After ten years and seventeen films of world-building, it’s become very difficult to not get excited when the next Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film comes around. As I mentioned in my THOR: RAGNAROK review, with such a long track record, one wouldn’t be foolish to think that, at some point, the quality of the MCU would start to wane. But time after time, the people at Marvel Studios continue to impress. The MCU’s 18th and latest entry – Ryan Coogler’s BLACK PANTHER – continues this unprecedented momentum. The anticipation surrounding this film has been pretty surreal, gaining more and more traction as the release date approached. This begged the question – with all of this hype, could BLACK PANTHER still possibly deliver? Thankfully, the answer is an emphatic YES.
Taking place immediately after the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, Prince T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to assume its throne following the death of his father, King T’Chaka, at the hands of Helmut Zemo. Before the coronation ceremony, T’Challa takes his regiment leader Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) on an extraction mission to find his ex-girlfriend Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and bring her back home. During the ceremony, T’Challa fends off a challenge for his crown by tribal leader M’Baku (played by Winston Duke) and after being victorious, is officially crowned King of Wakanda. But after the reappearance of an old nemesis in Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis), T’Challa – donning the ensemble of the Black Panther – pursues him to South Korea, which will begin a path towards the revelation of a long-hidden secret. A secret that will make T’Challa question everything he believes in.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler is a relative newcomer to Hollywood, having only three films (including BLACK PANTHER) under his belt. And yet, when his involvement in BLACK PANTHER was announced, I was ecstatic. Why? Because his previous two films – FRUITVALE STATION and CREED – are both personal favorites of mine. With Coogler at the helm, along with an amazing ensemble cast that includes Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis, I knew from the get-go that this film was in more-than-capable hands. Together, they have delivered a film that is not only an entertaining entry in the MCU, but also a film that has (and will continue to have) a lasting cultural impact.
The film itself is very well paced and edited. At no point in its duration did I feel something was out of place, nor did I feel bored or uninterested. Coogler makes sure that every scene, every big moment, every crucial revelation, gets its moment to shine and be properly absorbed by the audience. The cinematography by Rachel Morrison is also noteworthy – every frame has a crispness to it, most often during scenes showcasing the Wakandan landscape. Not only is the storytelling of BLACK PANTHER very fluid and coherent, but it’s objectively just a beautiful film to look at, and both Coogler and Morrison deserve all the credit for creating such an unforgettable iteration of Wakanda.
Not only was the film great on its technical merits, but the acting is top-notch as well. Chadwick Boseman, after having a rough start as T’Challa in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, seems to be settling into the T’Challa role quite nicely here. He exudes just the right balance of confidence and vulnerability, making it easy for the audience to get behind his character. But a hero is only as good as his villain, and Michael B. Jordan absolutely shines here. After an infamously unpleasant turn as the Human Torch in the failed FANTASTIC FOUR reboot, Jordan downright nails his portrayal of Erik Stevens (better known to Black Panther fans as Killmonger). This was also a sort of role reversal for Jordan as, to my knowledge, he has never played an antagonist before, and so it was great to see him enter new territory as a bad guy. Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman all provide great ensemble support, but I have to acknowledge one actor in particular: Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister Shuri. Wright unequivocally disappears into the role, bringing vitality and wit into all of her scenes, and even outshining Boseman at times. Just an incredible cast doing an equally incredible job of bringing this story and its characters to life.
I wouldn’t necessarily call the release of BLACK PANTHER a watershed moment in cinema, nor would I be in a position to make that call so early into the film’s public existence. But its cultural significance cannot be overstated, especially for people of color, finally seeing a major black superhero portrayed on the big screen, and providing memorable characters that could also serve as role models for the community (the character of Shuri is a prime example of this, exuding role-model status for girls). But even if you wanted to ignore that aspect of BLACK PANTHER, it’s still an incredible film. The ensemble cast shines and has great chemistry together, the action sequences are well-shot and engaging, the cinematography expertly showcases all that Wakanda has to offer, and most importantly – just like its predecessors, this film is just F-U-N. I can already see this film making quite a few Top 10 lists at the end of year, as BLACK PANTHER has the potential for a long shelf life. And with such an fascinating story full of memorable characters, it’s really not hard to see why.
2018 • 134 Minutes • United States
Color • English • Marvel Studios
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis