All hail the king, indeed.
In Captain America: Civil War, one character stuck out to many – Black Panther. This new African, impressively acrobatic hero cemented his place in this world very early on, and that’s before we got to his own solo outing. It’s here now, and what an absolute joy it is to behold. An action-packed extravaganza, our lead Chadwick Boseman and director Ryan Coogler having a firm hand on what makes superhero audiences swoon, while also daring to shake up the formula.
Following the death of his father in Vienna, T’Challa (Boseman) is crowned King of Wakanda, and furthermore, the Black Panther – the dark suited, superhuman protector of the country. He sets his ambitions high, intending to catch Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a deranged arms dealer responsible for many Wakandan deaths. But out of the shadows comes Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a seemingly normal American with a past that’s troubling for T’Challa.
Opening with a painstakingly crafted history lesson on the formation of Wakanda, and the birth of the first Black Panther, it’s a terrific way to catch unaware viewers up. It then jumps to the streetlight soaked streets of 1992 Oakland, California, a comfortable home for Coogler after his work in the terrific Fruitvale Station.
The film then embarks on a clunky first act, trying to engage viewers with a script that overcompensates for an unfamiliar hero and new characters. But when the focus returns to the unhinged delights Serkis’ Klaue, showing his aptitude for a rarer, live action performance, the fun really begins (aside from the odd “What are those?!” joke).
Boseman, now being given the full spotlight, is a commanding screen presence and a fabulous performer. He’s the James Bond of the MCU, a high-tech, oozingly slick and cool hero who manages convincing sophistication out of the suit, but insane, inhuman abilities in it.
The star of the show, however, is Michael B. Jordan. A terrific villain, given a lease of purpose due to his tragic backstory. We can invest in his villainy, and to a point, even support it – especially when it’s played so enthrallingly well. Jordan, whose intensely gripping fury makes for some of the movie’s best scenes (“Burn them all!” he frighteningly commands to his people), brings a wicked, contemporary attitude to a universe where foes are too often rooted in familiarity.
The full on screen inception of Wakanda is a true sight to behold, a technological marvel and the wildest thing we’ve seen on earth in the MCU to date. Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison manage to make every scene epic, whether it’s a young boy gazing at a neon-lit ship, or grand shots of the futuristic metropolis. Not only that, unlike the drearier, low-key people of Asgard, the culture created for this super outing is truly believable.
The tribes have a near religious belief in tradition, a loyalty to their royalty, and a constant (if not always forefront) respect for one another – it’s a world we should all look forward to returning to in the upcoming Infinity War.
The soundtrack is fantastic, with the absolutely outstanding work of Kendrick Lamar separating the film from typical hero music tropes, putting a beating, impassioned heart at the centre of a rightfully unconventional outing. Ludwig Göransson’s score too is great, with intertwined authentic African melodies accentuating the beautiful scenery in some moments, but also adding power to the grin-inducing action sequences.
The predominantly African-American cast are fabulous, with stars such as Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker and Daniel Kaluuya being valuable additions to the ensemble. Martin Freeman, as much as he is a reliable performer, is a shoehorned connection to the outside world, used too much to be written off as a cameo but too little to play a memorable role in the story.
It’s not a ground-breaking story, but it’s told with a flair of boldness and a will to produce something a little different in the MCU. After the soaring high of Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel have not only hit it out the park again, but have gifted the world a new icon, who although has been around for years, is finally getting the love he deserves.
Whether it’s the dazzling costume design or free flowing, popping-with-colour special effects, Black Panther is a thrilling spectacle (a brilliantly crafted little scene with our hero and villain falling through the air should pump the blood of any fans of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2), but also relatively grounded. It’s a superhero romp sure, but it’s also a celebration of cultures, and a political statement to cooperation and negotiation in the world.