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No doubt about it – Black Panther is fun: it’s got all the grand VFX razzmatazz of a Marvel movie, enjoyable characters, a giant scale fit for the big screen, but more importantly, a villain who is relatable and memorable. And it looks like Marvel has finally begun to let their films have the voice of the director because this is more a Ryan Coogler movie than a studio mandated product.
We were introduced to the titular hero back in Captain America: Civil War, and luckily this is a film that doesn’t squeeze in other Avengers to shepherd or help him out at any point (looking at you Spider man: Homecoming). This is Black Panther’s film – almost a show reel for how bad*ss Chadwick Boseman is going to be in the Infinity War movies.
We’re taken on a ride to Wakanda, Panther’s mythical kingdom that exists somewhere between the seams of Africa. After his father’s death Panther aka T’Challa has ascended to the throne and now wields not just the keys to the kingdom but also the title of the ass kicking Black Panther god whose task is to protect his people. Panther nabs the villainous Klaue (Andy Serkis), but like every good villain, he gets intentionally captured with the help of his faithful minion Erik (Michael B Jordan) — who seems to have his own plans to destroy Panther.
There are a number of factors that make Black Panther movie more interesting than other films in this sprawling franchise. The African setting is a refreshing change and the kingdom of Wakanda provides an exotic backdrop to the Greek tragedy that writers Coogler and Joe Robert Cole have created here.
The sounds of Black Panther film supported by Baba Maal’s haunting vocals are reminiscent of the foreboding atmosphere in Black Hawk Down. The action is wonderfully choreographed, often in single long takes much like the now classic boxing scene in Coogler’s Creed. An awesome road chase set in neon lit South Korea almost feels like a Fast and Furious movie with an added Panther tearing apart the cars. There’s a cool set piece involving Vibranium-powered trains, and although what they do isn’t explained clearly, it provides a vital setting for the ultimate death match between good and evil.
But the most notable element in Black Panther film is the rousing social commentary on the Black community – there are both subtle and unsubtle moments that emphasize the need for an oppressed community to rise against fascism regardless of what color the fascists belong to.
Wakanda and the Panther become a true symbol for those subjugated for centuries, and the timing couldn’t be better with Trump as POTUS embarrassing himself daily and South Africa’s dictator Zuma being ousted. Marvel doing a political movie is precisely what the world needs right now – the anti fascist message going through to MCU’s reach of millions is a progressive boss-move from Disney.
The introductions and actions of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the love interest), Shuri (Letitia Wright from Black Mirror season 4 who plays Panther’s sister) and General Okoye (Danai Gurira) in Black Panther film becomes a swell addition to what could happen in Infinity Wars and beyond. All three women are given three dimensional roles and they look positively bad*ss walking together in slow motion and kicking butt.
Jordan’s villain has a surprising amount of depth to his motivations, even if the conflict and its resolution feels like a Black people’s Baahubali at times.
Boseman renders an incredible performance, particularly in an emotionally heavy scene where he speaks to the ghost of his father like Simba does in Lion King. If Downey Jr’s Iron Man is the wisecracking arrogant leader of the Whites, Boseman’s T’Challa is the soulful, thoughtful hero, his sad eyes being a window to a storm constantly brewing in his heart. Without getting into spoilers, the way Coogler has handled the hero’s interaction with the villain in Black Panther film is something we don’t see very often in these films.
The only possible downside of the film is that it doesn’t carry the tone of the trailers, in that we never get to hear the banging hip hop music of RTJ. But maybe that would have been the cliché thing to do – showing black people doing black things juxtaposed to rap music.