13th Feb2018

‘Black Panther’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis | Written by Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole | Directed by Ryan Coogler

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Marvel’s directorial choices continue to pay huge dividends with Black Panther, the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following Taika Waititi’s triumphant work on Thor: Ragnarok, Creed director Ryan Coogler proves the perfect choice for Black Panther, delivering an exciting superhero adventure and striking a winning blow for representation into the bargain.

An efficient bit of pre-credits scene-setting establishes that vast resources of an alien metal called vibranium have allowed the African kingdom of Wakanda to develop a technologically advanced society, one that has been hidden away from the outside world. The film then begins with Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becoming the King of Wakanda, following the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War. Handily, the role of King also comes with a tech-enhanced Black Panther suit and rare herb-derived panther powers, allowing T’Challa to serve as Wakanda’s super-powered protector in times of crisis.

This being a comic book movie, it isn’t long before T’Challa is inundated with crises. No sooner has he fought off a challenge to the throne (in classic Star Trek trial-by-combat fashion) from rival tribesman M’Baku (Winston Duke), than he finds himself under attack from two different foes: sonic arm-enhanced arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, visibly relishing a role that doesn’t require a mo-cap suit), who’s learned the secret of vibranium, and vengeful Wakandan exile Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Creed’s Michael B. Jordan), who has his own designs on the throne.

Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a trio of formidable allies: T’Challa’s tech-genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), intelligence agent Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and General Okoye (The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), the head of Wakanda’s ass-kicking, all-female security forces, the Dora Milaje.

Boseman’s performance as Black Panther was one of the highlights of Captain America: Civil War and he’s on magnificent form in his solo outing, with a charismatic, dignified and empathetic turn that’s compelling to watch. Similarly, Jordan’s driven performance makes Killmonger into one of Marvel’s best villains to date, not least because the intelligent, provocative script (co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole) allows for a level of political complexity and righteous anger in his ultimate ambition, giving him more than a hint of a Malcolm X vibe.

The film has been justly commended for its predominantly black cast, but it’s just as progressive in its prominent female roles – Black Panther may be the ostensible star of the film, but Nakia, Okoye and Shuri are its break-out characters. Nyong’o brings warmth and fiery compassion to Nakia (she’s first introduced rescuing a truckload of young women from a Boko Haram-style captors), while Gurira combines killer fight moves (including a wig-tossing moment that is destined for gif-based glory) and no-nonsense attitude to winning effect.

However, the film is almost completely stolen by Britain’s own Letitia Wright, who gets to be both T’Challa’s cheeky little sister and a super-intelligent tech genius (basically Q to Boseman’s Bond), nabbing all the best lines in the process.

Coogler’s handling of the action scenes is assured, notably during a bravura single-take sequence set in a Busan casino and a thrilling chase sequence that has a delightfully unexpected comic pay-off. Indeed, Coogler gets the tone exactly right throughout, seamlessly blending humour, thrills and emotion in the mighty Marvel fashion.

That said, Black Panther does have a couple of issues where the CGI effects are concerned. For example, some of the fight movements are a little too reminiscent of the unconvincing CGI in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, while the crowd scenes during the trial-by-combat sequence look so bad that they’re actually distracting.

That said, the world-building in general is extremely impressive, thanks to stunning work from production designer Hannah Beachler (the panther and gorilla statues in the different territories are an especially nice touch) and fabulous costume designs from Ruth E Carter, with the Dora Milaje uniform in particular certain to be a big hit on the cosplay circuit.

In short, Marvel have done it again. Black Panther is a hugely entertaining superhero adventure that does full justice to the comics character and will have fans clamouring for more. Hurry up and greenlight that sequel, Marvel.

**** 4/5

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