If you are getting burnt out on all of the comic book films being brought to life, you would not be alone. I know I am. But then comes along Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and although it has its flaws (mostly minor), it is overall a very well crafted film. Coogler burst onto the Hollywood scene with 2013’s heavily praised Fruitvale Station with his leading man, Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant III who was gunned down in a subway on New Year’s Eve in 2008. The two then brought us Creed, the latest installment of the Rocky franchise with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) taking Apollo Creed’s son under his wing and teach him the world of boxing. Another home run for the director and its star.
This time around, Coogler picks up the Marvel Universe with Chadwick Boseman in the title role as T’Challa, the son of T’Chaka (John Kani) who was killed in by a terrorist bombing in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa now is next in line to be king and after a hand to hand challenge by the leader of a fellow tribe, he is crowned king of Wakanda. Wakanda is a fictional country located in Africa shrouded by the outside foliage and some impressive technology. It is thought to be a poor country with little or no resources but the fact is, it is a thriving metropolis; wealthy from its mining and protection of Vibranium, the hardest most durable material in the world.
When a conspiracy is uncovered, T’Challa vows to get to the bottom of it and the film is careful to set up the plot and take its time. The first twenty minutes, at least, is introducing characters and developing the story before we get to any kind of real solid action with Black Panther. I was fine with that, too. Black Panther is a complex and intelligently crafted film with double-crosses and realizations that are only known to the viewers long after Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordon) is introduced. There are some action set pieces along the way but not any large ones until a casino battle kicks Black Panther into high gear.
There is a lot of Wakanda politics involved with Black Panther and that is where we get most of the character development which works, although there are still spots in which this film lags a time or two. Still, the characters are interesting and I was invested in them. I am going to make a prediction that either Chadwick Boseman and/or Michael B. Jordan will be taking home the Oscar for their acting talent within the next five years. Both are excellent, especially Jordan, whose Killmonger’s character is written in such a way that I understood why he was enraged and felt betrayed. I understood why he was bent on revenge. He is still a monstrous human being, but I understood his motivation.
There are some great supporting performances, as well. Letitia Wright is excellent as T’Challa’s sister, the gadget guru. Think of her as Q to T’Challa’s Blank Panther Jame Bond, if you will. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira are both terrific as T’Challa’s staunchest supporters and one will be his wife after he is crowned King. Daniel Kaluuya, fresh off his success in Get Out, shines as T’Challa’s friend. Andy Serkis, Angela Basset, Martin Freeman and Forest Whitaker all enhance the story with some very good performances.
In some films, the rock songs that are supplied tend to be more overwhelming than effective. Not the case with Black Panther. The soundtrack with songs composed and produced by Kendrick Lamar seems to fit the tone of the picture and give the characters some extra depth. The score was composed by Ludwig Goransson who has worked with Coogler in his other films, and his contribution is tremendous. Both the soundtrack and the score are worth the investment. There are two versions of Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack; one is clean and the other has some bad language so for the parents who are watching what their children are listening to, be aware. Regardless, the music for this film is perfect.
Ryan Coogler directs with style and panache even though there are some moments when the film seems to slow down. But Coogler and fellow screenwriter Joe Robert Cole have written a literate and interesting script. The story and visuals of Black Panther are lush and beautifully exotic. The cinematography lensed by Rachel Morrison is gorgeous and the editing by Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver is first rate. The action is well staged and cut together very effectively and with a gracefulness that works in the Marvel Comics world.
Black Panther is a worthy addition to the Marvel films and Ryan Coogler distinguishes himself as a talented director. He can handle small, independent films like Fruitvale Station, a film shot on a shoestring budget of 900,000 dollars or big budget films like Black Panther, which had a budget of 200 million dollars. Black Panther, minor flaws aside, is a rousingly well-crafted film with characters whose motives and flaws are fleshed out with an interesting backstory. The three people to watch for are Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler. These are some talents headed for greatness.
Black Panther – ****1/2 out of 5
Black Panther – Rated PG-13 for action, language and scenes of peril
Black Panther – Runtime is 134 minutes
Black Panther is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.