Call me a crank, if you will, but I am overall, extremely exhausted by the superhero genre. And, yes, all the never-ending, extended universes that come with it. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the occasional example, such as Thor: Ragnarok or Wonder Woman. Too often though, these overblown, over-hyped CGI fests raise stakes to an insurmountable level – That another “OH MY GOD” the end of the world is near… becomes essentially meaningless.
However, even my curmudgeon-self can admit that not only is Black Panther a fantastic ideal of the Marvel brand, particularly in terms of acting and script, but also a film where the central conflict is superbly pragmatic, with social relevance that resonates beyond the purview’s of the narrative.
The film picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War (actually one of my favorite superhero movies), which featured the assassination of King T’Chaka (John Kani) of Wakanda. Because of his ill-timed death, his son (Chadwick Boseman) must lead this very nation that’s purposely remained clandestine from the rest of the world. This is mainly due to the country’s reserve of the metal Vibranium, stronger than any other metal, the element has other properties that are used to facilitate innovative technology, as well as give powers to those who take the role of the Black Panther, King of Wakanda.
As with most origin tales, the film has to take its time dispensing all of the background information, and, as compelling as it may be, it prevents the movie from getting to the speed I had hoped for. BUT, the main conflict is in fact, a masterful achievement, as T’Challa’s claim to the throne is challenged by his unknown cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Part of what makes Black Panther so fascinating is the result of its complicated villain. Killmonger is never wrong to long for a better world for his brothers and sisters, but his methods are flawed… and his ambiguous personality makes him an imperfect vehicle for the message, even with a point hard to argue. While the action sequences rely far too heavily on CGI effects, they are still relatively exciting once T’Challa’s pursuit of his autocrat begins.
The most intriguing aspect of the film, in my eyes, is the adjacency of these two young men. T’Challa has been raised to seek a peaceful resolution to most problems, while Killmonger’s evident street-upbringing prompts him to use violence as a first response to every dilemma.
Is this, perhaps, a polemic aimed at American foreign policy? It’s quite possible, as it’s examined even further when Wakanda’s stance of isolationism is put under the microscope. If there is indeed a subtext to this film, it’s that of globalization, and the effects it has on relations – Both foreign and domestic.
The rest of the cast easily hold their own against the two leads, including Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as Nakia, a warrior princess who is T’Challa’s main love interest; Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) as Okoye/the head of Wakandan security; Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as W’Kabi, a disgruntled prince; and Martin Freeman (Bilbo in the recent Hobbit films) as a CIA officer who unexpectedly finds himself fighting alongside T’Challa and his family. Everyone has talent on full display, and their easy rapport… whether as friends or enemies – truly is a delight to watch.
Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) does an astounding job creating a cinematic world that makes sense within the rules established in its first scenes. He and cinematographer, Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), give us images of great enticement, with a consistent composition throughout. The film is nearly 2 1/2 hours long, although, it rarely feels as such.
Black Panther delivers an exquisite new take on the superhero origin story, crisp in its perspective and dynamic in its plotting. Even with my most recent superhero fatigue, I still very much recommend.
By Brandon Colón