Should I Watch..? 'Black Panther'
What's the big deal?
Black Panther is an action superhero film released in 2018 and is based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU, the film follows Prince T'Challa as he ascends to the throne of Wakanda in Africa, gaining the power of Black Panther as he does so - only to find a hidden threat returning from the past to challenge him. The film stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the film was a massive commercial success with global takings of $1.35 billion - making it the ninth most successful film in history at the time of writing. Critics were also highly impressed with many claiming the film to be one of the best MCU films seen so far. After the character's introduction in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther would next be seen in the all-star Avengers: Infinity War later that same year.
What's it about?
Following the death of his father King T'Chaka, Prince T'Challa returns to his African homeland of Wakanda - a poor and isolationist country - in order to ascend to the throne. Unbeknown to the outside world, Wakanda has access to near-limitless reserves of vibranium - a powerful and alien mineral that has allowed the country to develop technology and armaments far beyond that of the rest of the world. It is this vibranium that helps fuel the King as he adopts the guise of Black Panther, a legendary warrior and ruler of the kingdom and most of its many tribes.
However, things are not well beyond Wakanda's borders. The destruction of Sokovia has exposed vibranium to the outside world, with many clamouring to get their hands on more. Unscrupulous arms dealer Ulysses Klaue works alongside former black ops soldier Erik Stevens to steal Wakandan artefacts from a museum in London with the aim of selling vibranium weapons to the highest bidder. When T'Challa realises what is at stake, he finds himself working with his allies and CIA agent Everett Ross to prevent a new arms race. But Stevens has other objectives in mind...
T'Challa / Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan
Erik "Killmonger" Stevens / N'Jadaka
Everett K. Ross
Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole*
Release Date (UK)
13th February, 2018
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to like?
It may have taken ten years for Marvel Studios to get around to it but Black Panther feels like a refreshing breath of originality, utilising its mostly black cast and crew to stunning effect as well as providing strong female characters traditionally overlooked in the MCU. Like the equally surprising Thor: Ragnarok, the film is awash with imagination and feels completely unlike anywhere else we've seen so far which is to the film's credit. But it's about more than simple race equality as the movie almost feels like a celebration of African culture with a wonderfully unique score that reflects many corners of the continent and carefully thought-out sets and costumes that also help create this lively and energetic atmosphere.
But I have to give props to the cast who are universally brilliant. Boseman should become an action star in his own right after this, together with Jordan who brings a contemporary American take on this African tale. But the film's female cast - led by The Walking Dead's Gurira, Wright and N'yong'o - all deserve some recognition, turning their characters into fully fleshed-out roles that will run and run as the MCU rumbles on. Anyone used to Scarlett Johansson getting short shift as Black Widow will be whooping and hollering that we finally get some kick-ass female characters that aren't merely there to provide eye candy. I especially enjoyed Wright's antagonistic relationship with Boseman which is more than reminiscent of the sibling rivalry I have with my own sister. Except she doesn't invent cool gadgets for me.
- Due to their appearance in The Hobbit films, Freeman and Serkis were often referred to on set as the Tolkien White Guys.
- The language spoken by Wakandans is based on Xhosa, a language used mainly in South Africa that utilises guttural clicks. It came about after John Kani used it in his appearance as T'Chaka in Civil War and even taught it to Boseman.
- Wesley Snipes had been trying to get a Black Panther movie made since the early Nineties with John Singleton as a director. But the project never took off, although Snipes did play another Marvel character in Blade. When Boseman was cast as T'Calla, Snipes was said to be "1000%" behind the casting and film.
- The film broke numerous box office records: it's the highest grossing solo superhero film, the highest grossing film by a black director, the highest opening weekend for a film with a predominantly black cast and the first MCU film to recoup its production costs ($200 million) in its opening weekend in the US alone.
What's not to like?
In addition to storming box offices all over the world, Black Panther has also won over the hearts of critics as well. Perhaps this led to stratospheric expectations on my part but I didn't think the film was among the best of the MCU efforts. Despite its refreshing change of scenery and progressive elements, it doesn't feel as ground-breaking in terms of narrative. Throughout the picture, I couldn't help feel as though the movie was channelling The Lion King in terms of the colourful vistas of African landscapes and endless sunsets (the land of the ancestors definitely felt like that night scene with Simba and Mufasa). You could also levy the same accusation against Whitaker's role, who felt a tail away from being Rafiki the shaman.
The effects also seem to lack a little crispness, especially during the action scenes. The climatic duel between T'Challa and his challenger also felt a little anticlimactic, especially considering the more exciting and unusual battle going on above ground involving armoured rhino and hordes of warriors clashing in mortal combat. I also would have liked to see more of Serkis who is always entertaining but gives his villainous role a real sense of menace as well as a convincing South African accent. Am I being picky? Possibly but I'm not saying that this film is a disappointment. It felt a lot like Doctor Strange in providing a unique style and atmosphere we haven't seen in the MCU so far and I can't wait to see what happens next in the franchise (there's no way there won't be a sequel with earnings like that). But I wasn't blown away by it as I was expecting to be.
Should I watch it?
There is no doubt that Black Panther is a hugely significant picture, not just for the MCU but for the whole movie industry. It dispels the myth that films featuring predominantly black cast and crew won't succeed at the box office - indeed, such is the demand for change that such films can utterly dominate it. While it deserves every bit of success, I can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed given the weight of critical praise behind it. It's entertaining and visually inventive but like many recent MCU efforts, it feels solid and dependable instead of spectacular.
Great For: movie lovers of any colour or creed, jaded MCU fans craving something different, equality in Hollywood
Not So Great For: racist idiots, Republicans, Donald Trump
What else should I watch?
I'm glad that there wasn't too much crossover in Black Panther because it gives the character the whole spotlight to inhabit instead of having to share it with the likes of Robert Downey Jr, who pops up far too often. This movie belongs in the same pantheon as other solo origin films like Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Guardians Of The Galaxy which all do a superb job of fulfilling the wishes of fanboys but still providing non-nerds like us a wonderfully exciting and energetic movie. Annoyingly, Marvel don't get things right every time - The Incredible Hulk was a real let-down after the success of Iron Man while the somewhat ridiculous Ant-Man also failed to live up to expectations after the bombastic Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
While Marvel continue to reap the rewards of a long-term strategy, their bitter rivals DC have been playing catch-up ever since with their own version of the MCU, DC's Extended Universe. Sadly, there are a couple of problems here. The first is that the market has been flooded with superhero films since Marvel started the MCU in 2008 so there is a lot of fatigue among fans and more competition with each release. The second is that, by and large, DC's films have been a long way behind Marvel's with only Wonder Woman standing out among the dross. If you enjoyed that film then I'd recommend Black Panther which features an entire battalion of female warriors ready to kick ass. But otherwise, stay away from the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice which are well intentioned but flawed efforts.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox