T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home after the escapades of Civil War to take his rightful place on the throne. Dangers from outside Wakanda – the most technologically advanced and secretive country in the world – threat to strip away the nation’s secrecy and loot the technology they thrive upon.
Fruitvale Station was a profound debut for Ryan Coogler. The life and death of Oscar Grant by police hands was affecting for its poignancy and place within the cultural zeitgeist. Creed was a knockout of a film, paying homage and thusly resetting the counter on the Rocky legacy. Bringing it back to humble roots and a relatable reality. Black Panther is the pinnacle of Ryan Coogler’s arrival as one of the eminent directors combining black identity with entertainment and political commentary. Yes, even in a grand Marvel film, and the final one before the exuberant spectacle that should be Infinity War.
Fear not then keen comic book fans, Black Panther is a thrilling big blockbuster that defies superhero formula and the generic tropes we’re all yawning at. Ryan Coogler’s film is celebratory cinema, with the beauty, sleekness and poise of the titular big cat. And of course, the black colour (and culture) of its identity.
Wakanda is a wonder. A thriving populous at one with the technology supplied from vibranium (what Captain America’s physics-defying shield is made of) mined from a fallen meteorite. This is the new Oz. I’d imagine children around the world asking their parents to take them on trips to Wakanda from here on out. Within such a mainstream film that will have millions of people around the world viewing it, the affluence and prosperity of the Wakandan people (without sacrificing their stunning, fictitious yet grounded cultural identity) is as important an image as the cast themselves.
A who’s who of multinational talent, though predominantly black, this tips the scales ever so slightly for black people around the world seeing themselves represented in the genre and with such fervour and passion.
Chadwick Boseman is back after his impressive debut as the Black Panther in Civil War. His quiet resolve and wistful charisma speak volumes for the titanic task of being King and protector of Wakanda. Following Boseman is a wealth of great actors, like Lupita NYong’o , Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Letitia Wright, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis and Angela Bassett, all of whom add flesh to the world they and T’Challa inhabit.
The Dora Milaje are the warrior women loyal to the Throne and fierce protectors of its occupant. These heroines are not the only parallels that could be drawn with last year’s Wonder Woman, thematically and culturally. The bald-headed battlers are awe-inducing, led by the steadfast Danai Gurira. Daniel Kaluuya is head of one of the five tribes of Wakanda, each having their own wonderful style featuring colour and a sense of identity that is in no way throw away (I’m looking at you Guardians Vol 2 and your dull galaxy building). T’Challa’s little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the delightful science whizz, offering humbling banter and exuberant tech. Her ‘Q’ archetype is one of many nods to the spy genre.
Every hero has its villain and Michael B Jordan brings it as Killmonger. His dominant performances in Coogler’s aforementioned films were part of the reason they were so emotionally resonant. His physical presence is reminiscent of Tom Hardy’s Bane. A mass of muscle and mind that strike true at T’Challa and Wakanda with an empathetic agenda, one that will leave some viewers torn as to who’s new world should be the order.
Black Panther probably would have been the favourite new hero of many in Civil War if it weren’t for Spider-Man showing up and robbing Cap’s shield and the viewers hearts. Panther oozed style with his leaps, bounds, slides and graceful fighting style. That is here in spades. Every action scene is nothing less than exhilarating. These are carefully constructed set pieces that don’t get lost in a mess of CGI trickery (although it’s obviously present with the back flips from cars, ethereal locales, etc) but rather is complimented by subtle adjustments to add a grander scale to the tight action.
One of the best car chases in recent memory follows a great bust up in a casino. A ritualistic fight of place and pride within Wakanda is beautifully staged in the cliff side pool of a waterfall. There are many scenes where I welled up with Awesome Tears – where one’s eyes fill with tears of giddy enjoyment – and one which brought about the more traditional tears of sadness. Not to the effect that Fruitvale Station had on me, thankfully, for the many cinema-goers also seeing this on opening day would have heard me cry-breathing. The climax ups the ante but there is no mindless destruction of property here, rather it’s a hefty clash of characters. All characters within this film too. Black Panther doesn’t bother itself trying to pay fan service to other heroes, its too busy creating its own.
The art direction of Black Panther is gorgeous. Every piece of clothing, from warrior garb, hero costumes and day wear has been laboured over and thought about. I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie kicks off a new fashion renaissance full of colour and spirit. The design of Wakanda itself will have tongues wagging. The tribal homesteads each have a naturalistic grandeur and the techno-spiritual city is something new entirely. It contrasts the couple of scenes that take place in Oakland, LA, boasting a makeshift basketball hoop and grey high-rises.
The soundtrack was overseen by award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. The aforementioned car chase scene is propelled not only by the frenetic action but by a mighty track from Lamar. Though there is still a score mixing piano keys, sleek strings and African drums together to accompany scenes that would jar with a hefty rap track over the top.
Black Panther has come at a time when the world needs hope in the form of a black figurehead. Wonder Woman did much the same last year for DC and now we have the Me Too Movement. Coogler’s body of work screams how much black lives matter. And with Boseman and co, they are ambassadors heralding a changing of the tide for what a cast looks like for a big blockbuster, how a story plays out in these cinematic universes and why we are stronger standing shoulder to shoulder as opposed to face to face.
It’s heartening to think that like a million little girls last year had a new hero to adopt into their ideologies and for their fancy dress parties, now, so do young black children. And how nice it is to know that there’s going to be a ton of white kids with a new superhero in spite of a catalogue of white players to choose from. Boundaries are falling and ceilings are getting shattered. Best suit up.