One of the most anticipated movies in a generation, Black Panther is finally here and the verdict is in. Does it live up to the hype?!
Disclaimer: It’s taken longer than usual to write this as I’ve had to allow the adrenaline and excitement to wear off a little. I didn’t want to be effusive about the film so I’ve tried to reign in my feelings so that I can provide a more objective take on the greatest damn superhero movie OF ALL TIME. Also, I don’t like to write reviews that retell the story of a film so there will be no plot spoilers here.
So, with that disclaimer out of the way…
VERDICT: 5DDs out of 5
Black Panther Review: Welcome to Wakanda
Introducing a new film franchise can be “challenging” because you have to establish a new world and a new set of characters. But for superhero movies before this one, it was a little easier. That’s because practically all of the heroes and characters were cut from the same cloth: White men of different shapes and sizes, and (mostly) young white women, perfectly placed to be their inevitable love interest and/or part-time butt-kickers. Their mission ALWAYS: to save America (and sometimes the rest of the world, but always America first) from an outside or internal threat, be it military, mutant, crazy rich man or alien.
For the record I’m not complaining as such, I’ve found plenty of those films hugely entertaining, particularly the Iron Man movie franchise, which nails the established tropes with more precision than a pistol round fired by Deadshot.
I say all of that to say this – I believe that with Black Panther, everything that’s great about it is amplified by how far it deviates from the script, a script I was raised on, and one in which all of my heroes had to be white if they were “super”. On the rare occasion that they were black, they were critically flawed ie; demons (Spawn, Blade), a joke (Meteor Man), or criminals, addicts and bums (Demolition Man’s Simon Phoenix, Storm, Hancock).
The world of Wakanda is a rich and complex marvel, with its technologically advanced capital city and intrinsically African tribalistic culture providing fertile ground for a fresh take on an age-old genre. All of the establishing sequences showing off the Wakandan environment are jaw-droppingly awesome, with the kind of grand scale that wouldn’t look out of place in a Peter Jackson movie. As for details, throughout the film there are clear references to the unique and varied styles of traditional fashion, body modification, dance and song from across the African continent.
In Black Panther, we have a Marvel film that presents us with a hero who isn’t consumed with hitting stuff and making things go “boom” in order to save the world. Instead, the newly crowned King T’challa (The Black Panther) is with dealing with his nation’s internal politics and foreign policy, one that has typically avoided meddling in affairs beyond its own borders – like I said, it’s refreshing.
We’re given some gravity-defying stunt and chase sequences too, but if you’ve seen Black Panther’s introductory stint in Captain America: Civil War, you’ll already have enjoyed a small taster of what’s in store in this outing. Remember: no spoilers.
Standout performance of the film goes to Letitia Wright (Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 6, The Commuter), who plays T’challa’s younger sister Shuri. As far as Disney princesses go, Shuri is in a league of her own, leading her nation’s scientific and technology endeavours as one of, if not the brightest mind in the land. Wright plays Shuri with a confidence, sharpness and charm, which gives the entire film an affection and humour that sets it apart from typical action movies. She’s like Robert Downey Junior‘s Iron Man, meets Candice Patton‘s Iris West from CW Network’s The Flash. I appreciate the second reference may be lost on some of you, so in other words: she’s an innovate genius with a sharp tongue, and a natural born leader with a huge heart.
But Letitia Wright isn’t alone in making this film rock, she’s joined by a cast of legends and rising stars, including legend Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya and Florence Kasumba. This film’s strength is a direct product of the talent of its ensemble cast and while it may be called Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman doesn’t hog the oxygen of the story. There’s plenty of room for the rest of the film’s stellar lineup, especially the women. Wakanda society sees the highest command in its military reserved for women alone, in the form of its Special Forces team, the Dora Milaje (Adored Ones). Women in Wakanda are an intrinsic part of the nation’s warrior culture, they’re not just mothers and wives or helplessly in need of saving, rather, they lead the frontline.
Black Panther Review: The Antagonist(s)
The main baddies in this film include Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). Klaue is a typical comic book villain, complete with maniacal whit and a modified mechanic super-arm/hand cannon thingy. Serkis is on top form and despite his sinister motivations, Klaue is thoroughly likeable. Killmonger on the other hand is no joke. In the comic book version of Black Panther, Killmonger is posed as the Black Panther’s greatest foe, one who he has never bested in hand-to-hand combat.
While the film does deviate from the comic book series, Killmonger is every bit as ruthless and dangerous as originally intended. Michael b. Jordan’s charismatic performance steals every single scene that he’s in, making him one of the most memorable and threatening villains in the Marvel-movie universe so far.
Killmonger is a mirror to T’Challa. The Black Panther as King of Wakanda struggles with honouring tradition and keeping his nation protected. Whereas Killmonger, born in America, is fuelled by the anger and frustration of seeing how he feels black people have been treated around the world and is driven to take direct action. His fury is deeply personal and political, giving even Black Panther’s main villain a level of complexity and depth that we don’t often get to see in blockbuster action movies.
Black Panther Review: The Verdict
In case you couldn’t tell, we really enjoyed this film. It’s not easy to introduce something new to the comic book-movie genre, the required elements are pretty much set in stone. At least they were until Marvel enlisted Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole to bring Black Panther to the silver screen in a standalone movie. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the original comic book character was first introduced in the late 60’s, towards the tail end of the American civil rights movement. At that time, America and the world was in a state of flux, with society needing to ask some very tough questions of itself and our establishments. Sound familiar?
Not to over egg Black Panther’s significance, but entertainment has often been a powerful vehicle for helping to shift attitudes and empowering disenfranchised groups. Aside from being a thoroughly entertaining film, Black Panther suggests that mainstream blockbusters can win without a great white hope front and centre of the story (Thor, Captain American, Iron Man, Super man, Spider man, Star Lord et al.).
Our hope is that with the success of this film, Hollywood will be encouraged to follow in the steps of the comic book world and continue taking steps towards giving us a much broader selection of super-suit wearing heroes for us to cheer for and look up to.
Marvel’s Black Panther is in UK cinemas nationwide from February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day!