Jacob Richardson | 19/02/2018
Utterly unique in the pantheon of the MCU, Black Panther is fresh, vibrant and well-rounded with it’s excellent cast and indelible villain.
Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to his native Wakanda to ascend to the throne. His first task as the new King is hunting down the nefarious Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), with his right hand woman Okoye (Danai Gurira), his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and his technology expert sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). Alas, not only do they run into trouble with CIA man Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), they also fall afoul of a new villain; Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a lost Wakandan with a bad attitude and a claim to the throne.
It’s astounding to think that this is director Ryan Coogler’s third film. He has such an astonishing grasp of vibrant, vivatic filmmaking that his pieces come across as those of a much more experienced director. With Black Panther, he leans heavily into afro-centric design and culture, and delivers a Marvel film that feels unlike anything we have seen from the studio.
From the off, it’s a mass of colour, vibrant beats and beautiful camera work. The lost kingdom of Wakanda itself is a masterpiece of set design; the elusive Vibranium metal allowing the Wakandans to develop a technologically advanced, hidden world in their little kingdom. It’s coupled with amazing costume design, blending the fabrics and textures we know so well from the existing pantheon of Marvel films with unique African design work that creates an overwhelming barrage of colour, texture and feel.
All of this would come to nothing, however, if the story wasn’t there. Lucky for us, and for Coogler, it is. Black Panther is a rollicking good time; a power struggle without the world at stake. If anything, it feels more like a James Bond film than a world-ending Marvel movie (particularly with Shuri acting as T’Challa’s Q), and it’s all the better for it. It’s anchored by Killmonger; a truly wonderful villain who stacks up in the roster of Marvel foes just below Loki. Jordan is absolutely magnetic in the role; chewing scenery and instilling fear with the slightest glance. He is a bouncing energy on the screen, and he and Coogler work just as well together here as they did in Creed.
Chadwick himself is also tremendous, bringing a natural regality to the character that gives Coogler room to play with the dialogue and broodiness of the new King.
However, while the villain definition may be excellent and the story a variation on the usual Marvel destructivity, there are still too many familiar beats to make this a true masterpiece. There are elements here reminiscent of Iron Man and other Marvel origins stories. The Stan Lee cameo, once again, is an unwelcome distraction, and the action sequences seem dull and mundane, especially considering the fact that Coogler so wonderfully reinvented the boxing sequence in his previous film. In the end, there is so much here to love, it just makes you wish that those final studio hooks were removed, and Coogler was allowed to roam free.
Black Panther is an electric film; more Bond than The Avengers. While there are some familiar elements, and the action is often rote, the kinetic visuals, throbbing soundtrack and incredible villain more than make up for it.