Black Panther (2018)

  • Time: 134 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Ryan Coogler
  • Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o

Storyline:

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. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

3 comments

  • More than a significant milestone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – or any other comic book film franchise, for that matter – Black Panther is, in and of itself, a thrilling film, combining spectacular action sequences, engaging wit, heartfelt drama, and, yes, racial politics with the ease that has defined many an MCU film. It also continues to up the standards of the genre, which has seen quite a number of excellent entries in the past 18 months alone – Logan, Wonder Woman, and Thor: Ragnarok – making sub-standard efforts like Justice League all the more woeful for their slapdash ways.

    Of course, Black Panther isn’t the first comic-based studio film with a black hero front and center (that honour belongs to 1988’s Blade), nor is it the first Marvel-affiliated one (that would be Luke Cage on Netflix). Neither does it break new ground as far as the story it tells. The Shakespearean familial conflict at its center mirrors the one that has played out between Thor and Loki and, especially, between the Odinson Brothers and Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. The clashing beliefs of its central characters reflect the overarching one between Iron Man and Captain America. Even one set piece is a virtual swipe from the Bond film Skyfall, except the casino is in Busan rather than Macau. Yet Black Panther is a glorious achievement for it not only brings its own style and flair to oft-seen tropes, but it also grounds it specifically in the Afrocentric experience. Unlike Blade or Will Smith’s Hancock, blackness is in no way incidental or represented as impoverished, victimised, colonised, or homogenised. Black Panther’s vision of blackness is an Afro-futuristic one, where the promised land has already been won.

    Picking up where Captain America: Civil War left off, the film finds Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), still grieving the death of his father, returning to Wakanda to assume the throne. There we meet several important figures in his life: Zuri (Forest Whitaker), keeper of the heart-shaped herb that imbues its consumer with superhuman powers; W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), T’Challa’s best friend who also serves as the head of security for the Border Tribe; and, most significantly the quartet of women, most of whom are arguably the real stars of the film: T’Challah’s mother, the regal Ramonda (Angela Bassett); his younger sister Shuri (the scene-stealing Letitia Wright), whose technological innovations and cracking humour are likely to capture Tony Stark’s admiration; his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), an undercover operative; and Okoye (Dania Gurira, magnificent), the phenomenally fierce leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda who serve as his bodyguards. These women are no mere tokens – they are independent, intelligent, assertive, possess agency, and are integral to the action.

    “It is hard for a good man to be king,” T’Chaka tells his son when they meet on the ancestral plane and, indeed, T’Challah’s primary concern is how to maintain Wakanda’s guise as a primitive nation when it is, in reality, a beacon of advanced technology and utopian living. Traditionalists want to keep their anonymity, progressives believes the vibranium, the source of their nation’s power and success, should be shared with the world, at the very least with their fellow African kingdoms, most of which are struggling and oppressed. Into this already simmering ideological divide enters Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), the South African black-market smuggler first introduced in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. When T’Challah gets wind that Klaue is about to sell a stolen Wakandan artifact in Busan, W’Kabi, whose parents were killed as a result of Klaue’s prior dealings, sees it as a perfect opportunity to bring Klaue to justice.

    Unfortunately, the mission to capture Klaue goes awry with the appearances of CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), last seen in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a former U.S. military operative who soon sets foot on Wakandan soil and announces his designs on the throne, adding the most potent threat to T’Challah’s nascent reign. For all their excellence, Marvel has often been accused of featuring fairly unsatisfying villains, but both Killmonger and Klaue prove exceptions to the rule. Whilst Klaue is a deliriously over-the-top thug, literally armed with a super cannon, Killmonger is on the opposite end of the spectrum: his grievances are all-too-human, his actions relatable, and his villainy more tragic than treacherous.

