Black Panther (2018)

Review #1,542

Director:  Ryan Coogler
Cast:  Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett
Plot:  T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider who was a childhood victim of T'Challa's father's mistake.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
Awards:  -
Runtime:  134 mins
Rating:  PG (passed clean) for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture
Distributor:  Walt Disney Studios

“Tell me something.  What do you know about Wakanda?”

Black Panther couldn’t have been made, say, 10 or 20 years ago, but Marvel, always trying to pave way for fresh approaches to blockbuster filmmaking—and is in a fantastic position to do so—reminds us that while they have generally made good, entertaining movies, this is their most important one yet.  

There are many reasons Black Panther is a breakthrough for popular cinema.  First, it has a black director at the helm, Ryan Coogler, in his third feature.  He has not made a bad film yet, whether working with a big studio or independently.  

Second, it has a cast of nearly all black people, including emerging or established names like Michael B. Jordan (Creed, 2015), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, 2013), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, 2017) and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, 2006).  

Third, it casts a relatively unknown black actor, Chadwick Boseman, in the titular role.  It is always a gamble to do so, but this will launch him even more into the popular consciousness.  His performance is also reminiscent of the work by the very gifted Idris Elba.  

Fourth, it is a story about a culture far different from what we would normally see in mainstream cinema, even if the East African nation that is being represented—Wakanda—is a fictional one.  It is a breakthrough in telling the stories of minority races (at least in the context of the US) through the most commercial of presentations.  And because of the fourth reason, Marvel made the right decision to ensure that the characters who live in Wakanda speak in a non-African-American accent.

Fifth, and this is long overdue and inspiring for the female filmmaking community, Rachel Morrison (the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of Mudbound (2017)) lenses this visually-stunning work.  On this note, it is interesting to learn that Coogler has worked with female cinematographers for his first two features too—Morrison for Fruitvale Station (2013) and Maryse Alberti for Creed (2015).  

Lastly, and this is truly impressive, Black Panther has one of the most unconventional approaches to music scoring in a mainstream blockbuster in recent memory.  The conscious use of African percussion, and offbeat rhythms create a soundscape that while tellingly obvious, invites the viewer into the world of its characters with tremendous spirit and energy.  

I haven’t really described what the movie is about—but are you not stoked yet?  

Verdict:  Marvel have generally made good, entertaining movies but this is their most important one yet.





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