I’d been hoping for this movie since Marvel first announced that Black Panther would feature in Captain America: Civil War. Then I saw they’d cast Chadwick Boseman, and my excitement grew. Then I saw Civil War, and I knew that this character did not just need its own film – it demanded it. I’m going to try and stay away from all the politics surrounding this movie, but as a person of colour (Indian not African), seeing a nearly all-black cast is beautiful, historic and long-overdue. That’s all I’ll say about that. But ignoring skin colour, just look at the names in this cast: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, all brought together by the excellent Ryan Coogler. It seems incredible that all those names can actually be brought together for a non-Avengers MCU film. It’s safe to say that my expectations were sky high, but did it live up to the hype?
In a word: yes. In ‘Black Panther’, Coogler takes the traditional MCU formula and, rather than obliterate it, puts his own stamp on it, making the film every bit as unique as ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Spider-Man Homecoming’ were. The cinematography is, by far, the most spectacularly beautiful we’ve ever seen in the MCU so far. The shots of Wakanda are breathtaking, and the mix between traditional African heritage and modern technology that we see in the country is fascinating. Coogler’s style is imprinted on every camera movement throughout the film. I was a huge fan of Creed, especially the way the actual boxing was done, but Coogler takes combat scenes to a level we’ve perhaps never seen from a Marvel film. The only one that I think can come close is ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ but for vastly different reasons. The combat in ‘Winter Soldier’ is gritty and perfectly choreographed, but the combat in ‘Black Panther’ is just a cinematic joy to watch. I read that Coogler took inspiration from ‘Kingsman’, and this is evident, as he utilises long-take action sequences and video-game-esque combat moves to make the fighting as intriguing as we’ve ever seen from Marvel. By minimising cuts during these scenes, Coogler doesn’t allow us to miss a second of the action, and praise should be put on the cast for being able to execute these moves.
Fundamentally, this is a film about identity. T’Challa is so intimidated by the throne, and thinks that looking to the past is the best way to be a king. The Black Panther is like an identity passed down from King to King, and T’Challa thinks that this means all Kings should act the same. His character development leads him to realise that his identity should be different, not only from his father’s, but from all the past King’s. Similarly, Killmonger is just searching for a real identity. I mean, we barely even know him by his real name. To me, the character seems broken, looking for something that can tell him what he really is, and he thinks that thing is the Wakandan throne. He chooses to embrace his identity as an outcast, and so never truly appreciates what it takes to be a king, and it takes a beating from him for T’Challa to realise what a king should really be.
The acting, as you would expect from a cast so star-studded, is also generally excellent. Boseman is the perfect Black Panther, playing T’Challa as intimidating and defiant, but also insecure and vulnerable. The King is likeable and a worthy addition to the lineup of heroes in the MCU. His romance with Nyongo’o’s Nakia is also my favourite Marvel romance so far. It is believable, charming and not in any way forced. Nyongo’o is, of course, a triumph. Along with Gurira, the actresses give us two fierce female protagonists, and I hope they feature heavily in the upcoming ‘Infinity War’. Letitia Wright is also unexpectedly brilliant. I found it strange seeing her in such a huge blockbuster, as I knew her from the gritty London drama ‘Top Boy’, but in this film she is hilarious, and her banter with T’Challa is not overdone.
Although the protagonists really are all a joy to watch, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the antagonists steal the spotlight in this film. It was a joy to see Andy Serkis out of a motion-capture suit, and he is strangely both a brutal villain and the main comic relief. If you ever thought “I wish I could see Andy Serkis tied up, belting out Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love'”, your wait is over and it’s awesome. Serkis is hilarious and definitely got the most laughs in the film. Now, on to Michael B. Jordan. Man, I love Michael B. Jordan. I first saw him in Jerry Lamothe’s ‘Blackout’, and he’s gone from strength to strength, appearing in ‘Fruitvale Station’, ‘Friday Night Lights’, and most popularly, ‘Creed’. He was great in ‘Creed’, and amazing in ‘Fruitvale’, so if you’ve seen those films you should know how amazing an actor this guy is; trust me, there’s an Academy Award for Best Actor in his future somewhere. But if I’m honest, I was expecting his part in this film to be underwhelming; in the trailers his part looked generic, and we all know what Marvel is like with villains (remember Whiplash, Malekith and Killian? Yeah, neither does anyone), but Jordan KILLS it in this film. He steals every scene. His motives are clear and believable, and actually almost heartbreaking. Despite his brutality and violence, we all feel a pang of sympathy for the character, and a lot of what he says actually makes sense. I even found myself agreeing with him and siding with him over T’Challa for a little bit. Yes, his whole black-power stuff is definitely overdone and way too on the nose for me, but that’s down to the script; Jordan is amazing and I hope this film combined with ‘Creed’ can catapult him to even more stardom – he deserves it. My one slight disappointment with the acting in this was Daniel Kaluuya. Now, I love Daniel Kaluuya, he’s up there with Jordan as one of my favourite actors. I saw him in British TV drama ‘Skins’, awful 2010 drama ‘Chatroom’ and have loved him in ‘Jonny English Reborn’, ‘Sicario’, ‘Kick-Ass 2’ and of course that small film you might have heard of called ‘Get Out’… Kaluuya is an amazingly talented actor, and I really hope he wins the Academy Award this year, because ‘Get Out’ was a masterpiece. And his character in this film is definitely interesting, and Kaluuya does his best with the script, but I can’t help but think that his lines are just boring. There’s not a huge amount he can do with them, and I would’ve loved to see lines more deserving of an actor like Kaluuya, but I hope we see him again in the MCU.
A quick word on the soundtrack. If you haven’t heard of Ludwig Goransson and you call yourself a hip-hop fan/music fan, do yourself a favour and YouTube him now. He really is a genius. He’s a longtime collaborator with one of my favourite artists, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover), and the Genius YouTube video of how he made the track ‘Redbone’ is quite something. Goransson composed most of the score for this film, as he has done for other Coogler films, and the music is super. This film also comes with an ‘album’ curated by the greatest rapper alive (yep, I said it), Kendrick Lamar, and some of the album songs make it into the movie. I’m as big a Kendrick fan as anyone, and some of the tracks from this album like ‘All The Stars’ are great songs, but to be honest, when I’m watching a visually stunning car chase scene through South Korea, I found listening to Kendrick rap pretty distracting. I do appreciate the cultural value of using Kendrick though, he’s the voice of a generation and it’s great his name is attached to a film as historic as ‘Black Panther’. I’m never a fan of a well-known artist being used to make songs for a movie; as I said to the person I saw the film with today, you don’t get the best songs out of the artist so it’s not like getting an extra album from them, and you certainly don’t get the best tracks for the film. Luckily, most of the music is Goransson’s, and it’s class.
Overall, this film is great (unless you’re a racist, in which case this isn’t for you). Yes, the race thing is very in your face, but who cares? This film is a historical landmark; an all-black cast in a Marvel blockbuster that will be seen around the world. That should be a proud day for everyone involved, and it’s beautiful to watch on screen, you really feel like you’re watching something important. With ‘Black Panther’, Marvel makes a statement; we don’t need lots of callbacks to other MCU films to make it great, superhero films can stand alone. Coogler puts together a cohesive and stunning story, and I hope we get a sequel. Now I’m just waiting for an Asian superhero, when are we getting that, Marvel??
Best scene: The car chase
Best character: Ulysses Klaue
Best actor/actress: Michael B. Jordan
Best quote: “You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.” – King T’Chaka