    Director Ryan Coogler cannot be lauded enough for what he has achieved here. This is a film that more than exceeds its ambitions. From Hannah Beachler’s incredible production design to Ruth E. Carter’s vibrant costumes to Rachel Morrison’s stunning cinematography to Ludwig Goransson’s percussive score, every frame of Black Panther is not only deeply and effortlessly cool, but it vibrates with cultural specificity and representation. Look at his ships, which bear the shapes of African masks. Or Shuri’s lab, which mixes the sleek and sterile with tribal art. Or all of the women sporting natural hair (one scene finds Okoye purposefully snatching off her own wig to unleash her true warrior self, and it is rousing to the nth degree). That Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole integrate the personal and the political, the desire to understand one’s ancestry despite generations being slaughtered, the fight to be free and unshackled, and explore race and subjugation would be remarkable under any scenario; that they do it within a Marvel movie is a miracle.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆ ☆☆ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B

    THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: Black lives really matter in this well-made movie, but it is hardly the ground-breaking innovative pop entertainment that one expects after all of the hype.

    JIM’S REVIEW: The reviews are in for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and they have been glowing…”A cultural phenomenon”…”A monumental achievement in filmmaking”…So is all of the hoopla justified or is this film simply a well-made example of a crowd-pleasing comic book action hero movie? Obviously, my opinion won’t change any moviegoer’s viewpoint as the film is on its way to be one of the highest-grossing films of the year. But review it I will…

    Black Panther does follow the formula of most superhero movies: establish its hero and villain, build the conflict between them while laying out the mythology and origins, and creates endless CGI battles. The difference here is its predominantly African-American cast and crew overtly celebrating its own cultural heritage. The film also takes its time to delineate its supporting characters and make them fully-rounded individuals of merit. Kudos to that, and its message of social and political conscience found within its story.

    The film firmly celebrates racial and gender equity in its depiction of an utopian universe called Wakanda. This isolationist African nation is a technically advanced place with a peace-loving population of various tribes who have no interest in being included with the outside world and its troubles. They purposely make their country’s appearance as an impoverished third world country to our real world. But beneath its surface, there is a secret powerful substance called vibranium that protects this Kwanzaa territory and makes their Lion King into a Black Panther who will reign supreme. That is, until evil forces discover this metal for weaponry and corrupt power.

    Yes, the basic set-up of superhero versus super villain remains intact and much of the film’s beginnings are, while compelling, still long exposition posing as a story. Our hero is T’ Chaka (a fine Chadwick Boseman) who is in love with a very independent woman named Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, ever so classy). T’Chalka (a.k.a. Black Panther) becomes king and must stop the outside world from getting their stash of vibranium at all costs. Helping him is Okoye (a terrific Danai Gurira), a fearless female warrior, and her Amazonian army of bodyguards. This film uses women power to the max, another timely positive touch in this MeToo state-of-the-world mindset.

    Mr. Coogler directs with skill and confidence. His debut film, Fruitvale Station, an under-appreciated crime film, showed a new talent to behold, and his second feature, Creed, established a director with an unique vision. This film, his third, shows a visionary craftsman that stages his action scenes with flair, especially his climactic battle on land and in air. His deft hand elevates this film from standard superhero mode to a film of importance and authority.

    However, one wishes the screenplay by Joe Robert Cole and the director would have been more adventurous in breaking out of the standard issue formula found in this fantasy genre. It does, at one point, venture out and begins to resemble more of a spy homage to James Bond, complete with fast cars and gadgetry, but then it goes safely back to comic book land and gets lost in its overindulgence of CGI effects, some of which are too noticeably fake.

    As written, our hero is rather a bland crusader whose supporting army of warriors are far more interesting than the main character himself. The world and characters spinning around him is a more exciting bunch. As with most action flicks, it must be the villains who have the necessary know-how to engage the audience. And in Black Panther, we have, not one, but two evil forces that are great foils. Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue is the antithesis of sinister evil as a black market arms dealer and makes a lasting impression, but stealing the film is Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, one of the most memorable villains since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Mr. Jordan is dynamic as the vengeful rival wanting to seize the throne. He brings a street-wise edginess to the narrative very convincingly and is able to give his complex character a tragic side as well, no easy feat.

    Rounding out the cast are such talented performers as Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown, John Kani, and Daniel Kaluuya. Also giving great support are British actors Martin Freeman as a C.I.A. agent (with a perfect American accent too) and Letitia Wright in a breakout performance as T’Challa’s savvy sister, Shuri.

