The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here! Black Panther is one hell of an ambitious superhero film that delivers on every level and director Ryan Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman show why it’s good to be king.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who has become the new ruler of the advanced kingdom of Wakanda, after the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War. After returning home, he must keep his kingdom from being destroyed by both inside and outside enemies.
As the eighteenth instalment in the long-running MCU, Black Panther comes at a crucial time in Marvel Studios history as the company celebrates its 10-year anniversary. The film couldn’t be more timely, and Coogler and his team take audiences to a brand new superhero realm with the mythical land of Wakanda and its warrior-monarch protector The Black Panther.
As a director, Coogler pours a lot of himself into the film, and while it might be a monumental blockbuster its also a very intimate and personal film. All of this is conjured up from Coogler’s very eclectic career where he has worked as both an indie filmmaker and studio director. Coogler takes Black Panther in an interesting direction and uses Wakanda’s position in the world to craft a cool-James Bondesque spy film set within the Marvel Universe. There’s a tonne of emphasis on cool gadgets, slick suits and some power hungry villains and all of it makes for a great cinemagoing experience. Coogler also injects the film with some very heavy themes, such as the relationship between fathers and sons and what it means to live up to your legacy, while also finding your own place in the world. These themes make for a far more deeper cinematic experience and richer characters that will really make you think and examine your own life when you leave the film.
Taking centre stage in Black Panther is Chadwick Boseman as Wakandan prince turned King T’Challa. First introduced in Civil War, Boseman instantly struck a cord with Marvel fans as the famed warrior-monarch and here we get the chance to see behind the curtain. Boseman has invested a lot into the character of T’Challa and his past as a stage actor allows him to go to a deeper place with the character. Boseman’s physical transformation is also impressive and he is significantly ripped and possessed of a cat-like grace that reflects his position as the Black Panther. He has the agility and balance of a dancer and the pace of a world-class athlete and when he does commit to his numerous fight scenes he really shines.
Boseman also effortlessly walks the line between king and superhero and this stems from his character’s dedication to truth and justice. He does not fall in line with his nation’s isolationist policies and as he moves to become King he must step up and show that he can lead. He also has to contend with the sins of the past and the legacy of his father while building his own legacy, and these tough choices only make him a stronger character.
Every hero needs a villain and T’Challa finds his in the brutal and intimidating terrorist turned revolutionary Erik Killmonger played by a threatening Michael B. Jordan. While he may have built his career playing the affable nice guy, Jordan does a full 360 with Killmonger. He brings a brooding, hulking presence that is framed by a deadly intelligence for strategy and which is backed-up by extensive Black Ops training. As soon as you see him on screen Jordan demands your attention and you can’t take your eyes from him. He’s a really nasty villain with a significant grudge against T’Challa and this only fuels his desire to destroy the Panther monarch and take his crown and his nation from him.
But while Killmonger considers himself to be a self-made revolutionary his wrath and fury comes from a place of extreme pain. Just like T’Challa, he is a man of many layers and after witnessing these you definitely feel a deep empathy for him. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger stands in my opinion as one of Marvel’s more intense and fully realized villains and stands next to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in his performance as a fully realized character. It’s hard to have a villain that can stand toe-to-toe with the hero and this is exactly what Jordan does and he’s really crafting the new standard for future Marvel villains in his performance.
Coogler also packs out his adaptation of Black Panther with a terrific array of talented women. Lupita Nyong’o steps into the role of T’Challa’s love interest and Wakanda espionage agent Nakia. This super-slick spy has experience living out in the world for Wakanda and she uses her vast knowledge to impart tolerance and justice to her king and lover. As an audience member you also really buy the sense of connection and chemistry that exists between Boseman and Nyong’o up on screen. Standing next to Nyong’o and acting as a watcher for Boseman’s T’Challa is Danai Gurira as the tough-as-nails and supremely proud and disciplined Wakandan general Okoye. As the leader of T’Challa’s personal bodyguard, the Dora Milaje, she commands supreme respect and is a leading part of T’Challa’s conscience. Gurira is also a capable performer and her stunts and fight scenes are very impressive to watch up on screen.
Making a scene-stealing entrance though is newcomer Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri. This quick-witted genius is one of the smartest brains in the world and is at the forefront of Wakanda’s vast technology empire. She also relishes being a teenager and is always trying to pull jokes or pranks on her older brother, even though he’s a king. Wright is a fresh new talent and she’s amazing up on screen. Finally, Angela Bassett brings a deep sense of pride and maturity as Wakandan Queen Mother Ramonda who seeks to guide her son in the right direction.
Black Panther offers audiences a huge canvas and is packed out with plenty of awesome action set pieces. Coogler frames it in a James Bond type of setting with lots of exotic locations, fast cars and technologically advanced gadgets. While the majority of the film is set within Wakanda, Coogler gives the film a very international flavour and it is something that makes the film appealing to all audience members no matter what their culture may be. He’s been very respectful to reflect Wakandan’s African origin and this allows him to create a very bright and colourful film that really brings your senses alive.
I also have to give a big thumbs up to the amazing combat sequences within the film. Whether it be a high-speed car chase to a duel to the death, Coogler throws everything at this fast-moving film. Boseman’s cat-like grace is once again on display and his combat system incorporates a lot of African styles of martial arts and traditional combat including the assegai and the iklwa. This is counter parted with Killmonger’s fight style which is far less graceful and more designed around high-impact close quarter battle techniques and highly aggressive strikes for maximum damage. The showdown between T’Challa and Killmonger, in my opinion, is the film’s penultimate fight sequence and both actors go into it with everything they’ve got. It’s a particularly intense battle and you’ll definitely hold your breath for what comes next.
Black Panther is a bold new addition to the MCU and does a wonderful job of setting up the future for further storylines and characters. It’s an important chapter in this long-running franchise and fans will be very impressed with the adaptation and the possibilities of future appearances by Black Panther.
Black Panther is simply a terrific achievement in superhero-action cinema that hits you on so many levels. It’s incredibly enjoyable to watch and has a lot of heart at its centre. Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman have made a film that is truly for everyone and long-time Marvel fans will be very pleased with this one.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures.