STARRING: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N’yongo, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, Sterling K. Brown and Andy Serkis
T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, to succeed to the throne and take his place as the rightful King after his father’s death. However, two enemies are working together that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young King must rally his allies and release the full power of the Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
After his introduction to audiences in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa aka Black Panther, gets his solo outing, the first cinematic film for the character as well as the first black superhero film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to take his rightful place on the throne as the new king after his father’s tragic death in the events of Civil War. Upon his return, two enemies of Wakanda hatch a plan that not only puts the nation of Wakanda at risk but the entire world.
After directing indie film Fruitvale Station (on an estimated $900k budget) and Rocky spinoff Creed (on an estimated $40m budget), Ryan Coogler helms Black Panther’s solo outing on a budget of $200m. While the big studio budget normally serves as unnecessary expectation and pressure on the director, Ryan Coogler manages to create a fascinating world grounded in reality within the superhero genre. The nation of Wakanda is absolutely gorgeous to look at, blending African culture with futuristic tech, thanks to vibranium, complimented by Rachel Morrison’s cinematography. The costume design from Ruth E. Carter is great and while everyone is raving about the Kendrick Lamar Black Panther album (which a few of the songs feature in some scenes in the film), it’s worth mentioning that Ludwig Göransson’s score (whose collaborated with Coogler on Fruitvale Station and Creed) is just as good here. While Coogler is working on the Marvel Studios palette, the film focuses very much on the characters, political intrigue, tackling issues that is being tackled such as racism, colonialism and slavery and even examines the relationship between Africans and African-Americans. While Wakanda is hidden from the world since its creation with the five tribes, posing as a third world country and the people of Wakanda isolate themselves from the world to preserve their culture/way of living and not take in any outsiders. This leads to a few clashes of ideals, primarily between T’Challa and his ex-lover Nakia, an undercover spy from Wakanda who believes that they should aid those that desperately need it rather than keep everything for themselves. Some of the action sequences are well done, with the highlight being the casino brawl (Coogler competing with himself to beat his own one-shot fight in Creed here) and the car chase sequence that follows. While some will believe Chadwick Boseman’s performance to be stoic to those around him, I thought he was very good here as T’Challa, as you can see his personal conflict throughout the film in that he feels that he’s not only stepping onto the throne too soon, but even though history dictates that Wakanda has always looked after their own above all else, he wants to help those around the world and he understands that his good intentions will make enemies amongst the tribes and he carries that burden for his character well. It says a lot that T’Challa wasn’t the most interesting character in his own solo film as Black Panther feels more of an ensemble piece and the women of Wakanda get to shine massively here. Danai Gurira is terrific as the head of the royal guards called the Dora Milaje, a strong, traditionalist warrior, then there’s Lupita N’yongo as undercover spy Nakia and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who makes Tony Stark’s Iron Man work look like childs play. It’s no secret that Marvel Studios’ biggest flaws with their films come in the form of their villains, outside of Loki, they’ve been pretty underwhelming with the general audience. Michael B. Jordan has been an actor that most of us have watched grow since his time on The Wire and here in a villainous role, Jordan gets to shine as the bitter, yet charismatic Killmonger. His plan is extreme yet his motives are personal and Jordan fleshes out the character to the point that the audience can have some sympathy for him as we understand his motives and I thought he was terrific in the film and definitely one of the best MCU villains in a long time.
In terms of weaknesses, the main issue I had was with the visual effects. While there was a few instances where I could spot the green screen, such as T’Challa enters the astral plane, it’s when it comes to the action sequences that sometimes the effects can be too disjointed and blurry whenever Black Panther is moving very quickly and especially everything that’s going in in the final act, which follows the quota of what you’ve seen in every superhero film before that builds to a big, grand finale and the resolution is too neatly wrapped up for my tastes. While he has a lot more to do in the film than I expected and we get a brief history into Everett K. Ross, I felt that Martin Freeman didn’t really need to be in the film as his ‘fish out of water’ plot just added too much to what was being juggled in the film already. Some may not have as much an issue with Andy Serkis’ performance as Ulysses Klaue as I do, bar a few lines that made me laugh, Serkis was chewing up the scenery and hamming it up to eleven whilst everyone else was playing it as serious as possible, it just felt out of place for me personally.
Ryan Coogler is three for three now in my eyes as he creates a solo outing in the MCU that creates a memorable ensemble, focusing on the characters rather than the spectacle (even tough we get the MCU big final act as per usual). From the direction to the production design and costume design, Black Panther is a celebration of black culture, that happens to feature a journey of how the hero makes the suit rather than the other way around. Boseman is great as T’Challa, the women of Wakanda (Gurira, N’yongo & Wright) standout and Jordan’s villain performance is one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a long time. 8/10