The newest addition to the ever-growing Marvel roster is the brilliant Black Panther. With drop-dead gorgeous locations and powerful character-driven plot, this origin story may arguably be one of the best Marvel movies.
Black Panther had a lot on its shoulders. The stellar ensemble cast comprising of people of color and the historical significance of the character meant that the movie was more than the sum of its parts. It had to do justice to the rich African heritage and also stay true to the demands of the comic book fans while speaking for Black representation in Hollywood and also fitting in the larger MCU. Ryan Coogler’s movie may just have found the perfect balance required.
The movie revolves around the secretive African nation of Wakanda. Began with a pact forged by five tribes, which eventually gave into infighting and power struggles, and in one tribe’s case, exile in the mountains. But after witnessing the history of man’s violence against man, repeated time and again, Wakanda resolved to hide its technological innovations and ideal society from the world, to protect its own people by shielding them from humankind’s folly. This withdrawal of international trade and diplomacy has its own folly – Wakanda chooses to be a silent observer in the war waged by humans when their technological marvel could have easily ended the war. The new generation of Wakandans and how they challenge the way of their ancestors is the central theme of this superhero movie. After the death of his father King T’Chaka, T’Challa must prove himself worthy of the throne of Wakanda. He also has to face some difficult secrets which were kept hidden from the nation.
After his much-praised appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman carried the role with confidence. But one cannot help but focus on the stellar supporting cast. Sometimes, one will feel that they are more interested in what others are doing rather than focusing on the titular character himself. The royal bodyguard force, the Dora Milaje, are beautiful and fearsome, with Danai Gurira excellent as General Okoye. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are perfect as Queen Mother Ramonda and T’Challa’s mentor Zuri respectively. Lupita Nyong’o plays Black Panther’s ex-girlfriend and voice of reason, Nakia with a strong presence on screen. Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman feel right at home with their portrayal of the baddie Ulysses Klaue and CIA agent Ross respectively. Short but impactful performance from John Kani, Atandwa Kani, and Sterling K. Brown too.
The breakout performer in this brilliant ensemble is Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri. Her interactions with her brother provide the perfect light moments to balance the emotionally heavy serious tone. Watch out for Shuri to take the MCU by storm with her gadgets.
One had high hopes from Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger to be an equal foe for T’Challa. But he exceeded that expectations and how! Marvel movies have had the problem of run-of-the-mill villains with boring backstories and weak motivation. Killmonger handles that problem all too well as the audience rooted for his point of view.
This is the new age of the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. After 10 years and 17 movies, a new beginning was needed for the franchise. What perfect way to do that than bring a character which debuted in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics and had a similar impact in the quest for diversity. The movie is unapologetic – it never shies away from referring racism and colonialization. There is one scene where Shuri calls Everett Ross as a “colonizer” and another where Ross is drowned by M’Baku and his tribes’ deafening noise. The movie screams – “Its payback time”. The women are the real champions in this movie as the story is shaped and molded by their actions.
The most positive part of the movie was its soundtrack. A frequent collaborator with director Ryan Coogler, Ludwig Göransson has created a wonderful thread of African drum music and tribal chants for the movie’s score. Talking drums and royal trumpets are in full glory as Kendrick Lamar’s songs adorn the action. This feels like Lion King with its tones. The movie celebrates its rich African culture and colors. One of my favorite scenes from the movie is T’Challa’s coronation sequence by the waterfall, as members of all the tribes sing and dance during this joyous occasion. The costume design is incredible in this movie.
While the movie overall is a humongous and historical success, it has its share of flaws. Being an origin story, it has quite a few predictable turns and clichés akin to other superhero movies. But still, Black Panther’s introduction is the most arresting origins of them all. The most disappointing part of the movie was the final battle – which ran out of steam (and the necessary time) after the demanding development of this Utopian Wakanda. This problem is similar to last year’s Wonder Woman. Winston Duke’s M’Baku (and not his racially disturbing name in the comics – Man-Ape) is the weak link here as I never really understood his motivations and actions. Something similar can be said about W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and his Border Tribesmen. Without spoiling much, I can mention that I wasn’t sold on W’Kabi’s actions. It is a shame that Andy Serkis’ Klaue was cut short in the movie when clearly he was having a great time playing the character.
The new Panther suit, designed by Princess Shuri, looks sleek but seems CGI heavy in full action mode. The suit worn by the Panther in Civil War seemed more practical and tight.
But these are minor nitpicking in a world of overwhelming success. Go watch Black Panther and be a part of this wonderful revolution for equal representation for women and black people. Go watch the movie if you are bored of hilarious superhero flicks, and need more depth in your stories. Go watch this movie if you love music and I guarantee that you will be absolutely delighted.
The climactic movie – stunningly named Infinity War – is coming up in few months’ time. Going by the post-credit scenes which tie directly to the next movie, Wakanda will now be open to serious scrutiny in the world of Marvel. A serious brawl is being predicted on the lands of this paradise. Expect King T’Challa to marshal his troops and guide the Avengers. Expect Wakanda to blow your minds once again.