Director: Ryan Coogler
(Contains mild spoilers)
In under one month Black Panther has taken over $1 Billion dollars at the International Box Office, a huge feat for an all black cast; Hollywood, in the recent past, would never have considered the idea that black people being represented on the big screen in such a way could ever grab the attention of a worldwide audience. It is old out-dated ideas like this (ironically, as will be discussed, the main theme of Black Panther) that make the success of the movie grab the headlines and the attention of the media as it did, which was equally matched by the huge hype and anticipation. Whatever the reasons for this global phenomenon, it should hopefully pave the wave to secure more diversity in an industry where diversity should have happened a long long time ago.
A sidestep continuation to Captain America: Civil War, we see Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), AKA T'Challa, take on the throne of Wakanda, a fictional African nation invisible to the outside world. The film introduces a country that adhesively follows strong traditions (first notably seen by the incredible and colourful costume and set design), whilst possessing new, modern, highly-conceited alien technology (new to us anyway), and this visual concept becomes the overall theme of the movie - old ideas vs new ones.
Whilst the first chapter of the film is sluggish with its introduction of Wakanda and its traditions (one notably being the coronation ceremony and the ritual combat that challenges the rule of the throne), as well as T'Challa, we get to know some of the lesser known characters of the Marvel Universe - in particularly the women. Not only can we see this as a film for black kids growing up with a hero to identify with, but another film (the other being Wonder Woman) where little girls (and boys) can be inspired. Black Panther has an array of bad-ass, strong female characters. Okoye, (Danai Gurira), is head of the Wakanda Special Forces, sworn to protect the king at all costs. At times, she and her soldiers seemingly took the form of an all Grace Jones’ army, an actress who many probably saw for the first time take on a strong black female role in Conan The Destroyer and A View To A Kill. Okoye becomes of great interest when her traditional values is challenged when the new king comes into power. She loves and respects T’Challa, but her love for him cannot overwrite the ways of Wakanda law, and thus, decides to make a heartbreaking choice to stay and protect and advice the new king. T'Challa's younger, humorous, very likeable sister, Shuri (Leitita Wright), is head of the alien technology progress, and brings a James ‘Bondesque’ sonority by providing her brother with new gadgets aiding his quest to take down Ulyssess Klau (Andy Serkis). Her demeanour and personality brings a necessary humour to a film that is driven by deep, serious, dark undertones. Opposing Okoye's traditional values is the restrained love interest of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) who represents the template of what the future of Wakanda should be; a country that preserves its traditions, but looks outwardly to others in desperate need or to those who wish to establish a more unified international community. All women fight. All women protect the king. All women are women you do not want to mess with. In a time of The Harvey Weinstein scandal, its a message thats very well-timed and very much needed.
In the middle of the film we learn through the main antagonist, Eric “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), AKA N’Jadaka, that T’Challa’s father’s past decisions, which were based on old traditions, led to the uprising aggressions of Eric. T’Challa has to face the fact that his father made great consequential mistakes, and that it is Wakanda itself that has brought on its own destruction. This leads to questions about what sort of king T’Challa wants to be. On one hand, through tradition and keeping themselves to themselves, Wakanda has survived and prospered. On the other, with a fast changing world, new enemies and new forms of attack can not always be tackled alone.
In general, the film is a great watch and a must see for reasons already stated. Chadwick Boseman, like his character T’Challa, had a heavy weight on his shoulders taking on a historic, highly anticipated role, who played it with great authentic regality. However, perhaps due to the amount of hype, the movie felt a little bit lacklustre (stressing a little bit). Furthermore, Marvel films have an infamous plague of lacklustre antagonists, something Black Panther is not immune to. Eric is an interesting character and we do identify and sympathise with his cause, but we only get to really meet him half way through the movie where most of his back story is explained rather than shown. For example, he makes a very compelling speech about how Wakanda has just stood by in its riches and prosperity whilst other black people all over the world have suffered. American Slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, #Black Lives Matter, Charlottesville, Rodney King, Stephen Lawrence, are just a few images that spring to mind. We do get a brief encounter in the beginning mirroring the kidnapping of Nigerian women by Boko Haram, but seeing more visuals like these would have helped the audience identify the drive and motive of Eric’s assailments even further. Eric also reveals that his scars - which lay inherent all over his body - symbolises every person that he has killed. Again, some form of visuals of his bloodshed would have helped enhance his ferocity and skill as a fighter and killer and make him seem even more deadly and threatening.
Similar problems could also be said about Ulyssess Klau, the South African smuggler who was the first outsider to enter Wakanda and the first outsider to escape it. His likeable, animated, over-the-top character was somewhat problematic. As the main antagonist for the first part of the film, he inadvertently took away most of the ‘bad guy role’ time from Eric. At the same time, his departure half way in the film meant we didn’t really attach ourselves to his character, and thus, our time with him felt insignificant and ineffective.
There is also the questionable role of Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent previously seen in Captain America: Civil War. After being injured, the only way to save him was to take him to Wakanda. Okoye reminds the king that this practice is not the Wakanda way, but with opposing arguments from Nakia, T’Challa reluctantly brings him to his homeland. A character like Everett would have conventionally given exposition, helping the audience understand the world a lot better. But his introduction to Wakanda occurs more than half way through, and by this time we have seen most of Wakanda already. Everett does help in the final war scenes, but that did not help his role feel any less pointless. Most hardcore comic book fans will know that Everett was an important character and key ally to Black Panther in the novels. Everett’s creator, Christopher Priest, said to newsarama.com in 2015 “...in order for Black Panther to succeed, it needed a white male at the centre, and that white male had to give voice to the audience's misgivings or apprehensions or assumptions about this character... I think that his stream of conscious narrative is a window into things I imagine many whites say or at least think when no blacks are around; myths about black culture and behaviour.”. It is a shame that the film did not come anywhere close to functioning Everett’s character in such a way.
Other characters like W’kabi and Zuri (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Forest Whittaker respectively) were fine in their roles, but their roles were too small for actors with such high authority and calibre.
Special effects were a fairly disappointing spectacle. The final panther fight scene had a lot of problems with realism, whilst the vibranium nano bots that seemed to be the solution to all problems felt uninspired and unoriginal, failing to take advantage of an opportunity to create something different and out-of-this-world with the alien tech.
Although the film does not quite live up to the hype, and despite some minor flaws, Black Panther proves to be a force of paving the way for other minority groups to break into the big Hollywood scene, and justifies the notion that more diversity in film can mean global success. With its underlining themes amalgamated with wonderful cinematography, colourful costume and set design, acting, compelling action scenes (those set in South Korea were highly entertaining), Black Panther makes a great watch and should bring some joy to those of all ages and especially to hard core Marvel fans. Not as good as some of its Marvel predecessors such as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, and even most recently Thor: Ragnorok, what the film does that the other Marvel films do not, is challenge Hollywood myths and ideology, inspiring and giving hope that a different, brighter, outward looking world is forthcoming.
(Film Rating: 7/10)