BLACK PANTHER (USA / 12A / 134 mins)
Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker.
THE PLOT: Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa AKA Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his homeland of Wakanda in Africa. Outwardly, it’s a poor country. Inwardly, it’s the most powerful nation on earth thanks to its use of vibranium. Shielded from the rest of the world, Wakanda is technologically advanced but keeps to itself. T’Challa takes up the crown of king but is challenged by an outsider, Erik (Michael B. Jordan). Erik has aligned himself with arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis) to seize power. In order to stop him, T’Challa enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), fierce warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira) and CIA spook Ross (Martin Freeman). The fate of Wakanda and possibly the world lies in the balance…
THE VERDICT: Can it be almost a decade since Marvel Studios kicked off their cinematic universe with Iron Man? It doesn’t feel like it, given that they continuously challenge themselves to come up with new, fresh stories that don’t feel jaded and over-used. DC take note. The key factor that distinguishes them from DC is that they’re willing to take risks, while keeping in mind their core audience at all times. Their latest, ‘Black Panther’, is a risk but it’s so self-assured that it pulls it off with spectacular flair and ease.
It’s a lot more than just a superhero film. It plays just as well as a sturdy political thriller, set in an exotic world and a rich African culture that is often overlooked in superhero films. There’s no token black character here, shoved in to fill a certain demographic. This is all about Wakanda and its power – and how it decides what to do with it for the good of the world. It could be perceived as an anti-Trump statement, given that many Marvel actors are no fans of their current President. T’Challa’s Wakanda is inward-looking and wary of sharing its power with other countries, but he comes to realise that it may have to open up to the world.
The political machinations and power play that go on behind the scenes are sharply written by director Ryan ‘Creed’ Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. Erik is a lot more than a villain figure. He has his reasons for challenging T’Challa, which are readily convincing. Coogler builds up a kinetic energy throughout the film, with some terrific action sequences set in South Korea and later, Wakanda. Coogler paces the film just right, spending time building up the characterisation and then unleashing a deserved pay-off.
Some performances can be a little cartoonish (Serkis dials it up to 11), but this is balanced out by strong performances by a commanding Boseman and the ferocious Gurira – easily the film’s most memorable character. The ethnic design and colourful look of the film is immersive, without the need for 3D which would only darken the image anyway. There’s a playfulness and a seriousness about the film which is well-judged. Marvel have done it yet again, pushing themselves to greater heights with another fascinating hero for our times. ‘Black Panther’ is a kinetic marvel.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor