Few filmmakers can boast as impressive a winning streak with such a small body of work as director Ryan Coogler. After kicking off strong with 2013’s “Fruitvale Station”, Coogler’s 2015 outing “Creed” took the “Rocky” franchise to a level of greatness not seen since the original. With “Black Panther”, Coogler delivers an effects-laden, action-packed adventure that’s equal parts James Bond and Hamlet, and truly one of the most unique superhero movies in years!
Chadwick Boseman ascends to the throne of Wakanda in the role of King T’Challa, aka “Black Panther”, reprising the role from 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War“. Michael B. Jordan steps into the role of the malevolent albeit curiously altruistic villain Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, and just about steals the show with by far one of the best villainous performances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.
Lupita N’yongo plays T’Challa’s close ally and ex-lover Nakia, while Danai Gurira portrays his eminently formidable bodyguard Okoye. Letitia Wright plays T’Challa’s sister and tech support Shuri, while Angela Bassett portrays his mother, Ramonda, with “Get Out” star Daniel Kaluuya portraying his close friend and confidant, W’Kabi. Winston Duke portrays T’Challa’s fellow Wakandan tribe leader M’Bakue, while Andy Serkis returns to the role of Ulysses Klaue, following his brief appearance in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, and Martin Freeman reprises his “Civil War” role of American CIA operative Everett K. Ross. John Kani and Sterling K. Brown also appear in the roles of T’Chaka and N’Jobu, T’Challa’s father and uncle, respectively, while Forest Whitaker assumes the role of Wakandan statesman and spiritual leader, Zuri.
To the outside world, the highly-reclusive African nation of Wakanda is little more than a Third-World Country. In reality, Wakanda is a technological marvel light years ahead of the rest of the world, having built its economy and infrastructure on its immense supply of the highly durable metal “Vibranium”. Following the death of his father T’Chaka in the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, Prince T’Challa ascends to the throne of Wakanda’s King, and with it assumes the role of the mythic superhuman protector, “Black Panther”. As T’Challa, alongside his close ally Okoye and ex-lover Nakia, attempts to track down arms-dealer Ulysses Klaue, the new king finds his throne challenged by the arrival of Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, an American former black ops soldier with a hidden connection to Wakanda, who has his own plans for the nation’s vast technological advancements.
Its not exactly a ground-breaking pronouncement to make to say that superhero movies have come a long way in the 21st century, but with its predominantly black cast, “Black Panther” most certainly heralds a major quantum leap for black-led films within the genre. One need only look back at 1997’s fascinatingly terrible “Steel” for proof of this; ponder the fact that “Batman and Robin” was arguably NOT the worst comic book movie of 1997 – a very sobering thought for us fanboys and girls, indeed.
For “Black Panther”, director Ryan Coogler makes the audience feel they’ve truly been brought into another world with the film’s Afrofuturistic creation of Wakanda, and consistently delivers some of the out-and-out coolest superhero tech yet. T’Challa’s method of suiting up is certainly an eye-popper. The film also boasts the first baddie to challenge Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of The Kingpin for the throne of the MCU’s greatest villain in the form of Killmonger.
The film boasts certainly nothing but excellent performances, especially from Chadwick Boseman’s return as T’Challa and Danai Gurira’s portrayal of badass warrior woman Okoye. However, Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger, a sharp 180 degree-turn from his equally memorable role in “Creed”, lingers in a way that only the best supervillain performances ever can. The best villains are always the hero of their own story, and Killmonger’s motives may be radical but have a solid basis in his own lived experience. By the climax of the film, he’s clearly exposed Wakanda’s isolationism for the misguided error in judgment that it was.
After its title character stole the show with his arsenal of “Street Fighter” moves in “Civil War”, there’s plenty of finely-tuned action sequences in “Black Panther”, particularly a car chase down the streets of Busan. It curiously showcases another of the film’s strengths, one of refinement, keeping the comic relief in check compared to other MCU films. (This may be seen as a particularly irksome issue in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, which can drift a little too heavily into outright comedy for my taste.)
