Superhero, Reinvigorated: Our Review of ‘Black Panther’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 15, 2018
Superhero, Reinvigorated: Our Review of ‘Black Panther’

There are a slew of reasons why Black Panther is both a great, enjoyable spectacle of a film, and a refreshing entry into an all-encompassing superhero genre. Both are due to an immensely talented cast and crew, and, above all, that the story told here is a celebration and exploration of African American culture and blackness, an idealised vision of a country that colonization missed.

The fictionalized and almost utopic Wakanda is the setting for most of the film, an African country closed off from the world that blends lively heritage with high technology, ritual with practicality, naturalistic beauty with futuristic cool. Their spiritual, political, and militaristic leader is Black Panther, known as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman); his advisors and aids include mystical elders (Forest Whitaker), a spunky young sister (Letitia Wright), who happens to be the smartest woman in the world, a masterful spy (Lupita Nyong’o) and a legion of warrior women (including Danai Gurira). Significantly, they are all equals. 

A sojourn to South Korea to intercept an arms deal involving a sort of Wakandan nemesis (Andy Serkis) has a James Bond feel, as our smartly dressed trio of heroes enter a stylish casino, engage in combat, and then have a high-speed, high-tech car race through crowded streets. The soiree also finds CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) enlisting on the team, albeit reluctantly.

But it’s Wakanda, and those that are born there that make up the most compelling conversation of the film. T’Challa is torn between wanting to protect his home and peoplesand keeping Wakanda isolated to do so, and opening up the country economically and technologically, sharing their wisdom with the world and in particular those poor, plagued African countries. And black communities.

The film opens in Oakland in the 1990s with an altercation that only becomes telling later on. Whether or not Wakanda becomes a global player is the conflict, and soon a T;Challa rival rises to battle. Erik Killmonger, played with ferocity and immense physical prowess by Michael B. Jordan, is the aggressive, vocal, and chaotic foil to T’Challa’s quiet toughness, solemnity, and thoughtfulness.

The film pushes aside it’s cartoonish white villain to allow Killmonger and T’Challa to engage in physical and philosophical battle, and both sides are utterly compelling and completely engaging.

Director Ryan Coogler creates a complete, complex world, with both modern style and historic culture, that instantly engages the viewer. The characters are fully fleshed, the arguments are compelling, and a predominantly black cast telling a layered, nuanced story about African American culture and being black in the world today is most refreshing and important.

There is the usual Marvel spectacle, including a busy finale, but one far more beautiful and with much more investment than those that came before. The fighting and action is almost secondary to the choices our heroes and villains make, and why they are doing it. And that makes Black Panther a must-see, but beyond that, something that must be talked about.

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