The long-awaited Black Panther elegantly lands on its feet this February in cinemas across the globe. The new blockbuster movie marks the 18th Marvel Studios film courtesy of producer extraordinaire Kevin Feige. Unlike earlier instalments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise however, Black Panther offers something very unique. From the moment the Marvel logo leaves the screen audiences are in for one wild adventure, not to mention a very different take on a superhero movie thanks to director Ryan Coogler.
Black Panther was the first ever African comic book superhero who had the privilege of headlining his own comic. Courtesy of creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther told the tale of the highly advanced underground African nation Wakanda. What thickened the plot was the fact that its king also lurked in the shadows dressed in an impervious panther costume. Anointed with special abilities achieved through an ancient Wakandan ritual, Black Panther's duty was to avenge wrongs and protect his nation's interests.
The legendary superhero was such a powerful influence that the black power movement of the 1960's chose to use him as one of their symbols. As time passed, the Black Panther was relegated to a lesser role within Marvel Comics, mostly due to the controversial nature of the material at the time. The character even received a name change for a very short period in attempts to make the hero more palatable to the masses. Prompt backlash from comic book readers caused his original alias to return. His inclusion in the Avengers was also a landmark moment at the time.
The film version of the story, like the many Marvel Studios movies before it, is extremely faithful to the source material. Taking inspiration from narratives such as The Lion King, James Bond and Batman, Marvel Studios' Black Panther tells the tale of regal family legacy and espionage. This is all while creating an intriguing plot focused on the difficulties of diplomacy, leadership and royalty. Director Ryan Coogler chooses Black Panther to explore some tremendously interesting themes. Many of which are politically driven, dealing with issues such as colonisation, slavery and racial oppression.
Above all, the film explores the moral dilemma of whether it's an advanced nation's responsibility to intercede in international matters, especially when the nations involved are perceived to be less fortunate. Coogler manages to address these issues in an eloquent way that doesn't feel too heavy. This is while simultaneously being able to maintain the excitement and jovial nature of the story. In short, it's an admirable accomplishment.
Black Panther begins a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, with Prince T'Challa returning to Wakanda for his coronation following the death of his father King T'Chaka. Complications arise however, when T'Challa's claim to throne is challenged. The legitimacy of his reign is provoked further by a series of diplomatic and tribal disputes due to the resurfacing of arguably Wakanda's greatest nemesis, the vibranium poacher Ulysses Klaue. Vibranium, the strongest metal on earth, is also the key to Wakanda's technological advancement.
When it is discovered that Klaue has acquired some more of the rare substance, with the intention of selling it to the highest bidder, it is up to the Black Panther to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Unawares to the Wakandan's however, Ulysses Klaue has assistance in the form of the mysterious figure known as Erik Killmonger. To make matters even worse, the rogue mercenary also knows a secret that just so happens to pose an even greater threat to T'Challa's claim to the throne.
Carrying on from his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman once again provides a formidable performance as T'Challa the Black Panther. His tremendously charismatic portrayal is fantastic to watch, displaying a level of physicality that at times can be awe-inspiring. His regal execution also allows many side characters in the film to shine. This includes the likes of his sassy sister Shuri, his General of the royal guard Okoye, and of course the elegant Nakia. Boseman's Wakandan accent is also utterly superb. In essence, he provides a truly authentic interpretation of the comic superhero.
Danai Gurira in the role Okoye is undeniably the most formidable female in the film, and that's saying a lot considering there are so many of them. In ways, she is a mentor to T'Challa as he finds his way on his quest to become a noble king. As the General of the Wakandan warrior women, she exudes confidence and grace, which works brilliantly combined with her sassy demeanour. As a bonus, she undeniably has many of the scene-stealing moments in the film courtesy of her brilliantly poetic fighting style.
