BLACK PANTHER (8 out of 10) Directed by Ryan Coogler; Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole; Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker, Angela Basset ; Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture; Running time 135 minutes; In wide release February 16, 2018.
This review endeavors to remain as spoiler free as possible.
Black Panther tells the story of a young prince of the fictional country of Wakanda named T'challa (Chadwick Boseman). Due to the events of previous Marvel films, his father has been killed and he will take the throne and assume the mantle of their country's protector, the Black Panther. The country is in the middle of a struggle for its identity, though. His ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) feels like Wakanda isn't doing more to help the rest of the world and perhaps she's right. But his long lost cousin, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) challenges him to the throne in order to offer that Wakandan help to the world in the guise of violent revolution and global domination.
Like any film that revolves around royal ascendency and challenges to a throne, this one can be compared directly to any great Shakespearian drama. Hamlet. Macbeth. These themes permeate through the text in an undeniable way but are freshly crossed with the world of Marvel and James Bond in a way that brings an irrepressible new energy to stories that feel as old as time.
Ryan Coogler brings a solid hand to the writing and direction, bringing a fresh voice to the Marvel universe and proves why we need more diverse takes in the world of superheroes. There's simply no way a white writer or director could have come to a story like this, and it was a breath of fresh air to watch. It's going to do incredibly well at the box office and the authentic sense of storytelling that comes from that perspective is exactly why it's going to.
While it has visual and story touchstones to Star Wars (particularly episodes one and two), James Bond (with T'challa as the Bond character and Martin Freeman's CIA agent as the Felix Leiter) and other films, the closest film I can imagine to this in recent history is Lucasfilm's Red Tails. In that film, George Lucas set the stage for a black director and cast to tell the story of the real-life heroes of World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen, and give them the 60s John Wayne war film treatment they deserved, something those heroes had never had before. This does that (and much better, I might add) for the superhero genre and it works preposterously well.
Though I felt the film lagged in just a couple of spots, but that owed to the serial nature of these films. Ideas we'd understood from previous installments felt like a review rather than moving us forward. It's hard to fault the film for these moments, though, as there will be plenty of people using Black Panther as their jumping on point for the Marvel Universe.
The actors all bring their best work together and create an ensemble that makes the film enjoyable from start to finish, but there's no denying that the actor who might have stolen the show was Michael B. Jordan in the role of the villainous Killmonger. The last words he utters in the film are a visceral punch in the gut and it's predicated on every moment he spent establishing the character.
While some might see this film as a veiled retread of the first Iron Man film, replacing the Iron Monger with Killmonger, this manages to remain exciting enough to bring tears to the eyes of the audience in at least two different spots.
Technically, it's a beautifully shot film and almost makes me cross my fingers for a way to visit it by way of the magic of Disney parks. Thematically, it feels like exactly the sort of hopeful film we need now. It's an oblique treatise against the anti-collectivist, xenophobic "MAGA" politics of the day, and it makes me feel happy.
Overall, because of the visual aesthetic of the film, the taut pacing (beyond the review portions), emotional work of the actors, engaging window into a perspective I'm not as accustomed to be seeing on screen as I should be, and the fact that film is just a damn good time, I'm giving it an 8 out of 10.
And be sure to stay ALL the way through the credits.