Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenwriters: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Michael B. Jordan
Runtime: 134 mins.
Australian Release Date: 15 February 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 5 February 2018.
It was Wesley Snipes, way back in 1992, who first dreamt of bringing the Marvel super-hero Black Panther to the big screen but it took another 25 years before his dream came true and, by then, he was no longer attached to the project. Poor old Wesley didn’t even get a cameo, unlike just about every other African-American actor working in Hollywood. Black Panther features a predominately black cast, a first for the Marvel Comics Universe, and it was well worth waiting for. Ryan Coogler, of Creed and Fruitvale Station fame, is the director of this latest MCU film to grace the silver screen. The result is a wild ride set in the fictitious African kingdom of Wakanda, a paradise that’s about to be turned upside down when a usurper seeks the King’s crown. Interestingly, most of the exteriors were shot in and around Busan, South Korea, and the rest at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, rather than Africa, although you wouldn’t know it. The scenery is majestic.
The Black Panther, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), has returned to Wakanda to take up the crown after the untimely death of his father King T’Chaka (John Chani) in Captain America: Civil War. Having had to fight for his right to the throne, a sequence of events causes him to team up with CIA operative, Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), to face the challenges to his kingdom brought by the South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis as a human! See Breathe). His leadership is soon further challenged by Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a Wakandan exile from the USA, who seeks to overthrow Wakanda and use its precious resource, Vibranium, to run things his own way. T’Challa has his own intimidating army of all-female warriors, the Dora Milaje, who are duty-bound to protect the King and who are led by Okoye (Danai Gurira), a formidable beauty who takes no prisoners but who’s conflicted by her loyalty to the throne, regardless of who sits upon it. T’Challa is supported by his ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a doting matriarch, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his fiery younger sister Shuri (Ltitia Wright), who is not only a princess but designs all the Wakandan ‘tech’, and there’s a lot of it. She’s like ‘Q’ to his ‘Bond’. Together they must fight to prevent a new world war and desperately try to preserve the “best sunset viewing in the world”, the view from the hills of Wakanda.
Black Panther is a thrilling 134 minutes of escapism but it also contains some real food for thought. The performances are all terrific and you feel a real sense of brotherhood from the cast. The futuristic and traditional ‘look’ and costumes marry together well; Hannah Beachler’s production design is a visual treat, as are Ruth E. Carter’s colourful tribal costumes, that come with an innovative, ultramodern twist. Oscar-nominated DOP (for Mudbound) Rachel Morrison’s cinematography also deserves a mention and adds much to the movie. This is certainly the genesis for future films of this nature featuring a predominantly black cast and it makes for a real change in the super-hero status. Indeed, Chadwick Boseman has signed a five-picture deal, of which this is the second, so look out for more like it. In some ways, Black Panther sits outside the usual Marvel Comics Universe and that seems deliberate. There’s much less super-hero emphasis and more store put in T’Challa as an African political leader dealing with real-world problems. The co-screenwriter, Joe Robert Cole has said that, “…the film is an historic opportunity to depict a black super-hero at a time when African-Americans are affirming their identities while dealing with vilification and dehumanization”. True that! Black Panther is a challenging film that depicts an alternative and timely way of looking at the world and it’s all the more fascinating for it.