REVIEW: Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)

Black Panther, the latest film from the Marvel canon, is a fantastic stand-alone superhero film which belongs in the upper echelons of the genre. Already seen as the epicentre of a new era for the film industry, one where predominantly non-white casts can still be box-office gold in the West, Black Panther delivers on the hype with a well told tale of fathers, sons, war, love, diaspora and humanity.

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Ryan Coogler brings us a unique vision of Wakanda, the fictional, technologically advanced African kingdom of which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the new warrior-king – or Black Panther. Wakanda is a city full of vibrant colour, music and tradition – a way of life which has been hidden to the outside world for hundreds of years thanks to the technological capabilities of its citizens. This development has been accelerated by the city’s huge resources of vibranium, the most powerful substance in the world. It is the theft of some vibranium by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) with the help of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), which begins the film’s events and leads to a succession crisis in Wakanda.

The African kingdom is like nothing we have seen in the cinema before. Often used as settings for crime ridden cities or other bleak contexts, it’s thrilling to see an African way of life represented in Western cinema which is joyous and harmonious. Chadwick Boseman cuts a considered figure as T’Challa, the young protector of this land and bearer of the burdens of kingship – his conversations with his late father in dream-like visions are beautifully imagined and acted. The city is full of great characters, with Lupita Nyong’o as deep-cover Wakandan spy Nakia who is first introduced saving a group of girls from the clutches of a Boko Haram-esque gang. Ferocious female warriors are a feature of Waknadan life including Danai Gurira as Okeye, who heads the Black Panther’s special bodyguard unit. Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker is magisterial as elder statesman Zuri and Letitia White is great fun as T’Challa’s sister Shuri. The two villains are both magnificient; Andy Serkis gives an odious performance which combines the stereotypical colonialist with Heath Ledger’s Joker while Michael B. Jordan is deeply complex in his role as furious challenger to the throne.

I am not the most qualified judge of Black Panther’s place in the current Marvel cinematic phenomenon, but from what I have seen I would place this film at the top of the pantheon. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the much praised Captain America: Civil War or Thor: Ragnarok, but I would be surprised if either could surpass Black Panther in both experience and significance. Although it is in danger of being overstated, it is true that Black Panther has captured worldwide attention for its African-centric narrative. The film is already celebrated for its predominantly black cast and soundtrack masterminded by one of the great musicians working, Kendrick Lamar. The legacy of the film is still potential but it is hard to think of another film which has inspired drives to fund underprivileged, inner-city children to be taken to the cinema.

The release of Black Panther has created a cultural moment and a hope that film executives will no longer shy away from the perceived risks of telling non-white stories in big-budget films. In tandem with Pixar’s Coco, Black Panther could be looked back on as the beginning of a new Hollywood era. If not, it will have to settle for being one of the best and most thrilling comic-book films ever made.

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