BLACK PANTHER Review
It’s taken them 18 films, but Marvel are finally doing something different (kinda). ‘Black Panther’ is the first MCU film to not be led by a white, selfish, dickish male who has to learn to be a good person to be a hero. Instead, audiences are given are conflicted and emotional character that is already a good person, but must struggle with being a good leader and confront the sins of the past.
‘Black Panther’ is set post-Civil War when King T’Chaka was killed in a UN Bombing by Baron Zemo. In his place, his son, T’Challa, must take up the mantle of Black Panther and become the king of Wakanda. As king he must face the issue of protecting the downtrodden of the world, at the risk of revealing his countries technological prowess, ripe for invasion; following in the failed footsteps of previous kings; and ensure peace persists throughout his country. And you Spider-Man had it rough.
Right off the bat, Ryan Coogler has brought his own style to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The costumes are bright and vibrant with each tone indicating a character’s tribal allegiance and position of power. The city of Wakanda feels lived in and not manufactured, with graffiti covering the streets of the city. The design of the city is a wonderful mesh of Jack Kirby’s fever-pitch designs and the modern Afro-Futurism. Wakanda, like Asgard, is established and stands unique in the MCU. Much like ‘Thor’, with its grand, orchestral score fitting of a period-piece epic, the score to ‘Black Panther’ fuses Africana styles of music with epic orchestral scoring to create a unique and surprisingly, memorable Marvel film score.
Despite the individual style of the film, the action beats are a little lacking, considering Coogler’s exhilarating capture of boxing matches in ‘Creed’ (2015). The fights are either poorly light so that nothing can be determined, or tarnished by CGI that rivals Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ for Most Rubbery Looking Human. Even the Black SUV Convoy Chase sequence feels uninspired with no sense of cohesion or choreography of the chase.
In a surprise turn of events, MARVEL have given audiences a compelling, layered and memorable villain. Michael B Jordon kills it as Eric Killmonger, bringing a swagger and menace to the screen. Jordon isn’t given a lot of great material to work with (your typical destroy the world fare), but he elevates the character, along with Coogler’s direction, to make him relatable. The character of Killmonger doesn’t serve the plot well, but he serves his purpose of providing a discourse for the film.
Superhero films are generally considered popcorn gaff that don’t require much analysis or thought to understand or appreciate. ‘Black Panther’ follows the trend of films like ‘Wonder Woman’ by allowing the film to be more than entertainment and provide the audience with themes to digest. The film tackles the issue of immigration, national identity/pride, radicalisation and legacy, as well as the question: If you have the power to save millions, at the risk of inciting war, would you? For a 2 hour and 15-minute film, that’s a lot to unravel.
Sitting around the average superhero runtime of over 2 hours, it’s surprising that ‘Black Panther’ feels longer. The film is dense with story, characters, messages and style, resulting in the film’s detriment. The film feels like a trilogy compacted into one film, with clearly defined structure and repetitive plot moments that, if expanded upon, would have created a superhero trilogy to rival Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
Similar to ‘Wonder Woman’, the film is proud of the group that it represents and also gives audiences strong female characters that are more interesting than the majority of the male characters. Danai Gurira’s Okoye, is a badass leader of the Dora Milaje who brings grace to her fight sequences. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is an interesting counterpart to Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, where he works in the spotlight, she hides in the shadows; where he protects Wakanda’s borders, she protects the world from Wakanda. The stand-out of the film is Letitia Wright’s Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister who is a delightful and energetic spark of the film that acts as its Q. Special mention to Andy Serkis as Klaue, who is chews every scene with maniacal glee, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s Joker; also praise to Winston Duke’s M’Baku who is robbed of screen time but given the films few funny moments, and a great mirror of T’Challa.
‘Black Panther’ may not reinvent the wheel, but it establishes a unique voice in the MCU and paves the way for (hopefully) more diverse driven films.