“Black Panther,” dir. Ryan Coogler
After the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” King T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one of the most successful franchises with nearly every film being critically acclaimed and financially successful. Now on their eighteenth film, Ryan Coogler, the director of the incredible “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” has stepped in to direct Marvel’s first movie to have a black lead. In the months leading up to the release of “Black Panther,” anticipation has reached sky high levels to the point that it has become a cultural landmark for the entire superhero genre. The end result is a movie that pushes boundaries, tackles hard-hitting issues, and delivers a remarkable emotional punch.
There hasn’t been a more beautifully realized location in a superhero movie than the continent of Wakanda. From the vibrant production design to the gorgeous costumes, every inch finds the right balance between having a familiar, lived in feel for an entire culture and being almost otherworldly. It’s amazing to be able to experience such a massive blockbuster like this that stands out as fresh and singular. Ludwig Goransson’s impeccable score also adds a lot to the atmosphere of Wakanda. And yes, while on the note of music, the album by Kendrick Lamar is amazing.
Unlike most Marvel films, there isn’t as much of an emphasis on large scale action set pieces. That being said, every time there is action on screen, it’s absolutely thrilling. Rachel Morrison, recent Oscar nominee for her cinematography on “Mudbound,” shoots the fight scenes with great fluidity, ensuring that the stunts that the actors are performing can be seen in all their glory. A particular standout moment is a tracking shot in a casino that has the same amount of intensity as one of the boxing matches in “Creed.”
One of the biggest standouts in “Captain America: Civil War” was the introduction of Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Here, he brings so much emotion to the role as he faces a more internal struggle. As he takes on the mantle as King of Wakanda, the buildup of him figuring out his place in the country’s history is immensely powerful. He faces real challenges in protecting his people and crafting his own path as a worthy leader.
The supporting cast of “Black Panther” is filled to the brim with remarkable talent. Not a single actor is given a role that doesn’t offer substance to the overall story. The women of Wakanda, played by Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, and Letitia Wright, are fierce during the action scenes and bring such elegance to their characters. In smaller roles, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, amd Forest Whitaker all shine as they bring emotional weight to the material. Even Andy Serkis in a rare departure from his usual motion-capture performances is having so much fun as one of the villains of the film.
Speaking of villains, Marvel has had a recurring problem with developing strong antagonists for their films with the only major exceptions being Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from “Thor” and “The Avengers” and Michael Keaton’s Vulture from last year’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Here, after leading Coogler’s first two films, Michael B. Jordan takes on the role of Killmonger and finally delivers a complex villain worthy of the protagonist. Without going too much into it, his motivations are clear and add an unfathomable amount of depth to the role. Jordan’s performance is riveting and arguably the best for any villain in a superhero film since Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
“Black Panther” is easily the best film in the MCU to date, a film about legacy, responsibility, and the need to look after one another. This is a breathtaking achievement with great importance in a time that the world feels more divided than ever. Marvel has had a successful formula making films that offer great fun for audiences, but Ryan Coogler was able to inject thought-provoking themes so that when people are on their way back home, they have a substantial dialogue with each other. In light of the tragedy that occurred this past Wednesday in Florida, I’d like to end off this review with one of the most impactful lines from the film: “Guns. So primitive.”
Have you seen “Black Panther” yet? Are you excited to see more of T’Challa in the MCU? Where does it rank for you among the rest of the Marvel films? Comment down below with your thoughts.
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