Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:
BLACK PANTHER (Dir. Ryan Coogler, 2018)
Well, it may have taken them until they got halfway through Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which launched with IRON MAN back in 2008, but here it is, the big, bad ass BLACK PANTHER, and it’s a beaut.
Chadwick Boseman, who’s previously played iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson, iconic soul singer James Brown, and iconic Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, takes on the iconic role of the first black superhero of mainstream American comics, whose real name is T’Challa, known to the world as the ruler of the isolationist African country Wakanda.
Embedded in Wakanda is a secret technologically advanced civilization which T’Challa becomes the king of after fighting off the challenge for the throne by rival tribe leader M’Baku (Winton Duke).
T’Challa’s supporting crew includes his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his wise-cracking sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his best friend W’Kabi (GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya), his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), and his bodyguards Ayo (Florence Kasumba), and Okoye (The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira).
Threat to the order of Wakanda comes in the form of Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka/ Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, who seeks revenge for the murder of his father N’Jobu (This is Us’s Sterling K. Brown).
This second challenge for the throne is where the franchise formula becomes the most transparent in BLACK PANTHER as we know that T’Challa will lose this fight, because that’s the arc of just about every superhero movie. First act, our protagonist is triumphant, in the second they are either stripped of their powers or seemingly killed, and in the third they return to reclaim their glory.
These acts, or challenges, are filled out by zippy setpieces including a nighttime car chase through the streets of Seoul, South Korea; and an air combat sequence involving one of the film’s token white characters, CIA Operative Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) piloting a remote jet.
The rest of the kinetically colorful adventure concerns a lot of swordplay and hand-to-hand combat captured in eye-poppingly sweeping shots by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who shot Coogler’s 2013 debut FRUITVALE STATION, and was recently nominated for an Oscar for her work on Dee Rees’ MUDBOUND. There’s also the eye candy of Ruth E. Carter’s elaborate costuming, and Hannah Beachler’s shiny production design.
Written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, the production soars on just about every level. Boseman brings gravitas, and a sense of personal power to his performance, and is well matched to Jordan’s scenery chewing villain. Jordan is also again a good match with writer/director Coogler, having worked with him on both of his superb previous films, FRUITVALE STATION, and CREED.
Of the other cast members, it’s the women who often steal the show, whether it’s Wright with her well-timed one-liners, Gurira with her unblinking icy delivery which will make you forget Michonne, or Nyong’o, whose Wakandan warrior spy character is refreshingly more than just the requisite love interest for our hero.
The enormously positive buzz for BLACK PANTHER has some critics calling it the best Marvel movie ever, but I wouldn’t go that far (not sure which one I’d pick though – I’ll get back to you on that). I’m just going to consider it another vastly entertaining winner for the brand, which, I’ve got to admit, has been impressively consistent in quality for an 18 and counting film franchise.
Of course, along with all the expected Marvel marks being hit – call backs to previous movies, comic cameos by Stan Lee, etc. – there are mid and post credits scenes, so be sure to stay until the very end.