess or looked like they were out of their depth and trying anything that worked. Instead, here there was a clear concerted attempt to create a living breathing world through the use of costumes, and it was a joy to watch.
Adding to this is Ludwig Göransson’s musical score which might be some of Marvel’s best orchestral music that they have ever produced, and I say that in full knowledge that I have just gushed about how good Thor: Ragnarok’s (see review) soundtrack was. The use of percussion and soaring horns, combined with softer moments creates a wondering musical accompaniment to the film. The score really connects in the action sequences of which there are many throughout the film. There is, of course, the big final set-piece battle, I mean it is a Marvel film after all, and Marvel gotta Marvel, but I think for me the highlight was the first fight in Nigeria. It is set at night, and you see T’Challa take down some armed mercenaries while AK-47 rounds go off. This means that the muzzle flash of the guns given the fight a strobe-like effect. As well as this, I do love a good car chase and well the streets of Busan is just as good a place as any to smash some cars together. All throughout the film, you can see the careful eye of Rachel Morrison who was in charge of the cinematography, and of course, when you get Industrial Light and Magic to help realise your world you know they are going to do a good job. Now in the next couple of sections, we are going to talk about the characters and setting and I want to go a bit deeper here, so there may be some [SPOILERS] up ahead.
So to start with I am going to reverse things a little bit and discuss the villains, ok not really villains but more protagonists, wait, no Klaue (Andy Serkis) is totally a villain, but you’ll get my drift in a moment. So I think it is no great secret here that Marvel has had a bit of a villain problem in past films. For me, the only really great villains across the last 17 films have been Loki and the Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming (see review). For there to be a truly great villain you have to be able to sympathise with them, even if it is just a little bit. I think this is why villains like Magneto in X-Men are so compelling because while their actions might be wrong, the drive behind them could be completely legitimate. Well, I completely understand and sympathise with Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) both in why he want’s Wakanda, and what he plans to do with it once he has it. It is difficult to sit there and realise that the main protagonist actually has a point, this is combined with Michael B. Jordan’s amazing acting to create a truly complicated character. The other main villain is Ulysses Klaue, the black-market arms dealer that once stole a large amount of Vibranium from Wakanda, and then promptly lost an arm when it was stolen from him during Avengers: Age of Ultron (see review). I am really interested to find out what stage directions he was given because clearly, Andy Serkis was having a ball filming the role. It is so close to crossing that line into parody, but they just hold back, which is such a hard balance to achieve.
For the rest of the Wakandans, we get a wonderfully talented group of actors, and I am really happy to see a strong female presence in key roles. Angela Bassett is powerful as Ramonda the Queen mother of Wakanda, and frankly, I’d be all fine living in a monarchy where she is queen. Danai Gurira is striking as Okoye the general of the Dora Milaje, every movement has strength behind it and also she made some of the best humour moments in the film with her dead-pan delivery. I have seen Lupita Nyong’o be amazing in films before now, but here she owns every scene she is in, you feel her passion, and you see her need to do something to help the rest of the world. In science fiction, there is a long tradition of adding young scientific geniuses that can end up becoming annoying for anyone involved. Well Shuri does not fall into that trap, Letitia Wright brings a youthful joy to the role and I really hope at some point in the future she has a science-off with Tony. It was also nice to see more of Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and to see his character expanded a bit more. Now, of course, we can’t talk about the cast without talking about the titular Black Panther T’Challa. We first got to see Black Panther in Civil War and here he was understandably single focused on one goal. In Black Panther, we get to see more sides of T’Challa, the playful side with his family, the romantic side with Nakia, and the solemn side with Zuri (Forest Whitaker). We see him take up the mantle of the king and try to work out what type of king he is going to be, and there are many different competing views on what that should be. He is at the heart of the film and if that didn’t work there would be trouble, but Chadwick Boseman is such a professional that we are with him throughout his arc. Now I am going to talk a bit about the story and themes of Black Panther in the next section, so if you have not seen the film and ignored the last [SPOILER] warning well this is your last chance skip to the end.
I first got to see some of Ryan Coogler’s work with Creed (see review) back in 2015. He took a film that could have been a stock standard boxing film and infused it with emotion, weight, and substance, and Black Panther is no different. In many respects Black Panther is an origin story for a character that we have already been introduced too, so instead it is like a ‘coming of age’ film sort of maybe a ‘becoming a king’ kind of film. This is a good start, but Black Panther is not just happy with that, it also a dynastic battle between family and tribes with echoes of Shakespeare. Also not content to stop there it is also a spy thriller, and possibly the best Bond alternative cinema has ever thrown out, with probably the best version of the walkthrough Q’s office I have ever seen. However, all of this would have made Black Panther, a good film, and its cast made it a great film, but Ryan Coogler did not stop there, like Taika Waititi recently in Thor, and also injected a powerful undercurrent to the film. Among the soaring skyscrapers, lush forests, and laughs, oh did I mention the film is really funny because it is, it has a story it wants to tell you, a crisis it wants to explain to you. In Black Panther, you will get a crash course in post-colonialism, pan-Africanism, and peace and conflict studies. This film will not hold your hand when it is discussing slavery, and the disenfranchisement of African people across the planet, and it goes to the core of both the protagonist and antagonists journey throughout the film. These themes are seen in films, but rarely in blockbusters and I cannot remember a mainstream film that did it as boldly as this. So yes, I could critique the fairly straightforward plot, or how things that will be important later are pointed out for no reason other than they will be important later. However, none of those little issues come close to denting this superb film.
So, in the end, do we recommend Black Panther? Yes, absolutely, completely, without reservation. It was a joy to watch, the cast is amazing, the sets are gorgeous, and the action is tight. I completely recommend everyone go see it, like call in work sick and go watch the film recommend it. So the next film in the cinematic universe is the big one, the Infinity War, oh wow I get the feeling we are not ready for what is coming.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Black Panther
Directed by – Ryan Coogler
Written by – Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
Based on –Black Panther created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Music & Songs by – Ludwig Göransson & Kendrick Lamar
Cinematography by – Rachel Morrison
Edited by – Michael P. Shawver & Claudia Castello
Starring – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Isaach De Bankolé, Connie Chiume, Dorothy Steel & Danny Sapani with Sebastian Stan & Stan Lee
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13