Marvel Studios’ Black Panther follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
Introducing Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War was a gutsy decision by the Marvel Studios team. Establishing a second, maybe even a third tier superhero in a film that boasts a team of already iconic characters was bold. With an ensemble that large there was potential that some characters could get sidelined as the more marketable heroes have fun playing in the sand. That wasn’t the case with Black Panther though as Chadwick Boseman received overwhelming praise for his portrayal of T’Challa, the prince of Wakanda who takes over the reigns as King after the sudden death of his father. Despite being a fresh face in the MCU, Black Panther fit right in and earned a fan base thanks to his hi-tech gadgets and sleek, jet black uniform. His appearance in Civil War helped build the hype as his own standalone film was announced.
After the success of both Fruitvale Station and Creed, it seemed like a no-brainer for Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther. His prior films were gritty, hardened character pieces and here he brings a similar flare to the film while still provoking an appropriate amount of fun and entertainment. More and more we’re seeing directors with established independent backgrounds being given the opportunity to leave their mark on the MCU franchise. We’ve seen it with both James Gunn and Taika Waititi and now we’re seeing it again with Coogler. These directors are being given the freedom to flex their own creative muscles while still having the necessary dose of the studio formula.
Coogler does a superb job introducing the viewer to the world of Wakanda, a highly advanced African nation which poses as a third world country to the rest of the world. Wakanda mixes lush nature with glossy advanced technology thanks to its large supply of vibranium. There’s a certain liveliness to the location that hasn’t been seen in any MCU films prior. Coogler, with the help of production designer Hannah Beachler, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, composer Ludwig Goransson, and cinematographer Rachel Morrison help showcase African roots which are rarely seen in North American films. Black Panther is visually appealing and separates itself from other MCU projects thanks to Morrison’s well framed shots. The film also features a lively score from Goransson and a soundtrack full of vibrant tracks produced by Kendrick Lamar. All in all, Black Panther fires on all cylinders thanks to Coogler and his heads of department.
Whether he’s playing Jackie Robinson or James Brown, Chadwick Boseman has always oozed charisma. Here he plays T’Challa, the new king of Wakanda who is calm, cool, and collected on the outside but is tormented on the inside by the idea of not living up to his late father’s expectations. Boseman is great as always, though the character of T’Challa plays second fiddle as the rest of the cast steal the show. The film features an array of strong female characters which include Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, the former lover of T’Challa and undercover spy, and Danai Gurira as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje who serve as T’Challa’s bodyguards. Letitia Wright plays Shuri, T’Challa’s 16 year old sister who designs the new technology for Wakanda while Angela Bassett plays Ramonda, the Queen of Wakanda. Other notable actors in supporting roles include Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, and Forest Whitaker.
Black Panther is fortunate enough to boast not one, but two menacing and very different villains. Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, a South African black market arms dealer, smuggler, and gangster. Its nice to see Serkis doing a role that doesn’t include motion capture as he chews up scenery as the cartoonish Klaue. He works alongside Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler’s muse in films Fruitvale Station and Creed. Jordan steals the show as Erik Killmonger, a villain with motives that are fleshed out and understandable. What makes Killmonger fascinating is that he believes what he’s doing is right and necessary. The MCU has been criticized in the past for its underdeveloped antagonists but that isn’t the case here as Jordan delivers a compelling performance as the nemesis of T’Challa.
At 134 minutes, Black Panther is a little lengthy and suffers from slight pacing issues, though it’s able to rebound nicely with high octane set pieces. There’s a lot to adore in this film, from the costumes to the music to the performances. Making Black Panther was a bold decision by Feige and co at Marvel Studios but it has certainly paid off as Coogler directs one of the more memorable installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Panther hits theatres February 16, 2018!