Claw and order
Scoring director Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther proves to be a major triumph. His entry into the Marvel universe is a majestic, full-bodied, exhilarating treatment of the African king title character with the crazy cool suit (Chadwick Boseman). Marvel has yet another big win with a grand future.
Coogler has three films to his credit now, one masterpiece (Fruitvale Station) and two very good ones (Black Panther and Creed). He’s officially one of the best directors currently calling the shots. This is also his third collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan, who brings a fully fleshed, complicated villain to the screen in Erik Killmonger. Man, you just have to be bad with that last name.
The pre-opening credit scene involves Black Panther’s predecessor father having a confrontation in 1992 Oakland, California. A major event takes place as some kids playing basketball look on. It turns out to be one of the more brilliant and heart-wrenching setups for a Marvel movie character yet.
The action cuts to present day, where Black Panther/T’Challa is dealing with the passing of his father due to an event that took place in Captain America: Civil War (massive credit to the producers and screenwriters who interlink these films together so well). He’s to become king but must pass through a ritual with some risk involved. He overcomes the obstacles, gets his throne and prepares for his rule. His kingdom doesn’t get a moment to breathe before trouble ensues.
In London, Killmonger comes across an ancient weapon forged in Wakanda, Black Panther’s homeland. It’s made from Vibranium, a precious resource that fuels much of Wakanda’s advanced technology, including the Black Panther suits. With the help of Wakanda enemy Klaue (Andy Serkis acting with his real face as opposed to a motion-capture suit), Killmonger obtains the weapon, threatening world stability.
The story is told with a stunning level of social relevance for a superhero film, especially when it comes to Killmonger’s motives. He’s not just some guy looking to forward himself for selfish purposes. He’s got some big reasons for having gone bad, and they make him a far more sympathetic character than, say, Loki from Thor.
As good as Boseman is, and he’s really good, Black Panther goes over the top thanks very much to the cast around him. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the “maybe she’s a love interest” in Nakia, getting her finest post-Oscar role yet. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira makes a confident graduation to big-screen action hero, while Letitia Wright gets a lot of laughs as T’Challa’s mischievous and extremely smart sister, Shuri.
There are so many great performers in this movie, there isn’t enough room to give them just praise in this review, but here’s a few more: Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all play formidable roles. It’s early in the year, but this will surely stand as one of 2018’s most packed casts.
Coogler proves he can handle a big action blockbuster with only a few scenes that miss the mark. His action scenes mostly snap with precise energy and efficiency, but some of them are a bit jumbled and hard to follow due to low light or ill-advised camera angles. I saw the film in IMAX 2-D, so perhaps some of what I was seeing played better in 3-D.
Black Panther is a superhero saga rich with culture and gravitas, without skimping on the good humor and action thrills we’ve come to expect from Marvel. Many of the latest DC offerings (Justice League, Suicide Squad) make everyone involved look like goofballs in comparison. (Wonder Woman is the lone recent exception.) Black Panther and Marvel show us that big-screen superhero entertainment can be about much more than the suits and explosions.