Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue), John Kani (T’Chaka) and Sterling K. Brown.
Synopsis: After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as King — and as Black Panther — gets tested when he’s drawn into a 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.
Black Panther changes everything for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You might not believe it until you see it, but when you do, you’ll know that things will never be the same. Much like The Dark Knight and last year’s massively successful Logan, Marvel’s Black Panther signals a tonal and creative shift in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with director Ryan Coogler sidelining the typical Marvel comedy and instead deciding to turn his focus to the characters, the wondrous setting and most importantly the story, which isn’t something we see very often in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Looking at the story and the narrative structure, Black Panther is arguably the most impressive Marvel movie yet. As a standalone adventure that sets itself very far apart from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film isn’t limited by the need to set up storylines for future movies or creep in cameo appearances for other Marvel heroes. This gives Ryan Coogler the opportunity to tell a more personal story, a chance that he’s managed to turn into one of the film’s biggest strengths. Beneath the massive CGI battles, Black Panther is an incredibly deep and emotional story about a young man coming to terms with the loss of his father, and balancing his new responsibilities as King with his duties as the Black Panther. This puts T’Challa in a position that we haven’t seen any other Marvel character in before, one where he must choose between doing the right thing for the world, or the right thing for his people.
Chadwick Boseman dominates every scene as T’Challa, delivering a performance that delves into the very idea of heroism and leadership. Just like Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman before him, Boseman cements himself as the only actor who can embody T’Challa and the Black Panther. Lupita Nyong’o brings strength and depth to Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and a bonified badass. Danai Gurira gives us several comedic moments and steals more than a few scenes as Okoye, although Letitia Wright is the obvious standout as T’Challa’s hilariously smart kid sister Shuri.
Possibly the most surprising element of Black Panther is Michael B. Jordan’s performance as the villainous Killmonger. It’s fair to say that while Marvel has delivered great heroes, they’ve struggled to create and develop relatable and fully realised villains. That all changes with Black Panther, because Michael B. Jordan provides an outstanding performance as Killmonger and introduces us to a villain that not only has understandable and justifiable motives but might actually have the right idea about how Wakanda should operate in the larger universe. Of course, he is the villain, and his methods are generally pretty sinister.
Global audiences have come to expect great action sequences from modern superhero blockbusters and with Black Panther, both Ryan Coogler and Marvel have succeeded in ways that they never have before. When the action happens, it doesn’t just happen because of lazy writing or because the filmmakers believe that an audience can’t follow a complex narrative, it occurs because the story demands conflict. Every punch has a purpose and throughout the film, you understand why the characters are fighting and what they are fighting for, which is extremely rare in modern Hollywood cinema.
While superhero movies have a long-standing relationship with great musical compositions, the Marvel Cinematic Universe still hasn’t delivered an excellent score or character theme…until now. Ludwig Göransson, who also worked with Ryan Coogler on Creed, has created one of the most memorable, epic and enjoyable movie scores in recent memory. Inspired by African culture and music, Göransson’s score enhances the visual style and action to create an even more enjoyable film overall. Honestly, the fact that the score hasn’t been released yet is killing me.
On a visual level, Marvel’s Black Panther is unlike any comic-book or superhero movie that came before it, from any studio. Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter gives the film a unique personality, and among a sea of dull metal, leather and latex costumes, Black Panther is a colourful rainbow of purples, greens, yellows and blues. Turning focus to the cinematography, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison is able to bring Wakanda to life, creating some of the most beautiful shots we’ve ever seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At various points, it’s hard to believe that the wondrous mountains and African settings are even inspired by a real location on our planet.
Unfortunately, the visuals are also where Black Panther runs into a few issues. As good as the costume design and cinematography is, the special effects fail to match the practical elements of the film. Much like last year’s Wonder Woman, the final act primarily focuses on two computer-generated characters, beating the crap out of each other. While the film overall has an outstanding visual style, with Wakanda standing as one of the best examples of CGI in recent memory, certain scenes and specific moments look overly cartoon-ish, and in various sequences, it’s obvious that the characters are standing in front of a green screen.
Despite a few issues with visual effects, Marvel’s Black Panther demonstrates what a good story, a great cast and an even better director can do with an iconic comic-book character. Black Panther not only stands as one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest achievements but thanks to Ryan Coogler’s ability to tell a great story and introduce fully-realised characters, the film helps to raise the comic-book genre to exciting new heights.