However, the best, most standout set pieces of the film are the ritual combat matches atop a waterfall, where the five tribes of Wakanda are permitted to submit a challenger for the nation’s throne. This is perhaps the first time that audiences have the chance to see African weaponry and fighting styles showcased in a major superhero film, and martial arts lovers will relish how integral the elements of tradition and ritual prove to be for the film. After defeating M’Baku in a hard-hitting brawl, T’Challa finds himself standing his ground against Killmonger’s challenge to the throne, and the film finds a clever way to carry their initial match over into the finale without technically making it a rematch. Each combatant clad in an energy absorbent Black Panther suit, our hero and villain face off for the fate of Wakanda in the depths of a Vibranium mine, with “The Blade II Method” of interweaving CGI and wire-fu into the action for anything beyond the human capabilities of the actors’ put to good use!
As the first superhero movie of the year, “Black Panther” delivers a terrific opening kickoff, proving a worthy follow-up to its title character’s big screen debut in “Civil War”. With an excellent rendering of the nation of Wakanda, a uniquely ritualistic approach to superhero action, and a performance from Michael B. Jordan destined to be remembered among the best supervillain portrayals of all-time, “Black Panther” without question earns its spot on the list of the MCU’s greatest hits. And, as always, watch out for that Stan Lee cameo!
Black Panther Soundtrack: by Ludwig Goransson
- Marrese Crump, who famously appeared opposite Tony Jaa in 2013’s “Tom Yum Goong 2“, served as Chadwick Boseman’s martial arts trainer in preparation for the role of Black Panther.
- Prior to his involvement in the “Blade” movies, Wesley Snipes had been developing a “Black Panther” movie in the early 90’s, receiving the support of comic book legend Stan Lee. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in early 2018, Snipes said of the film, “I think ‘Black Panther’ spoke to me because he was noble, and he was the antithesis of the stereotypes presented and portrayed about Africans, African history and the great kingdoms of Africa. It had cultural significance, social significance. It was something that the black community and the white community hadn’t seen before.“
- Contrary to popular belief, Black Panther was not named after the Black Panther Party, having debuted in the Marvel Universe in Fantastic Four #52 in July 1966, several months prior to the Party’s official formation. Wesley Snipes, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in January 2018, revealed this confusion to have been an obstacle to his planned adaptation of the character in the early 90’s. Indeed, the character was even renamed “Black Leopard” for a brief period in the 1970’s to avoid confusion. T’Challa even addressed this in the comics during a conversation with The Thing, stating the following: “I contemplate a return to your country, Ben Grimm, where the latter term has political connotations. I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name, but T’Challa is a law unto himself. Hence, the new name – a minor point, at best, since the panther is a leopard.”
- Michael B. Jordan previously portrayed another Marvel superhero, Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch in 2015’s “Fantastic Four” (Fant4Stic). This makes him the second actor to have played Johnny Storm to later go onto to appear in the MCU after Chris Evans. Chris who portrayed Johnny Storm in 2005’s “Fantastic Four” and 2007’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” went on to star as Captain America in the MCU. Jordan also previously provided the voice of Victor Stone aka Cyborg in the 2013 animated superhero film “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox”.
- As the first superhero movie of 2018, “Black Panther” oddly mirrors what will be the year’s final superhero film, DC’s “Aquaman”, set to release on December 21st. Both saw their title character make his big screen debut in a team-up film, “Captain America: Civil War” for Black Panther, and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” for Aquaman, before being spun-off into a solo film. Additionally, both characters are also not only kings, but neither of them actually becomes king of their respective nations of Wakanda and Atlantis until their solo films.
Film Rating: 8.5/10
- “The wise build bridges, the foolish build barriers.” – T’Challa (giving a speech to the United Nations.)
- “Guns. So primitive.” – Okoye (while her bulletproof car absorbs gunfire.)
- “Wassup?” – Killmonger (as T’Challa arrives to put a stop to his plans.)
What are your impressions of Black Panther, seen it yet? Is this the best superhero fighter so far? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. (Be sure to check out our other fu-tastic movie reviews as well!)