Ten years after the release of Ironman, the ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe project has now become a behemoth at the box office, and with almost 20 films under its belt, the franchise is still releasing hit after hit. Black Panther is the first of the many releases in its celebratory decade year, and a majestic way to start the run up to the hotly anticipated Infinity War.
The cultural impact of this movie alone is something that hasn’t really been achieved in the comic book genre to this level. There have been black heroes in the past such as Blade & Spawn, but here, we have a cast that is predominantly of colour, and largely set in Africa. Not something we usually see for a spectacular Hollywood blockbuster. It’s also an Africa that isn’t the one usually seen in most films, where poverty is strife, the setting of Wakanda is one of wonder. Filled with technology, splendour and colour! With all the attention on its cast and setting, the film could have failed to deliver, but Ryan Coogler manages to create an enthralling superhero film crammed with action, humour and various subjects among social politics.
Taking place soon after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther sees our King-to-be T’Chaka (Boseman) return back to home to Wakanda for his coronation. But the appearance of the dangerous Killmonger (Jordan), who claims that he also has a right to the crown, see’s our hero attempt to not only reclaim the throne, but save his country from falling apart.
The cast here are spectacular, and helps take the film to another level. Michael B Jordan, as Erik Killmonger, is by far one of the most complicated and enigmatic villains that the MCU has seen. The antagonist is usually the one place Marvel have an issue with, but here, we have a villain with motivations that the audience can sympathize with. While several other characters’ help bring so much charm & charisma to the tale. Shuri, T’Chaka’s younger sister, is as sassy as Tony Stark, but more importantly, just as smart! Creating all the tech our hero needs. Her banter with T’Chaka is on point, and is a great addition to the ever growing MCU roster. Okoye (Gurira), the fiercely loyal general to the King, and Nakia (Nyongo’o), an old flame and Wakandan spy, both carry out strong performances worthy of mention. There’s talent throughout, but a special mention to Winston Duke as M’Baka, who steals every scene he is in (after his initial appearance!) as the daunting ruler of the mountain tribe!
With such a large focus on race, the movie’s plot is wonderfully woven to combine serious questions such as the oppression of people & colonialism, with the standard action and humour that all MCU movies follow. Killmonger is a vital piece in making the movie so provoking, though his actions may be questionable, his motivations, have a lasting effect on our King. The CGI is at times a bit too heavy, but the Busan chase scene, and the Savannah showdown are still a treat to watch. The story thankfully avoids the frankly generic template of an alien army/glowing beam in the sky finale.
As with Thor Ragnarok before this, Black Panther is a sheer delight to look at. The African setting allows the film to have such a vibrant feel to it, from the hustle and bustle of the market, to the various tribes, ceremonies and African garb, it’s visually amazing. Africa rarely gets put front and center for a mainstream release, but it does it with aplomb here. The soundtrack is also impressive, the hip hop giving Black Panther a vibe no other MCU movie has had before.
There are still some annoying flaws, that do prevent it from becoming the best in the Marvel catalogue (Avengers & Winter Soldier still surpass this in my opinion). T’chaka does happen to feel a bit on the side lines in his own movie. It’s not that he was bad character, who Boseman plays sublimely. But it felt like all the other stronger characters were bouncing off him. And although we do see a far more relaxed side to him, it’s not the raging, determined warrior we saw in Civil War. Andy Sirkus is also dreadfully underused as Klaw. His character does complete their arch, which was still unresolved after Age of Ultron, but Sirkus was so eccentric as the maniacal arms dealer, it would have been great to see more of him! The pacing is also an issue, as pleasant as the Busan detour was. It really could have been reduced significantly. The relationship between T’chaka and Killmonger is one of the more dynamic parts, and would have suited them to have a bit more time working on their tensions, but it seems to escalate rather quickly. The final showdown in the depths of the Vibranium mines between our two would be kings, is pretty tame, and full of CGI. Their showdown could have been far more creative and cognitive, but it gets reduced to a standard brawl, with nothing really interesting happening. The final confrontation between the two definitely feels rushed.
Black Panther is most certainly worth the hype, the prominence of ethic actors in a gigantic blockbuster is promising to see. The issues it tackles, it tackles well, without pushing it too much. The characters are engaging, and it simply oozes style and class. Now onto the small matter of Infinity War………….oh, and make sure to wait for the second post credit scene!