    At the risk of sounding too kumbaya, Black Panther has its flaws, but it is a rollicking good time. It doesn’t break any new cinematic frontier as one is led to expect by the critical hosannas, nor does it redefine film history (except for the fact that the film industry has now discovered a black audience’s willingness to pay green). But as entertainment goes, the movie repeatedly scores…and that’s no easy feat either.

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  • Black Ops.

    Rating: 7/10.

    There was a joke on the internet the other day that made me laugh and laugh. Virtually the only white people in “Black Panther” are the Hobbit/LOTR stars Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis…. they are the Tolkein white guys! It’s actually getting to feel quite isolating as an ‘average white guy’ at the movies! After a plethora of #SheDo films about empowered women, now comes the first black-centred Marvel film… stuffed full of powerful women too!

    The setting is the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda, where due to an abundance of a an all-powerful mineral called McGuffinite… so, sorry, Vibranium… the leaders have made their city a technological marvel and developed all sorts of ad tech to help the people keep their goats well and weave their baskets better (there are a few odd scenes in this film!). T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) succeeds his father T’Chaka (John Kani) to become the king and adopt the role of The Black Panther, being bestowed superhero powers by drinking a glass of Ribena.

    But it emerges that T’Chaka has a dark secret in the form of Eric Killmonger (Michael B Jordan, “Creed“) who is determined to muscle in on the king-stuff. ‘It never rains but it pours’, and the whole of Wakanda’s secrets are in danger of being exposed by the antics of the vicious South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, “War For The Planet Of The Apes“), trying to get his hands on vibranium to sell on to CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies“, “The World’s End“).

    After “Thor: Ragnarok“, this is back to the more seriously-played end of the superhero spectrum: there are a few jokes but it’s not overtly played for comedy. Holding the film together are some sterling performances from the ensemble cast with Michael B Jordan very good as the villain of the piece. Adding to the significant black girl power in the film are Angela Bassett (“London Has Fallen“) as the queen mother; Danai Gurira (“Wonder Woman“) as the leader of the Dora Milaje: the all-female king’s guard; and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave“, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) as the spy and love interest Nakia. But the star performance for me, and one I found absolutely spot-on as a role model for young people, was Letitia Wright (“The Commuter“) as Shuri, the king’s chief scientist. She is absolutely radiant, adding beauty, rude gestures and energy to every scene she is in.

    Man of the moment Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out“) also adds to his movie-cred as a conflicted courtier.

    On the white side of the shop Andy Serkis has enormous fun as Klaue and I really wanted to see more of his character than I did. Martin Freeman feels rather lightweight and under-used, and I couldn’t quite get past his dodgy American accent.

    In terms of storyline, the film is a hotch-potch of plots from multiple other films, with “The Lion King” featuring strongly (but almost in reverse!). But that’s no crime, when the Shakespearean-style narrative is good, and interpolating the strongly emotional story into the Marvel universe works well.

    Where I felt a little uncomfortable is the element of racism – that is, racism *against* white people – reflected in the story. If there was a movie plot centred (basically) on the topic of whites killing blacks and taking control of every black-controlled country in the world (yes, I know, I’m British and we have historically been there!) then there would be justified uproar, and the film would be shunned.

    In the technical department, I had real problems with some of the effects employed. Starting with a dodgy ‘aircraft’ shadow, things nose-dive with an astonishingly poor waterfall scene with Forest Whitaker (“Rogue One“, “Arrival“) as Zuri, green-screened against some Disneyworld cascades and hundreds of cut and pasted tribesmen randomly inserted onto the cliffs. Almost matching that is a studio-set scene in a jungle clearing, where if feels they could hardly have bothered to take the plants out of their pots. Think “Daktari” quality (kids, ask your parents/grandparents).

    But overall, the film, directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed“), is a high-energy and uniquely different take on Marvel that absolutely pays off. And it is without doubt an important movie in moving the black agenda forward into properly mainstream cinema.

    (For the full graphical review please visit bob-the-movie-man.com or One Mann’s Movies on Facebook).

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