Oscar season is almost over for another year and thoughts turn from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s best-of-year to warmer days and flights of fancy with superheroes and summer blockbusters. First out the traps are Marvel and their ever-excellent cinematic universe that passes the decade mark this year with Infinity War in a few months. But before then, we are invited to take a trip to Wakanda and the first solo outing of Black Panther, a film that while on the surface may be another generic origin story of sorts is something of a different beast – and an early front-runner for the blockbuster of the year.
Almost immediately, Black Panther looks, feels and sounds like something new that will give not just the MCU some much welcome freshness but do what Thor: Ragnarok and Deadpool did so well a couple of years ago – take our expectations of what a superhero movie can be and twist them just enough to peak our interest and give us something we haven’t already seen too many times before. There are comparisons to be drawn to some of the aforementioned films plus some to Nolan’s Batman-verse here but everything in Coogler’s magnificent-looking film is something else to discover, something we didn’t know we wanted.
Visually, the film is is as flawless as you would expect with every inch of the design full of wonder and splendour aplenty that spreads far and wide with Wakanda a picturesque cornucopia of beauty and colour, right down to the costume design and unique musical choices of composer Ludwig Goransson and Kendrick Lamar, who brings back the “inspired by” accompaniment album with a unique flourish. Coogler, who with Fruitvale Station and Creed, has seen himself climb the ladder quite quickly but different to other directors of his ilk, this is by no means a filmmaker out of his depth or pressured by a studio – this is a man with a vision, a passion for a story that is as important as it is timely and allows him to bring his wealth of talents to the fore once more, cementing his place amongst the elite filmmakers of the 21st century. Similarly to Nolan, his comic-book experience is about character and story as well as the bells and whistles and the joining of the forces is done with such grace and balance that once it gets a hold of you its grasp will be with you long after leaving the cinema.
Boseman, who along with Tom Holland was perhaps the best part of Civil War in 2016, is equally impressive here as we delve deeper into T’Challa’s destiny whilst Angela Bassett and Forest Whittaker add depth and distinction to the ranks. Michael B. Jordan, atoneing for his “Fant-Four-stic” debacle, is superb as the film’s big-bad that, for the first time in a long while, actually feels like a compelling villain rather than just another by-the-numbers taking-over-the-world-seeker – there’s real depth to Killmonger that takes his supremely compelling throughout.
The MVP’s here though are Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright, both of whom are sensational throughout and, whisper it quietly, could have given us two of the best and most assured performances of the year. Both play their roles to absolute perfection and bring grace, wit, and ferocity to the film that only helps to take it up into the higher echelons of excellence.
There are some duff notes, mind – namely the sub-plot involving Andy Serkis‘ Ullyses Klaue that is superfluous to say the least, only made more expendable thanks to the actor’s hopelessly over-the-top portrayal; and, for all the imagination the film has in spades, it does rely on the standard CGI-heavy finale to close out proceedings.
Still, there are a plethora of amazement to be had from Black Panther that, as we reach the 10-year mark of Marvel’s colossal cinematic treats, is easily one of its most impressive feats. Coogler for the follow-up, please.
Action, Adventure | USA, 2018 | 12A | 13th February 2018 (UK) | Marvel Studios | Dir.Ryan Coogler | Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Andy Serkis