Black Panther movie review: Unlike any Marvel movie you’ve ever seen, groundbreaking in so many ways
Director - Ryan Coogler
Cast - Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forewst Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Rating - 4.5/5
If the movies have been responsible for tarnishing the reputation of an entire culture, then the responsibility to rebuild it also must fall on them.
It has taken a decade, 18 films – most good, some great, none bad – hundreds of actors, thousands of crew and billions of dollars for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to arrive at this point. The road hasn’t always been pretty, but we’re here now, older, hopefully wiser, and excited for what comes next.
Black Panther is a film that is as much about respecting the past as it is about embracing the future. So it begins with a story, about Wakanda, a fictional African nation hidden away from the world, behind impenetrable rainforests and unconquerable mountains, uncolonised, unchained.
It is the home of T’Challa, who until recently was the crown prince of the country. His father was murdered in Berlin during the events of Captain America: Civil War – we sat and watched in quiet shock as T’Challa wept with the King’s head in his arms, his final words to him ringing in his head.
Now T’Challa must return to Wakanda, to take over the throne, and become the rightful heir. So he buckles into a futuristic aircraft with his general, Okoye, and his ex, Nakia, and returns home, through impenetrable rainforests and over unconquerable mountains. And as played by Chadwick Boseman, he has the swagger of Kanye West, the theatricality of Beyonce and the raw charm of Barack Obama.
Black Panther is Marvel continuing what films like the last couple of Captain America movies, and even Thor: Ragnarok, to an extent, started; I dare say, for over an hour, it is barely even a superhero movie. But this is just what Marvel needed at this stage in their industry-altering and blazingly ambitious series of interconnected movies. True, there is a lot here that seems signature Marvel – most depressingly, they’ve once again fallen in the trap of pitting the hero against a beefier version of himself, and the action is Marvel action, which means a lot of quick cuts and very little sense – but there is more that seems unlike anything we’ve seen in a movie before, let alone a Marvel film.
But it takes its time to get there. One scene in particular, set in Korea, is straight out of Skyfall, right down to the set, the arm candy, and the wireless communication. It’s followed immediately by a rather lavish chase along the neon-soaked streets of Busan that involves cars with gadgets that harken back to Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond.
But while it is set-pieces such as this that we would normally look forward to in any other Marvel movie – remember the sliced ferry in Spider-Man: Homecoming, or the Formula 1 race in Iron Man 2, or the airport tussle in Civil War? – taken in context to the rest of Black Panther, it seems almost misplaced.
It would perhaps have been too bold of Marvel to make this geopolitical thriller without any action – perhaps one day, when there is not a shred of insecurity remaining, and just confidence, and pride, we could expect a movie in which instead of beating each other to a pulp, characters have a chat instead. But till then, we will have Black Panther, a movie that takes just as much pride in showing off its CGI-heavy landscapes as it does in reveling in surreal African rituals. It is vibrant, dizzyingly well-plotted, and when it needs to be, immensely relevant.
Black Panther is a movie that is a melding of two very different kinds of cultures, both black, but from either ends of the world. And in an unusual turn of events for a series that has a near-perfect hit rate, the villain this time is not one you’re likely to forget anytime soon. He is the manifestation of this clash of cultures, torn between two homes, two identities, burdened by the past of his ancestors, and worried about the future of his people.
Marvel villains are, to put it politely, a bit of a joke. There’s a reason they keep contriving ways to include Loki in the story. But Killmonger, as played in Black Panther by Michael B Jordan, is without even a hint of doubt, the sort of villain whose motivations are beyond reproach. It is one of those few occasions when that old chestnut – every villain is the hero of his story – makes complete sense.
This is Jordan’s third film with director Ryan Coogler, who I’ve saved for last. There is not enough that can be said about what he has achieved with this film. Better minds will continue writing about it for years. They will make videos about this movie, it will be discussed among friends of all ages, all races, all shapes and sizes; it will be taught in school, debated among intellectuals, it will be seen as the moment everything changed.
And behind it all is this 31-year-old black filmmaker from Oakland, who has now made three bona fide classics. He has beside him his friends -- a legendary cast, his history making cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, his insanely eclectic composer, Ludwig Göransson, and the greatest rapper of his generation, Kendrick Lamar. This is their movie. It’s their moment. Wakanda forever.
Watch the Black Panther trailer here