Review: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

Rating

Director

Ryan Coogler

Screenplay

Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

Length

2 h 14 min

Starring

Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture

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Review

He may not have been the first black comic book character brought to the big screen, but it is certain that Black Panther is a watershed moment in cinema.

Following up the female-helmed Wonder Woman, it’s not hard to see how the voices of a diverse new generation of filmmakers can have a positive impact when given the opportunity to infuse their own experiences onto the characters they present. To then have those experiences recognized and celebrated is a significant achievement.

Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to undergo the rite of passage that will install him as King of Wakanda. When past misdeeds inform present day drama, T’Challa must fight enemies both without and within to ensure that his people and his kingdom can survive while making sure that the world stays safe and doesn’t intrude upon their idyllic society.

T’Challa has surrounded himself with brave and courageous friends and allies to help him achieve his goals. Lupita Nyong’o is Nakia, a Wakandan spymaster and T’Challa’s former love interest; Danai Gurira is Okoye, the Wakandan general whose loyalty is unparalleled and whose fierceness and capabilities are unmatched; Martin Freeman is CIA operative Everett K. Ross whose wish to protect Wakanda as well as the world entire helps him create solid bonds with his new allies; Letitia Wright is Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, a tech genius who has improved the nation’s scientific advancements far beyond what they were already; Angela Bassett is Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother and strongest supporter; and Forest Whitaker is Zuri, the shaman who administers the ceremonies and whose friendship with T’Challa’s father has stood the test of time.

There are also loose allies whose dedication to the crown is tenuous at times, strong in others. These include Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, one of the tribe champions who wants nothing more than to annihilate the man who killed his father; and Winston Duke as M’Baku, leader of the only one of the original five tribes who refuses to be a part of the Wakandan civilization. All of them are tested by the machinations of Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, an abandoned Wakandan who seeks revenge for his father’s murder and Andy Serkis as Ulyssess Klaue, the formidable arms dealer who is the only genuine villain in the entire film.

That last sentiment is an important one in that even the most dangerous of enemies in Black Panther have intense motivations that, when examined in context may be misguided or whose actions may subvert their own aims. It’s a compelling narrative on display here as none of the enemies in the film have unqualified reasons to pursue the goals they have set for themselves. Some are intensely personal, but all come from a place of passion and purpose, the end goals noble, even if excessive.

From a technical perspective, few of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been tasked with creating unique and vast worlds heretofore unseen on film. The films based around Thor the Guardians of the Galxy have had to do so, but the rest have all either been firmly rooted in the present, or have recalled environments of the past that are fairly commonplace.

With Wakanda, the design team for Black Panther have had to create a major metropolis whose technological advances are far beyond modern civilization’s. Yet, they have to maintain their link to a cultural past that is both familiar and unique. Pulling inspiration from numerous African tribes to inform the production design, costume design, and makeup, the designers have given the audience a fully fleshed out and stylized setting in which to immerse themselves.

This is brought together under the photographic resplendance of cinematographer Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Her rich palette and lighting schemes are reminiscent of the best work of Roger Deakins, the man who won his richly deserved first Oscar last year over her. The striking visions created by Morrison in the film are the kind of designs that transcend the genre and stand out as exemplary feats of the form. Throw in the tribal sounds of Ludwig Göransson’s score and you have a visual panoply that tops not just everything Marvel has created so far, but stands among the best designs in film history alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Blade Runner films, and even among traditional greats like Lawrence of Arabia.

Black Panther excels in ways that most Marvel Cinematic Universe films have not in making the movie not about the exterior forces that threaten the world entire, but the intensely interpersonal demons that threaten to undo ourselves.

Oscar Prospects

Probables: Cinematography, Costume Design, Visual Effects
Potentials: Picture, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Review Written

April 18, 2018

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