Black Panther is not only one of the most hotly anticipated comic-book movies of the year, it is one of the most hotly anticipated movies period. It is the first solo movie for a mainstream black superhero, featuring a cast of predominantly black actors. Black Panther has a lot of hype weighing on its shoulders. You would never have guessed it though for director Ryan Coogler has seemingly effortlessly, crafted one of the most unique and downright enjoyable superhero movies in recent memory.
We catch up with a newly crowned King T’Challa/ Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who sets out to stop Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue, a villain who has evaded arrest by the Wakandans for thirty years. Both of these characters we have peeked before in Captain America: Civil War (T’Challa) and Age of Ultron (Klaue), but you needn’t have seen those movies to enjoy Black Panther. Coogler does a tremendous job, in the same way Wonder Woman did with Themyscira, of establishing the world and history of Wakanda, and all its major players, in the opening act.
Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the world, but it doesn’t share its inventions, instead preferring to stay hidden, protecting itself from the issues of the outer world. This is the Wakanda that new king T’Challa inherits and subsequently struggles with. I will not give away any of the plot of this film, but know that this story does not go the way you expect. Coogler excels in prying into the grey areas of his heroes and villains, rather than the merely black and white.
Black Panther’s success is in no small part due to the casting. Boseman’s strong-willed yet unprepared T’Challa is a great protagonist, but it is the characters that surround him that are perhaps even better. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira are superb, fierce and powerful as T’Challa’s ex, Nakia, and his head bodyguard, Okoye, respectively. Letitia Wright is a blast as T’Challa’s younger, tech-savvy sister, Shuri, stealing every scene she is in. There’s also solid work from the likes of Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya and Angela Bassett to name but a few.
There are strong performances all round, and thankfully these performances were respected in the script and in the edit. This is a well-balanced film, giving each character time to breathe and develop. The dialogue is a little clunky at times and the jokes don’t always land. However, none are tear-inducing though, and there are a couple of laugh-out-loud gems.
When talking about characters though it is only right to mention the men on the opposite side to our hero, Andy Serkis’ Klaue and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. Serkis is having a blast here, chewing up the scenery in every scene, whilst Jordan’s Killmonger is a cocky ex-soldier who can back it up. I won’t give the game away, but Black Panther has one of the greatest villains in the MCU to date. Although he becomes a little cliché by the end, his original motivations are what a lot of one-note villains lack: believability and a whole lot of relatability. It is very easy to see his point of view and believe in his cause. Coogler deserves a lot of credit for not only nailing his hero’s journey, but also his villain’s.
Marvel no doubt has its formula, especially when it comes to origin stories. Black Panther is not much different in this regard. Although it stretches this formula at times it never quite breaks free from it. One aspect of the recent Marvel movies that is often overlooked though is their ability to spring a surprise. Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and to a lesser extent Guardians of the Galaxy 2, have succeeded in swerves that we don’t see coming. Black Panther manages to execute perhaps the best of all these twists and turns, and it is a moment that immediately adds extra complexity and enjoyment to the story. It is simply great storytelling.
The world of Black Panther is also visually stunning. The production and costume design are incredible and the special effects are flawless, meaning that we witness a beautifully realized Wakanda, in all its futuristic African glory.
Ryan Coogler wisely does not opt for the CGI heavy finale that sees the future of the world hang in the balance. There are no huge blue streams of energy here. It is still an impactful, hugely impressive sequence with many moving parts. It is however perhaps the least enjoyable of the action beats in the movie. Early on we see some truly spectacular moments, with T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye all getting their own moment to shine. Whilst the camerawork is a little Bourne-esque at moments, it takes little away from the exemplary choreography. One sequence in a casino is one of the best scenes I’ve seen this year so far.
Coogler’s Black Panther is a triumph in superhero movies done well. Whilst it is not quite as earth-shattering as say last year’s Logan, it demonstrates that even in this day and age an origin story can be surprising and immensely enjoyable.