Black Panther review: Ryan Coogler kicks off Marvel’s 2018 with one of the most anticipated movies in the studio’s epic series of superhero films.
Black Panther review by Paul Heath.
Marvel Studios’ first film (of three) set to be released in 2018 is the one with the most expectation. First off, there’s the director and co-writer Ryan Coogler, the 31-year-old helming a $200 million movie as his third feature (following the flawless Fruitvale Station and the outstanding Creed), then there’s the fact that this is the first MCU movie post-Thor: Ragnarok from Taika Waititi, a film, for me, that switched up the successful Marvel formula somewhat with its wonderful off-beat humour and unique charm.
There have been waves of horn blowing from across the pond too with the U.S. critics lauding it as the best Marvel movie yet, and then there’s been the various groups of web-vandals who were hell-bent on sabotaging the film’s rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, a collection of user ratings that is apparently hugely important to a film sinking or storming the box-office in today’s movie-going market.
I can’t say for sure whether the film is Marvel Studios’ best, but I will say that it is an outstanding piece of work.
The story picks up immediately after Captain America: Civil War where we saw T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) father being killed by Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), thus making the young Wakandan immediate king of his homeland. The events of ‘Civil War’ have obviously taken its toll on T’Challa, and we see him take his throne back in Wakanda, his coronation set to take place imminently. However, across in London, a robbery at the ominously titled ‘Museum of Great Britain’ is about to send waves across to the heart of Africa, where Wakanda resides, and to the new king and his people. Causing all of the aggro is Andy Serkis, who returns here sans mo-cap in the role of Ulysses Klaue, who we last saw, albeit briefly, in Avengers: Age Of Ulton. The bearded South African, along with a little help from a young mercenary named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), has managed to steal piece of indestructible metal, known as Vibranium, mined in Wakanda, which T’Challa and co. aren’t too happy about.
Of course, that’s just scraping the tip of the iceberg of this massive, multi-layered adventure from Coogler and co. There were many elements of the film of which I enjoyed. The film starts quite abruptly – no title card or Marvel Studios ident either – no, that comes ten-ish minutes in, following a sequence of back story set in an Oakland apartment block in 1992. This scene sets up the whole movie and provides the basis on Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole’s very detailed narrative.
While Chadwick Boseman is undoubtedly excellent as T’Challa, it is his supporting cast – and there are many of them – who really deliver the goods. All are worthy of mention, but, the work of Danai Gurira is absolutely jaw-dropping here. The Walking Dead alumni takes the role of Okoye, T’Challa’s loyal ride hand-woman who has some truly wonderful dialogue to feast upon throughout. She also has this stunning action sequence set in a Seoul casino early in the film. The scene in question is constructed like a one-take affair, and while clearly not one fluid shot, we get to see the actress take all manner of bad guys to task, the camera seamlessly following her as she stuns henchman after henchman. It’s a scene reminiscent of Coogler’s one-take boxing match in Creed and is equally as exciting and perfectly executed.
Related: Captain America: Civil War review
There’s also Lupita Nuong’O, also excellent here as T’Challa’s love interest Nakia, though the character thankfully has a lot more to do that just look good in front of the character. There’s also Letitia Wright, last seen in the recent Liam Neeson thriller The Commuter, who is on top form and brings most of the comedy as T’Challa’s sister Shuri. Shuri is the technical wiz, an almost Q-esque type character who is an absolute joy to watch in every scene she’s in.
A comic book movie, very much like a Bond movie, of which this owes more than a debt of gratitude to, is only as good as its villain, and here we have two in Serkis’ Klaue and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. Both are excellent, Serkis clearly enjoying being on screen as the ultimate entourage accompanied bad-ass, and Jordan brings tons of heart and fire to the role of KIllmonger, a Wakandan himself out for justice against his people, and everyone else who gets in his way.
If there’s one thing to pick the film up on, then it is its CGI. In places it all just felt a little bit off – from the scenes involving the huge rhinos that appear throughout the film, particularly towards the send climactic battle, to the scenes where T’Challa meets his challengers at the top of a flowing waterfall. It just didn’t seem to match the quality of most of the previous Marvel efforts, which is a shame. There are also a few plot beats that are a little predicable and clichéd, but the good very much outnumber the few minor negative points.
A movie with a message – one reiterated in the first (of two) post-credits scenes, so look out for it – Black Panther is up there in the top three Marvel Studios films to date. A ground-breaking, thoroughly enjoyable and truly epic piece of mainstream cinema, sprinkled with frequent reminders of a filmmaker who, while on exceptional form here, is absolutely nowhere near the top of his game yet – and how exciting is that?
Black Panther review by Paul Heath, February 2018.
Black Panther is released in UK cinemas on Tuesday 13th February 2018.