Shuri played fabulously by Letitia Wright is essentially the Wakandan tech wizard, much in the mould of Tony Stark from the Avengers and Q from James Bond. As T'Challa's sassy sister, she provides a unique chemistry with Boseman that feels truly authentic. It is fantastic to watch and at times makes the movie feel more grounded. Her enthusiasm is infectious, as she creates many humourous moments for the audience to devour. She is destined to be a memorable Marvel favourite.
Lupita Nyong'o in the role of Nakia brings with her a level of grace and elegance that the film very much requires. In essence, she is T'Challa's moral compass and object of affection. Her roguish nature and independent streak creates a very interesting character. Her ideological differences from the rest of Wakanda also encourage a fascinating allegorical argument revolving around the necessity to push for change in the world.
Michael B. Jordan as the calculated and menacing Erik Killmonger is arguably the most well-developed villain we have seen in Marvel for quite some time. His backstory is fantastic and wonderfully thought out, leaving him with very believable motivations. Michael B. Jordan is destined for immense critical praise for his performance. However, it has to be said that as far as acting performances go, Chadwick Boseman does even more for the film while at the same time providing a most exceptional African accent.
If Michael B. Jordan's role as the main antagonist deserves applause, then Andy Serkis' performance requires a standing ovation. His inclusion in the film is simply sensational. In the role of Ulysses Klaue, he steals every scene he features in. He is calculating and sadistic, while simultaneously being unhinged. Yet his poise and control is admirable, not to mention his many quirks which are utterly hilarious. It is unfortunate that there isn't more of him in the film. His character is an absolute standout, carrying on from his work in Avengers: Age of Ultron and taking it to another level. On a side note, it is unfortunate that Warner Bros. didn't recognise is tremendous onscreen talent some time ago, because he would have been a fabulous Joker.
Veteran thespians Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker also make their presence felt. Bassett provides a measured and regal performance as T'Challa's mother Ramonda. While her overall involvement in the plot is brief, she does offer the film with important humility. Whitaker on the other hand essentially fulfils the role of gatekeeper to the mysterious and mystical secrets of Wakanda. In the role of Zuri, he provides essential connective tissue to allow the mysteries of the plot to unravel. He also brings a level of quirky charm that is most welcome.
The bold costume design throughout Black Panther is truly fabulous. Melded with the utterly brilliant visual effects, Marvel Studios creates a surreal spectacle of colour that can only be described as a work of art. From a production design perspective, the movie is an absolute masterpiece. The film undeniably has a vibe about it that conjures images of Coming To America. This isn't a negative comparison by any stretch of the imagination. Black Panther offers a tremendously colourful aesthetic, while simultaneously delivering opulent and regal production concepts that are quintessentially African. It is a wonderful collage of visual delight that has not been seen in cinema for quite some time.
In summary, Black Panther is undeniably a different animal compared to the previous Marvel movies that have come before it. It is tremendously original with a superbly selected cast. It's action sequences are also fabulously choreographed, featuring a number of surprises towards the end of the film. In addition to this, Black Panther arguably features the best car chase since Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
It also has to be said that the creation of the unique story world of Wakanda is particularly fantastic. The imagery is absolutely majestic, quintessentially representing Africa while simultaneously conjuring a seemingly futuristic realm that feels incredibly grounded. A lot of credit has to go to the Marvel's sensational conceptual artists and visual effects teams.
While Black Panther doesn't feel as light as previous Marvel Studios movies, it undeniably has a good level of humour threaded throughout the plot. This is particularly highlighted throughout the relationship between T'Challa and his feisty sister Shuri, played masterfully by Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright. T'Challa's interaction opposite Okoye and Nakia also provides the audience with a plethora of entertaining moments.
Overall, Black Panther a deeply thoughtful movie that is tremendously enjoyable and action-packed. It also delivers fabulous narrative drive and incredibly high entertainment value. Marvel Studios has once again maintained their incredible consistency, not to mention taking the genre further than it has ever been before. In short, it's an absolute must watch on the big screen. As a bonus, the film brilliantly paves the way for Avengers: Infinity War this April and May.