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You have to believe the hype because “Black Panther” is no doubt Marvel’s best movie to date.
This exhilarating, beautiful and genuinely moving superhero film is firmly rooted in the point of view of director and co-writer Ryan Coogler, a tremendous example of the radical possibilities to be found in Afrofuturism.
Coogler creates a compelling, intriguing world, and threads throughout it a tale full of pathos and real-world gravitas.
Although our hero, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), hails from the African country of Wakanda – a technological wonder powered by the natural resource vibranium – “Black Panther” is Coogler through and through, with a storyline that originates on the streets of Oakland, California.
The conflict of the film lies in the gulf between the experiences of the Wakandans, who have been shielded from the world’s inequalities, and those who have been colonised, enslaved and oppressed.
T’Challa, who is crowned the king of Wakanda at the beginning of the movie, has to decide how he’s going to place Wakanda to help in the liberation of black lives throughout the world while also protecting his nation.
He may be the king, but Chadwick Boseman very gracefully enables himself to be upstaged almost every minute of “Black Panther” by the women of Wakanda.
He’s flanked by the gorgeous Lupita Nyong’o in the role of Nakia, a Wakandan secret agent and his on-and-off love interest, as well as the warrior Okoye, the stunning, righteous and fierce Danai Gurira, who just about walks away with the whole film.
His mother, Ramonda, is played by the inimitable Angela Bassett, and two newcomers also shine: Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s spunky sister, Shuri, and Winston Duke as M’Baku, a rival tribe leader who challenges him for the throne.
Electronic hip-hop beats courtesy of Kendrick Lamar course throughout the bold, vivid world, which melds traditional African aesthetics with modern flair.
Coogler brings his audacious, slick style to “Black Panther,” with long tracking shots and clean, crisp action shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison.
The film is an epic, immersive, world-building ride, but it remains grounded in its action, and pitches the stakes and scope at the individual scale. The visual thrills are suspenseful because we care about the characters involved.
This is a superhero flick with a vision that is blazing, radical and revolutionary – which comes from Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, a baddie and the most compelling character.
With his punky dreads and gold lower canines, Erik oozes cool. But what makes him so riveting is not his style, swag or sex appeal, but his deep well of fury. Jordan is a live-wire onscreen, his fury continuously at a low roiling boil. He simmers as if he’s spring-loaded, ready to explode at any moment.
Erik’s rage is justified.
You feel it in your bones, because Jordan makes it that real. He’s a child who grew up on the tough streets of America, without a father, not in Wakanda enjoying a futuristic, royal lifestyle. He wants to cherish that power for black liberation across the globe, and even though the methods he uses are extreme, you root for his success. Erik is filled with all the anger, grief, terror, resentment and fire that come from being a minority oppressed by a colonizer – an Afrofuturist Nat Turner. T’Challa could never know that pain.
His regal pride is what we like about him, but we yearn for Erik’s triumph since he wears his chip on his shoulder as a badge of honor, using his pain for strength.
It’s a revolutionary vision from one of our most chilling young directors, coursing with his DNA – his virtues, beliefs and vision branded indelibly upon it.